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How much time should you spend training for triathlon?

Time is a finite resource. It's incredibly valuable and one we must guard preciously. When it comes to training and coaching, there are two main variables we are working with that dictate how much time an athlete can spend training for triathlon:

  1. How much time available they have to train

  2. How much time is beneficial for training

Time Training for Triathlon from the "Time Pie"

Once we know those first two points, then we decide HOW to spend that time training.

I like to think of time available for training as a pie. TrainingPeaks also likes to think of it as such. See below.

How to divide up time spent training each sport for triathlon

The entire pie represents training time. The pie is broken up into "slices" with each slice being a training modality (swim, bike, run, strength, race, other). To level with all of you, I find that trying to estimate how big an athlete's pie should be is our hardest job as a coach. We as coaches have to understand the ins and outs of an athlete's work, family, and social life; the event they are training for; and their training motivation and history, in order to help them set the number of training hours that is both doable AND beneficial. It's a nearly impossible task! Just because we think an athlete should spend X amount of time training for triathlon, doesn't mean they can or should.

Communication is key between coach and athlete to make this determination. A problem I see sometimes when signing up for a big event (like Ironman), is that the athlete, family, and job don't realize that it's going to take a certain size pie to get to that finish line!

It's why my favorite thing as a coach is when an athlete approaches me and says they are feeling good and fresh, enjoying the training, and asks whether it would be possible to cut out a rest day or train a little more. If I look back on TrainingPeaks and there is a sea of green, then the answer is often YES. There is a lot of fitness that can be gained simply by adding hours, as long as they are prescribed correctly.

For someone who has flexibility in time and a high cap on the number of hours available to train, the key is making sure the volume is right or appropriate for where someone is physically and mentally. 

For most people, there is a ceiling to the total hours available for training, so we must decide how best to use those hours. Let's consider an athlete who can average 8 hours per week for 50 weeks each year (2 rest weeks). That's 400 hours of training. 8 hours doesn't sound like a massive amount, but it's actually a pretty high level if we are talking about averaging 8 hours over the course of 12 months. If this person is a triathlete, we have to divide those 8 hours up by swim, bike, run, and strength/mobility work. Of course, during some periods of the year, the athlete will be training 12 hours per week and other times 5 hours, but you can quickly see how the sports get parceled out very rapidly! It's why we, as coaches and athletes, need to be mindful when we look into adding more things.

Strength Training in the Time You Have Training for Triathlon

I'm going to pick on strength training a bit here. I do a mobility/activation routine every morning and lift 2x a week most of the year, so in no way am I against strength training. BUT, when we look at adding strength training into a program, we have to seriously consider the fact that either A) our total training volume can go up or B) we are going to sacrifice another training modality. If you are a runner, then adding a 1-hour lifting session means 1 hour less of running per week or ~50 hours less per year. If a triathlete, then that hour is going to come from some mixture of your swim, bike, or run volume... multiplied by 50 weeks per year! The question then becomes: will strength training help our performance in our chosen sport by making us stronger, more powerful, and resistant to injury? If the answer is yes, then great. If it's no, then strength training will actually make us slower because we are reducing training volume. 

I tend to be a fan of little "maintenance" routines of 10-20 minutes thrown in frequently throughout the week, which is just enough to keep the body activated and strong so that it doesn't break down under load. Everyone is also incredibly individual in this regard. I have some athletes that never get hurt (except when they do strength training) and it seems to make zero impact on their performance, so we don't do it! For others, I might recommend that it's a near-daily part of their life if they want to stay healthy.

Choices about Time Affect All Parts of Life, Beyond Triathlon

This principle applies to ANY choices we make with how we spend our time. If we say yes to one thing, it means we are saying no to something else. I've become extremely stingy with my "yes" over the last 2 years. 

If you watched the Rich Roll podcast with Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden, then you remember them talking about how their coach let them make choices but explained the consequences to them. That's how I look at our training pie and determine how to slice it. If you haven't watched/listened yet, then check it out here:

So as you plan for the next few weeks, months, and years and discuss training availability and areas to improve on, keep in mind the size of the pie you have available and know that every choice has consequences.

Need help deciding how much time you can train? Talk to a Paragon Training Coach.

Paragon Training
Triathlon Coaching | Training Plans | Team
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