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Training Your Client for a Triathlon

Training Your Client for a Triathlon

The triathlon, a test of endurance, strength, and will. The multi-sport race is not an easy feat but a rewarding one. For a client, finding the right coach/trainer is a key element in preparing for this fast-growing sport. The more educated you are as a personal trainer, the better you can help your endurance athletes take on the challenge. The following training tips will help you do just that. 

What is a Triathlon?

A triathlon has three main parts: swimming, biking, and running. However, there are a few different types of triathlons. The difference is the distance each activity covers to make up the total race.

  • Sprint Triathlon: 750M swim, 12-15 mi. bike, and 3.1 mi. run
  • Standard Triathlon or Olympic Triathlon: 1.5 km swim, 25 mi. bike, 6.2 mi. run
  • Half-Ironman: 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi. bike, 13.1 mi. run (half-marathon)
  • Ironman Triathlon: 2.4 mi. swim, 112 mi. bike, 26.2 mi. run (marathon)

Establish a Training Plan

Start by outlining a training program with your client. This will depend on their fitness level and goals coming into training. The standard triathlon is what most people think of when they hear the word triathlon. However, for someone at a beginner level, the sprint marathon is often the best place to start.

If this is their very first triathlon, plan for four or more months to prepare. For a client new to triathlons but with some fitness training, aim for three to four months. And, for a fit client currently active with swimming, biking, and running, schedule out two months for training. Keep in mind, this is a rough guideline and training needs may vary for each client. 

Typically, training for a triathlon runs six days a week. Help your client set up consistent training sessions with and without you to support discipline and consistency.

Swim Training

For clients who are not already swimmers, swim training is often one of the more challenging parts of preparing for the race. There should be a strong emphasis on breathing and stroke technique to ensure your client is swimming efficiently and has energy for the rest of the race. Here are a few tips to help guide clients:

  • Breathing rhythm: Take a breath above water and exhale completely underwater before coming up again for air (ideally every 2-3 strokes)
  • Breathing form: Rotate torso when taking a breath as opposed to lifting the head out of the water.
  • Balance: Keep the head pointed down and focus on maintaining a horizontal position in the water. The more their feet drop, the harder they will have to work against the water.

Also, it is ideal to initially train in a pool to ensure proper form and breathing techniques. However, if the race is in open water (instead of a pool), you will want to incorporate some open water swims into their training as well. 

If you’re not confident in your coaching techniques for swimming, this is a great time to create connections with other fitness professionals. Build a referral system with a local swim instructor and coordinate training efforts to reach even more clients.

Bike Training

Cycling is the second portion of the race. It can also be challenging for those that have not spent a significant amount of time on a bike. Here are a few tips to help guide your clients in their bike workouts:

  • Get outside: Have them train outdoors if they have safe areas to ride. Otherwise, use an indoor stationary bike (the kind that resembles a road bike) for their workouts.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Shifting gears, slowing down, climbing hills, drinking water while biking, transitioning from bike to running, etc.
  • Efficiency: Strive for efficiency during the bike ride to save energy for the run. Have them practice keeping their body in tight so be more aerodynamic. 

Run Training

The last part of the race is the run. This tends to be the easiest to train of the three. Many clients already walk or run for exercise while not as many bike or swim. However, this is still a very challenging part of the race because the client has to tackle the mileage after swimming and biking. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Build endurance and add variety: Gradually increase distance in long runs to build endurance but don’t forget to include interval runs and hills into training in their workouts. 
  • Terrain: Tracks, treadmills, and road training can all be used but try to keep long runs outdoors to mimic the race.
  • Brick workout: Have your client complete a bike and run workout back to back once a week as you get closer to race day. This is a brick workout intended to help the body transition from the bike to the running phase of the race. It can help prepare those legs for the run by running when the client is tired from the bike.

Weight Training

Resistance training is a valuable part of training for triathletes. Ideally, you will want to help your client strengthen the major muscle groups and the stabilizing muscles involved in the core movements of each part of the race. 

  • Swim: lats, triceps, pecs, core, deltoids, glutes
  • Bike: hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, core
  • Run: hamstrings, quads, glutes, core

But, as mentioned, don’t limit training to just these muscles. You want to emphasize full-body functionality and mobility.

Rest Days

Taking time off from training is essential for the body and mind. Overtraining is a breeding ground for injury. A good time to schedule a rest day is after the longest or hardest workout of the week. Also, it’s important your client listens to their body and communicates with you in regard to how they are feeling. If they need a rest day, they should take it. 


Having the right gear is essential. It is important for the athlete to stay comfortable and safe throughout each training session and during the race. So, whether they buy or borrow, they need to make sure the gear is comfortable and fits properly—including the bike. Here are some important items for race day:

  • Swim goggles
  • Swim cap (often provided by the race company)
  • Wet suit (optional)
  • Tri suit or shorts + workout t-shirt + athletic swim top (for ladies)
  • Bike
  • Bike cleats
  • Bike helmet
  • Running shoes

Tying It All Together

The exact training plan for a triathlon will vary based on the client’s schedule, baseline fitness levels coming into training, injuries, the type of triathlon they will be competing in, etc. But, you’ll want to lay out a training schedule that roughly includes a mix of the following each week:

  • Two days of swim training
  • Two days of bike training
  • Two days of running
  • One rest day

As mentioned, don’t forget to throw in the brick workout into their training plan as they get closer to race day. Also include intervals, hills, and speed-work, while you’re helping them build mileage and endurance. 

Customize each training program to the individual and their goals. Training specifically for each leg of the race, weight training, rest, and proper gear are all essential for a successful race day. Good luck! Ready, set, go!

Do you have a passion for personal training, working with athletes, and helping people improve their athletic performance or test their body’s limits? Get started with ISSA’s Strength and Conditioning Certification and turn that passion into a career.