So you want to do a triathlon? The sport of triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States with millions of Americans taking part in at least one race a year. With races of all distances popping up in new places, there’s no excuse not to sign up for a triathlon.
Triathlon is an endurance sport where you swim, bike, and run for a specific distance. Most people opt to compete in the sprint distance, which is a 0.5-mile swim, 12-mile bike, and a 3.1-mile (5km) run. Although, distances can vary per race. The Ironman distance (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run) is the ultimate endurance race for those seeking a challenge.
No matter what race distance you choose, the sport of triathlon is a great way to get in shape, compete in sports as an adult, and have fun.
The Benefits of Triathlon Workouts and Fitness
Getting involved with the sport of triathlon is easy and fun. The triathlon community is very welcoming and you’ll often find triathletes training at your local gym, pool, and spin class. While triathlon is an individual sport, many triathletes choose to train with others making training social and fun.
Triathlon involves completing three sports one after another so you’ll need to train in the pool, on the bike, and on the pavement. Training and competing in the sport of triathlon is no small feat. You need to be prepared to dedicate at least 10-12 hours a week for sprint triathlon and upwards of 20-25 hours a week for Ironman training.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
If weight loss is your primary goal then triathlon is not the best way to lose weight. That being said, you can lose weight if you eat and train right. Multiple studies have shown that best way to lose weight is through diet. You need to create a calorie deficit in order to start losing weight.
Training for a triathlon can certainly help you burn calories, but you need to remember that what you put in your mouth matters more. Just because you burned 600 calories on a bike ride doesn’t mean you should reward yourself with a pizza. How about an omelet and apple?
Triathlon is an endurance sport meaning that your body uses oxygen and muscle glycogen to fuel the activity. After your body depletes its glycogen stores, it will start using your body fat as fuel. But, good news! If you train specifically with fat loss in mind, you can turn your body into a fat burning machine.
Heart rate training has been around for decades. By training mainly in your “zone 2” heart rate zone, you’ll stimulate mitochondrial growth and improve your ability to burn fat. Mitochondria are the parts of your muscle cells that love to burn fat.
An ideal triathlon training plan should have you completing 3-4 days of zone 2 training a week during your base phase of training and at least two days during the build and race phase.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
Triathlon primarily works your cardiovascular system. As you lean out, you will probably see more muscle definition, but swimming, biking, and running is not the best way to build muscle. Strength training, like bodyweight exercises and lifting weights, is the best way to build and tone muscles.
Just because you are training for a triathlon doesn’t mean you should stop strength training. Just the contrary, you should continue to strength train during your triathlon training. Strength training can help improve your running economy, build your leg muscles for climbing hills on the bike, and strengthen your core.
While training for a triathlon, you’ll want to skip the heavy deadlifts and shoulder presses that could potentially lead to injury and fatigue. Instead, focus on high reps with less weight and core exercises. Aim for 1-2 sessions a week with exercises like, planks, squats, biceps curls, and pushups. These strength training sessions will help keep your body strong and reduce your chances of injury.
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
Many gyms and bike shops have embraced the sport of triathlon with open arms by creating clubs, teams, and classes for those interested in doing triathlons. Getting involved with a local club is a great way to meet other triathletes and have fun. You can search the USA Triathlon website for clubs near you.
Ask any triathlete what their least favorite leg of a triathlon is, and they will tell you it is the swim. Swimming is a technical sport. It involves breathing, buoyance, and technique. If you’re not comfortable with swimming, it’s a good idea to invest in some swim lessons. Not only will you become a stronger and faster swimmer, but you will also gain confidence, which is just as important. Are you already a decent swimmer? Join a masters swim group at your local pool.
During the winter months, especially in the northern parts of the country, you’ll find many triathletes and cyclists in spin classes. Spin classes are a great way to stay in shape during the long winter months. Riding a spin bike is different than a road bike, but much of the work will translate to the road when the snow melts.
Instructional Triathlon Videos and Training Tips
- If you’re not comfortable swimming, take a swim lesson or two.
- Wear your wetsuit before race day.
- Practice race nutrition throughout your training.
- Brick (bike-run) workouts are key to running better off the bike.
- Remember to wear your helmet and follow the traffic laws when riding your bike on the road.
- Practice your transitions.
- Have fun!
Clothes and Proper Attire
Since triathlons involved three different sports, you’ll need specialized equipment for each discipline. It’s easy to drop thousands of dollars for stuff without a bat of the eye. Some people do. But, starting in the sport doesn’t have to be expensive.
Start with the basic equipment and as you get more involved and committed to the sport then you can upgrade and purchase new equipment.
To get started you need the following equipment:
- Bike shoes
- Water bottle holder
- Running shoes
Many small races will let you use a hybrid or mountain bike. However, most races require you to use a road bike. It’s best to check the rules of the race to see what they will allow. Bikes are expensive. An entry-level road bike costs an average of $800. If you can’t afford a new bike, look for used bikes online. Before buying a used bike, have a bike shop check it over to make sure it fits and is safe to ride.
Bike shoes are optional depending on the types of pedals you use. For more efficiency and power, clipless pedals and bike shoes are worth the investment. If your race is outside, you might want to invest in a wetsuit for colder water. Alternatively, you can rent one.
If this is your first triathlon, wear what is comfortable. That could be just a t-shirt and shorts. You can also wear triathlon specific clothes, which are spandex and made to dry quickly after the swim. In most sprint races you won’t have the opportunity to change before each leg so choose wisely.
Triathlons are a great way to get fit, meet new friends, and have fun. But, be careful. The sport is addicting. Next thing you know, you’ll be signing up for an Ironman.
Results and Success Stories
Woman of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels get involved in the sport of triathlon every year for their own reasons. Some sign up for their first triathlon to get healthier, while others enjoy the challenge.
Hilary, 32, said she got into triathlons for the challenge of the three sports after losing a significant amount of weight, but continues to compete in the sport after the little girl she has been babysitting since birth started asking her questions about the sport. This year both girls are competing in the Maine State Tri. Hilary said, “If I have a bad moment, I just remember she is watching me. I want her to grow up to be a strong woman and have a good healthy foundation early in life.”
Alayna, 31, got bite by the triathlon bug in college as a way to stay in shape and connect with her sister. In the past 11 years, they have done over 15 triathlons together. Alayna says that the sport of triathlon has helped her stay in shape and maintain her weight. When asked for her top tip for first timers, she said “don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money up front. I use an old Schwinn road bike that I found abandoned in a ditch.”
Wendy, 53, started running and cycling in her 40s to stay fit. After watching many of her friends compete in triathlons she finally decided to conquer her fear of swimming and signed up for her first race in 2010. Since May of 2010, she has competed in 50 triathlons ranging from sprint to Half-Ironman, lost 10 pounds, and became both physically and mentally fit.