Triathlon Training Explained

Triathlon-Training-ExplainedSo you’ve decided to train for a triathlon. Congratulations! We think it’s a great move! But where do you start with your triathlon training? A good place to begin is to check out some of our articles. We have suggestions on where to find a training plan, what you should be doing by season, and even a training log to help you chart your progress.

Or maybe you’ve already read up a little on training. A lot of triathlon training talk or training plans sound like a foreign language, don’t they? Periodisation, heart rate, RPE, tempo, Borg scale… huh?

Let’s take a few of these terms and break them down, shall we?


Periodisation is taking your entire season (or year) and dividing it into smaller chunks to ensure that your body is ready to race at its best at the right time (the time of your race or races!) Most training programmes work on this system, but it is important that you follow the programmes specifically to when you’re racing. Typically the smaller chunks or mesocycles are: a base phase, for improving aerobic fitness and technique work, a build phase to improve muscular endurance, a peak phase to get you as sharp/fast as possible for racing, and a recovery phase to allow your body to recover and rebuild post-race. For a very detailed periodisation description and example, see this article by triathlon coach Ken Johnson.

Heart Rate

A lot of triathlon training plans give heart rate guidelines at which to train. To know your heart rate (HR) while exercising, you need to wear a heart rate monitor. Most plans will suggest a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR). How to find your MHR? There are numerous ways: for the easiest use the formula 209-(0.9 x age), for more accurate try the Karvonen Formula.

RPE – Rate of Perceived Exertion

Often triathlon training plans tell you to work at (for example) a 7/10 or a 15 on the Borg scale. Both of these are indications of how hard you feel that you’re exerting yourself. In the ‘7/10’ scenario, you are judging how your effort feels on a scale of 1-10, one being you’re lying around with your feet up, 10 being an ‘absolute maximum, can’t hold it for more than 10 seconds’ effort. The Borg scale is similar, however, the scale goes from 6-20. Obviously, these methods are less exact than using a heart rate monitor, but don’t require any equipment! Training using RPE can also help you to become a good judge of pacing.

Tempo (etc.)

To add to the confusion, some training plans also use terms like ‘easy’, ‘tempo’, ‘VO2 Max’ and ‘race pace’. Again, what ‘easy’ is can be quite subjective – and your easy pace on one day might not be easy on a day that you’re recovering. However, if you’d like to go by the numbers, check out the Runner’s World calculator to get an idea what exactly your tempo pace is and for more detailed descriptions of the paces to help with your understanding when you’re on the bike or in the pool.

Triathlon Training Jargon ExplainedTraining plans differs depending on the coach or athlete who wrote it, however, this should cover a lot of your triathlon training basics. Most importantly, get out there and train and have a fun time doing it. Putting in time in the pool, on your bike, and on the run, no matter the pace, will help you get to the finish line – hopefully with a smile on your face.

Happy Training!