How to Train For a Triathlon

Learn how to train for a triathlon and do the right triathlon workouts so you can finish your triathlon.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #50

Summer is quickly approaching, and with summer comes triathlons. Originally reserved for uber-fit swimming, cycling and running fanatics wearing obnoxiously colored spandex, triathlons are now highly accessible and great fitness motivators for both complete beginners and weekend warriors. In this episode, you’ll learn how to train for a triathlon and do triathlon workouts so that you can finish your triathlon.

What Is A Triathlon?

Contrary to popular belief, a triathlon is not necessarily the long and hot Ironman event that you see on TV each year (although I have personally done that triathlon a few times and will verify that it is just as hot as it looks). Technically, a triathlon is any event that involves the three sports of swimming, cycling and running--although occasionally, in a winter triathlon, the sport of swimming will often be substituted with cross country skiing.

You don’t necessarily have to swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles to do a triathlon. That’s just one kind of triathlon--it’s called an Ironman distance. And aside from the Ironman, the three most common triathlon distances are:

  • Sprint distance, which is usually about a 500 meter swim, 10-15 mile bike ride (~20K), and 2-3 mile run (~4-5K).

  • Olympic distance, which is usually about a 1500 meter swim, 26 mile bike ride (~40K), and 6.2 mile run (~10K).

  • Half Ironman. You know how long an Ironman is, so you get to guess the distance on the Half Ironman!

How to Sign Up For A Triathlon

There are several websites and magazines that I personally like to use to search for and register for triathlons, including TriFind.com, Active.com, RaceTwitch.com, LAVA Magazine, and Triathlete Magazine. Those last two magazines are actually really great resources for finding out all sorts of interesting things about triathlons in general.

Before you sign up for a race, you should look into the race details, which you can usually find on the triathlon’s website. For example, is the race extremely hilly or flat? If you’re overweight or just getting started, a hilly race could be difficult. Is the swim in a choppy ocean or flat lake? If you’re a new swimmer, you might want to choose a body of water that is easier to swim in. Some triathlons are off-road, which may appeal to you if you prefer to mountain bike rather than ride on a paved road. If you’re a guy, pay close attention when looking for a race, because some triathlons are only available to women! Ultimately, the most important thing is to do your research and find out what you’re getting into before you take the plunge.

Training For a Triathlon

Training for a triathlon can seem a bit intimidating at first. Not only do you need to swim, bike, and run several times per week, but you also should be including weight training, stretching or yoga, and even the recovery protocols I’ve talked about in other articles.

On the other hand, because you’re exercising in so many different ways, your risk of injury decreases because you’re not stressing the same joints over and over again, as would be the case if you were training for a marathon. In addition, your fitness can often quickly increase, because you are throwing so many different forms of exercise at your body.

How to Start Training for a Triathlon: Swimming

For swimming, the best place to begin (especially if you aren’t an experienced swimmer) is to take a swim lesson at your local health club, or meet up with the local Master’s swim club, which is a group of adults that do swim workouts together, usually with a coach. Most triathlons take place in a river, lake, or ocean, so you’ll want to be prepared to practice swimming in open bodies of water, and you may also need a wetsuit,which can keep you warm and buoyant while swimming.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.