Train For A Triathlon In Four Weeks

Get triathlon fit in less than a month with this essential last-minute training plan and guide.

Is it really possible to get fit for a triathlon in just four weeks? If you’re already an active person, then the answer is yes.

When I say “active” I mean that you already do some form of regular cardiovascular exercise. For instance gym classes, swimming, cycling or running. You don’t need to be an athlete yet, just not a complete couch potato.

And we’re not talking Ironman-distance triathlons here. Realistically you’re looking at a sprint triathlon (750m/20km/5km).

Not only will you need to get fit in four weeks, but you’ll need to learn some essential race skills too. Examples include running off the bike, swimming in open water and practicing your transitions. In this blog I’ll not only provide you with a free 4-week triathlon training plan but I’ll also give you advice on all these elements to help you get race-ready.

I’ll talk about the swim training first, as that’s perhaps the most important area. Then I’ll talk more generally about things like brick sessions, transitions, pacing and getting organized.

Then at the end of this blog I’ll provide you with a free four week triathlon training plan that you can follow next time you enter a race.

Get Swim Fit In 4 Weeks

– Swim Lessons

Unless you’re already a swimmer, this discipline will be your biggest challenge. Swimming is 60% technique and 40% fitness. So if you can’t already swim 400 metres or yards non-stop you’ll need to take drastic action now, otherwise you’ll struggle on race day.

With just four weeks to go, my best advice is to sign up to a series of adult swim lessons. Aim for two lessons per week up until race day. Avoid the temptation to save money by “going it alone” and training solo. You’ll never learn good technique in four weeks by swimming alone. Think of swim lessons as investing in yourself. The ability to swim well is the gift that keeps giving.

– Open Water Swimming

After a couple of weeks of building your swim confidence it’s time for you to try an open water swim. In most cases you’ll need a wetsuit, unless the water temperature is above 24 degrees Celcius (75F). The water should also be above 14 degrees Celcius (57F) too, otherwise you’ll suffer from the cold even with a wetsuit.

The great thing about using a swim wetsuit is that it provides you with some buoyancy, so it’s actually easier than swimming in a pool. The only thing that makes it hard is the conditions – other people, current, waves and poor visibility.

In the free triathlon training plan at the end of this blog I’ve scheduled a couple of open water swims for you to try. Make sure you always swim with others in a safe environment, be it in the sea or a lake that allows open water swimming. The main aim of these open water workouts is to get used to the conditions. So you don’t need to swim big distances, rather just have a 10 or 15 minute splash and build your confidence.

Bike And Run Faster In 4 Weeks

Bike to run “brick” sessions are a great way of increasing your fitness and confidence in the last few weeks before a race. Hence I’ve included some in the free triathlon training plan at the end of this blog.

Research suggests that it’s the first five minutes of running after cycling that are the most stressful for your body. For this reason, I prefer to keep brick sessions relatively short, to help your body adapt to those first five minutes. When you do these brick sessions it’s also another opportunity to practice the other elements of your transitions, such as putting your running shoes on quickly.

Master Transitions in 4 Weeks

Transitions are the parts of a triathlon where you go from one discipline to the next. Rehearsing them will increase your confidence and reduce the likelihood of getting flustered and making mistakes.

Just lean your bike against a wall, with your bike shoes, run shoes, helmet and anything else you think you’ll need. Practice your first transition (known as T1) by running to your bike, putting your helmet and bike shoes on, jogging about 10m with your bike, then mounting and riding it. Do this several times, so it becomes second nature.

Then do something similar for the second transition (T2). Ride towards your pretend transition area. Stop about 10 metres before it, dismount, jog to your transition, place your bike against the wall, remove your helmet and cycle shoes before slipping your running shoes on and jogging away.

As a general rule, the less stuff you have in transition the better. Every additional item creates a time cost and increases your chances of making a mistake.

Get Race Ready in 4 Weeks

With just four weeks to go before your triathlon, every day is crucial and you’ll need to be organized in advance. You can’t afford to miss sessions because your bike doesn’t work or because you local pool is closed for aqua aerobics.

Get yourself a calendar and plan the next 28 days in advance, whether it’s a pool session, an open water swim or a run.

Do your research and don’t leave anything to the last minute. For example, if you’re planning to do an open water swim in two weeks time, you need to arrange a venue and find some people to swim with. You should have a wetsuit that fits, goggles that work and a brightly colored swim hat for safety.

If you leave these kinds of tasks to the last minute, you’ll increase the chances of “bad luck” getting in your way.

Similarly, you need to get your kit ready. The most important single item is your bike. Save yourself the time up front by getting your bike serviced by a good bike shop. Tell them you’re racing a triathlon in four weeks and that you need it to train on now. Find a shop that sells high-end road bikes, as they’re more likely to get the job done right.

Get Race Smart In 4 Weeks

If you’re worried about your fitness ahead of a triathlon, sensible pacing could be your savior. Triathlons are far easier if you don’t start off too fast and yet almost everyone makes this mistake. In fact the hardest part of a triathlon has been shown to be the first transition, when you’re running towards your bike after the swim. This is typically when your heart rate will be at it’s highest, although there’s no great advantage to doing this in most events.

The secret of pacing is to treat each discipline as part of a greater whole. So don’t aim to set a personal record on the swim, bike or run. Instead, think about the whole thing as one event lasting anything from 1 hour to 1 hour 30 and pace yourself accordingly.

For a sprint triathlon, you should aim for around 85-87% of your maximum heart rate. In terms of perceived exertion, that would be around 15 or 16 out of 20 on a hardness scale. Hard, but not that hard.

Race Nutrition In 4 Weeks

For a relatively short triathlon like a sprint, you don’t need to worry too much about taking nutrition during the event. Providing you eat a normal-sized carbohydrate-based supper the night before (e.g pasta and sauce) and a light carbohydrate breakfast a few hours beforehand (e.g cereal or toast) you should have enough energy to last for the entire race.

You should also be careful about dieting in the lead up to a race. If you’re training most days, you’ll need plenty of food-energy to keep you going. Your body can’t adapt to your training if it’s not getting sufficient nutrients and energy from your daily diet. The fact that your exercising so regularly will probably mean you shed some excess body fat anyway, if that’s your aim.

The 4 Week Sprint Triathlon Training Plan

This training plan is designed for novices, who are considering doing a sprint triathlon (750m/20km/5km)) with just four-weeks dedicated preparation.

It’s written in simple terms, without too many different training zones or fancy terminology. If you already have some triathlon fitness you could always extend the sessions to suit your level. This plan is written as a bare-minimum triathlon training guide, rather than a high performance plan.

If you find the daily workouts are tough, don’t despair. The first two weeks of any new training regime are always the hardest. After that your body will adapt and the routine will feel more manageable.

If you’re really struggling you can break the workouts into smaller parts, with frequent short rest periods. In some ways the training is the easy bit – the other advice in this feature will fast-track your performances just as much. That said, if you feel like you’re constantly cranky and tired, take two or three days off to recover.

There are two different training intensities here: Hard and easy.

Easy is an effort-level where you could chat, if someone asked you a question. It’s around 70-80% of your maximal heart rate, or 10-12 out of 20 on a hardness scales.

Hard, as the names suggests, is a bit harder. Aim for around 87-89% of your max heart rate, or 16 or 17 out of 20 on a hardness scale (where 20 is a sprint).

You can do the rides on an indoor trainer or outside, it’s your choice. And do the swim sessions using a front-crawl or freestyle stroke (FC).

Week 1:

Swim Lesson or Pool Swim with 10x50m FC with 30secs rests.Tuesday
Run 15 mins (5 mins jog/walk, 5 mins hard, 5 mins jog/walk)Wednesday
Swim Lesson or Pool Swim with 6x100m FC with 45secs rests.Thursday
Spin Bike gym class or ride outside 25 mins as (10 mins easy, 10 mins hard, 5 mins easy)

Rest Day

Ride 30 minutes, mainly easy pace

Run or run/walk 20 mins at an easy pace

Week 2:

Spin Bike gym class or ride outside 25 mins as (10 mins easy, 10 mins hard, 5 mins easy)
10 minute easy jog straight afterwards.Tuesday
Run or run/walk 20 mins at an easy paceWednesday
Swim Lesson or Pool Swim with 3x200m FC with 60secs rests.Thursday
Ride 35 minutes, mainly easy pace

Rest Day

Run 5km (3.1 miles) easy

15-20 minute Open Water Swim. Just get in the water, swim around and get a feel for it. Practice swim starts and exits.

Week 3:

Spin Bike gym class or ride outside 25 mins as (10 mins easy, 10 mins hard, 5 mins easy)
10 minute easy jog straight afterwards.Tuesday
Rest DayWednesday
Ride 40 minutes at a mainly easy pace +10 minute easy jog straight afterwards.Thursday
Swim Lesson or Pool Swim 2x300m FC with 60 secs rests.

Rest Day

Ride 20km at moderate to hard effort + 10 minute easy jog straight afterwards.

Open Water Swim, 20 minutes non stop at a moderate to hard effort. Practice swim starts and exits.

Week 4:

Ride 35 minutes, mainly easy pace +10 minute easy jog straight afterwards.Tuesday
Rest DayWednesday
Swim Lesson or Pool Swim 750m FC non stop.Thursday
Run 20 mins at an easy pace, but include a 3-minute hard effort

Ride 30 mins at an easy pace, but include a 5-minute hard effort

Rest Day

Triathlon Race Day

For a more detailed Sprint distance triathlon plan you can try my FREE Sprint distance triathlon training plan here, designed using Training Peaks.
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Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised expert in the field, having featured on many endurance sports publications. He founded MyProCoach in 2010 to sell premium training plans complete with email coach support for triathlons, duathlons, running & cycling.

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