We received a question on our website recently asking if it was possible to train for triathlon at the gym. I’m pretty sure that with our hectic lifestyles and ‘temperamental’ weather, a lot of people training for triathlon in the UK have wondered about training indoors. Sometimes it’s just easier to train at the gym. So is it an option?
Yes, you can do quite a bit of triathlon training in the gym, but you must train outside as well.
The key is specificity – a term we coaches like to throw around a lot. Specificity in sports is a principle of training which states that training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect. It also means that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must perform that exercise or skill.
In other words, you can run on a treadmill or ride on a stationary bike, but it’s just not the same as running on pavement (or trails) or training on the bike that you plan to race on. Muscles will function differently and in many instances, the set up of a bike at the gym will be completely different from your own bike, meaning that muscles will be worked in a different way (or worse case, different muscles will be worked entirely!) Impact is different on a treadmill, so it’s important to train your legs to run on a similar surface to the one you’ll be racing on (though the lessened impact and balanced running on a treadmill can be helpful to mix in to avoid injury if you’re new to running).
In addition, it’s important that you develop road-worthy (and race-ready) bike handling skills, something that you can’t do in the gym. Cornering, cycling on hills (both up and down), gear shifting and proper braking are all essential skills that you can only practice out on the road!
And of course, if at all possible, practising swimming in open water (if you are swimming in an open water race) is key to allow you to get used to sighting, any waves or current, and just to assuage your fears or open water concerns.
So the short answer is, mix it up. If you’re only able to train indoors during the week, it’s certainly better than no training at all – just make sure to get out there at the weekend! And when you’re out there, practise the essentials that you’ll need such as bike handling and open water swim drills. Your racing will be better, much safer – and your training will be a lot more fun!
Enjoy your training and the great outdoors,
Coach Kristin x