Triathletes: How Much Time Should We Spend On Each Sport?

As multi-sport athletes, we must juggle training for more than one sport, but when it comes to knowing how much time to allocate to each discipline there is no fixed rule. So how can we determine how to effectively allocate our training time in order to achieve the best results?


Ultimately it’ll be a balance between the race type you’re doing; duathlon, triathlon, swim/run etc., also the distance of the race and therefore the ratio of each sport the demands of a specific course and your own strength and weaknesses within each discipline.


Shorter distance races will usually mean less emphasis on volume within a single session, but not necessarily over the week as a whole. This may mean sessions can be shorter, with more of a speed and power work, but more frequent, with multiple sessions per day. In short distance triathlon the swim accounts for a larger proportion of the overall race, and in races where places are separated by seconds, working more on your swim makes all the difference.


Shorter races also mean you’re likely to be working at a higher percentage of your maximum heart rate and therefore training sessions need to reflect this. A balance between endurance and speed work will be essential, but higher intensity sessions may be more fatiguing and therefore demand longer recovery periods between similar session types. However, as previously mentioned, shorter sessions may allow for multiple sessions per day.


Middle distance races and above are significantly more about the bike and run as well as nutrition for both. While your cardiovascular system adapts to endurance racing fairly quickly, longer distance events are also about how your body copes with the demands of the additional training time. More people get injured training for a race than within the race itself, which when you consider your race volume pales in comparison to the months and months of training volume you’ve acquired, it’s no wonder. It’s important to make sure your body is ‘robust’ enough to deal with the demands of training and racing, so additional strength and conditioning work should be considered to prepare you for your event. This must also be scheduled in around your swim, bike and run training.


The marathon at the end of an Ironman is arguably the most demanding aspect of the race, not least because it’s the final discipline at the end of a day’s racing. However it’s also the most demanding on your body in training because of the impact, which means that your training needs to balance the distance and time within your training plan to ensure you can complete your race, but without overtraining.


Perhaps one of the biggest factors to determine how you best allocate training time is to consider the you, the athlete. Someone who’s come from a running background and perhaps done multiple marathons will probably be more than capable with coping with the training for an ironman run. Whereas, someone who may either be stepping up from shorter distances or coming from a swim or cycle background may wish to step up their run training much more gradually. This applies to any distance triathlon if you’ve come from a background in one particular sport.


While it makes sense to a degree to spend more time working on your weaknesses, bare in mind that training weaker sports may be more fatiguing and upping distance to much too soon could lead to injury. With swimming being such a technical sport, it makes spend a lot of time in the pool, but by breaking your time down into a mix of fitness work as well as drills and technique should ensure you don’t over do the volume. Cycling has far less impact than running and can be a great way to boost fitness and put in some serious training time, however, those that are unfamiliar to cycling may take time getting used to their bike position, the different way your muscles work on the bike. Extra stress through the lower back, hips, and shoulders needs to be considered.


In summary, while there’s no fixed rule as to how you should allocate your training time within triathlon and multisport, start with a split that represents the demands of the individual sports within your race distance and workout how much time a week you are able to dedicate to training. Allocate time to different types of session, working on endurance, technique and interval/speed endurance sessions. From here take into consideration your own strengths and weaknesses as well as any injury history that may affect how you are able to train and use this to then tweak your schedule to support this. Also, it’s worth considering that many sessions may be simply determined by logistics; i.e. if you’re only able to train before or after work, then you may be limited by pool opening hours, class times etc. Work out your fixed sessions and then add in your more flexible ones around the rest of your week.

 Triathlon Coach Phil