Coach - what should my training split be for triathlon? How much swimming, cycling and running should I do each week? How many hours per week should I split between my swim, bike and run?
I have been asked this question more times than I can remember over the years.
Before answering what your training split should be for triathlon, the first thing we need to consider is triathlon is a sport on it’s own. It just happens to be made up of swimming, cycling and running. Within those components there are physiological training benefits that cross over.
Swimming will benefit your cycling and running through the development of the aerobic energy system. Additionally, superior swim fitness leaves you better equipped for the bike and run on race day. Both the bike and run compliment each other in terms of development of your Musculo-skeletal system and your aerobic energy system.
Triathletes in my experience can become too focused on the individual nature of swimming, cycling and running. What this means is they try and train like swimmers, cyclists and runners as opposed to triathletes.
Whilst in reality it could be argued that is true, swimming for triathlon is different to swimming as a sport. And the same principle applies to cycling and running for triathlon compared to cycling and running alone as sports.
Therefore, before anything you need to take into consideration you are training for triathlon. And then you look at the specific demands of the event. What distance race are you training for? Is it short course or long course?
Then things like their experience in the sport, any injuries/illness problems, their athletic strengths and weaknesses, age and even where they live play a role is prescribing the split of swimming, cycling and running each week.
My philosophy is ensuring the program fits the person. It must consider a person's circumstances in life in terms of their family, work, and other lifestyle commitments. These are all underlying factors that need to be known before you can accurately prescribe the right split of swimming, cycling and running in a triathlon program.
From a general perspective across all triathlon distances the swim is the smallest portion of the race, the bike is the biggest and the run next. Therefore, generally speaking you could argue that about 45-55% of the weekly training should be focused on the bike. The remaining would be around 20-25 % in the pool and 30-35% on the run. For most people, the bike takes over half their race time, so it is important that people spend the time on the bike to build that specific fitness and strength.
Biking also crosses over to benefit the run through the aerobic development and improved leg strength. And run training also improves your bike training in the same way. However, neither have too much cross over to the swim but the swim will benefit the bike and run. It is a balance between looking at the person's athletic strength and weaknesses and then program accordingly.
The swim, bike and run all improve your aerobic capacity which is the most important factor for racing well in triathlon. The peripheral fitness that is specific to swim, bike and run comes from those activities. In running for example only running helps to improve the elasticity of your tendons and ligaments which helps you to run faster.
The right program will be able to get the specific blend of swim, bike and run in your training week. When they are done, why and what is the training load for each session. However, for most people, I think the above percentages are a good guideline.
In part 2 of this article I’ll go into more detail with actual examples of programs for different distances so you can see the split between swimming, cycling and running each week.