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2010/12/07 - Newsletter

How to find your training plan

How should I select a training plan?

Welcome again to the tri-strides newsletter.
This issue is for beginners and accomplished triathletes who ask themselves the question how to train during the next season.

I just right now went through exactly this process: My house is littered with books - and there are a handful of triathlon books in the mix. Some of those triathlon training books contain training plans - and then there are the magazines, too - two in German, two British, and two American ones. Also here, some offer very elaborate training plans. Additionally there is always Google and its almost infinite resourcefulness to find whatever you want to find. Only, the art is not to find a plan, but to know which to select. This is the topic of this newsletter.

The first thing you need to decide is what your main race will be in the next season. This means you need to know date, location, and duration of this race. What is your overall goal for this race? You might steer towards finishing your first ever Sprint triathlon; you might want to improve at your time in a race you have done the previous year, you coulr select a destination race, or you might want to finish your first (half) iron distance race. To decide on your first-priority race you can utilize race calendars like Chicago Athlete (local) or Trifind (national). Finding international races is a bit tougher, unless you aim toward ironman races which you all can find at Also, google will help in this context. Knowing the language of the host country certainly will help, but some races post all their information in English.

As soon as you know which race you want to race you can look for a training plan to get you to your goal. The easiest way is to hire a coach to help you plan your training, the timing of workouts as well as finding and scheduling other races around your main goal race. Your coach will probably provide you weekly with the coming week's schedule, talk regularly to you, suggest changes in the training in case you are sick or have to skip training because of your job, etc.

If instead you would like to self-coach (which I have done since I am doing triathlon) you need to find ressources for training plans. There are good books on the market - Check the authors Gale Bernhardt, Matt Fitzgerald, and Joe Friel. Just go, browse in any book store which has a decent selection of fitness-related books. Or browse the internet. But how can you find the one plan which fits to you and your dreams?

To decide this you need to know the following facts:

  • How much weekly time can you spend training
  • How much time can you spend maximally per week? (Generally the plans you can find will increase your training volume - the time you spend training - with time).
  • Where do you live/work in relation to a gym, a running track, a forest preserve, etc. You probably will have to drive to some of your training sessions: How much time will that take? Maybe you can combine commuting and training, especially if your work place has a shower.
  • Is there a bike club, a weekly fun run, or a masters swim program around your home or work place?
  • Can you combine family time with training time? If you have small children, a running stroller and/or bike trailer will be a valuable investment. You transport your kids, they are supervised and maybe they even can take their nap at that time while you get your workout done. Make sure the stroller has a safety line and that you don't change your running gait while running with 'attachment'. A home treadmill might be another idea to combine supervising kids with exercising. A couple of dumbbells and other strength training equipment is a must - for those times you don't make it to the gym but would like to complete a strength session. I will elaborate on this in one of the next newsletters. Maybe your gym has a kiddy care area or even classes appropriate for your kids - that's a good way to give your little ones social time while doing something for yourself. It is all about time management.

You will need these factors to decide about the doability of a training regime. But there are more important questions to ask yourself:

  • Your plan should fit your planned goal race (duh!) Don't take a Ironman plan to train for a Sprint race - thinking, more mileage will give you better results. Ironman plans do not focus so much on speed training - which you will dearly miss doing your goal Sprint race.
  • What have you done last year? Your training load should not increase more than 10 percent each year, else you will risk injury. If you are just starting out and have not been working out yet, you should find a program which really starts from scratch - especially in the running segment. Your first run training could include run-walk sessions to make sure that you don't overstrain your joints and muscles. There is plenty of time to increase distance - but from week to week the running time and running distance may not increase more than five percent.
  • If you have been racing in the past, take a look at the race results and your ranking in the swim, bike and run segment of the last goal race. Where was your ranking weakest? Where was it strongest? You will want to work on the weaker areas. For example you were on place 255 in the swim, 199 in the bike and 280 in the run, you definitely should focus on run training. Select a training plan with a focus on running speed and endurance --- and/or ask your friendly coach for help ;-)
  • A good training plan incorporates moderate increases in training volume, but also usually suggests a certain distribution of workouts throughout each week. They should include a rest day each week and the workouts should be distributed such that no two hard sessions fall onto consecutive days.
    The training load should increase two or three weeks before decreasing a little; but then it will increase again for two or three weeks and so on. This is done so that your body has some time to recover from the increased load and gain fitness in the process.
  • You might want a flexible plan which leaves you play to both sides: Imagine you start one program and after two weeks you notice that this is too much for you. Then it is convenient if your plan has different grades of difficulty - you then just can step it down a notch. Another way this comes in handy is, if you have a weak area to work on, e.g. swimming. Then you can take the swim workouts from the higher level and combine them with the other workouts from a lower level.
    And last, not least: You want a creative plan - a plan which changes all the time, surprises you and your body with always new types of workouts.

So, I am just through this process, on my way to Ironman Coeur d'Alene end June. I ended up with a plan from the German Triathlon Magazin which actually has all the requirements I listed above: It is flexible, changing all the time, distributes the workouts well within the week and overall, and fits to my training level.
My second choice would have been Matt Fitzgeralds' training plans (level 7 - he wrote a book describing 10 different levels for each race type)
My third choice was a tie between Joe Friel's book 'Going Long' and Gale Bernhardt's 'Training plans for multisport athletes'. Both books include decent plans, but either I need other, additional ressources, e.g. for the swim training, or I have to leaf through the whole book to assemble the plan each week.

Well, this is my take on finding a fitting training plan. Comments and additions are always welcome. I will explain how to modify this chosen plan to your needs in one of the next newsletters.

Stay tuned for the next issue of this bi-weekly to monthly newsletter.

Greetings from your coach's desk
Dr. Sylvia Zinser
USAT Certified triathlon coach