There are two key approaches to triathlon training plans. One assumes that you have decided to pick an event and are looking to train specifically for that, and the other assumes that you are building a year-long training plan to compete in either for a specific event or season.
Neither is right or wrong, they are just designed for different types of people and requirements, but the one-off plans are more suitable for the first timer.
One-off triathlon training plan
A one-off triathlon training plan will be aimed at a specific distance in a given time frame and will assume a level of base fitness. These are the most common forms of training plans and will break the week down into specific activities on given days that balance the disciplines evenly. Most Magazines and sites will have their versions, as will some of the main tech providers like Garmin and Trainerroad if you are a user.
Training Peaks and Strava also run these programmes but they tend to be paid, but can also be more advanced or allow dynamic adjustments based on performance.
Online calendar based plans like Garmin’s are ideal because you can move sessions around to suit your needs. There is nothing more annoying than having a swimming session on a day when the pool is closed for swimming lessons! Some will also publish the calendar so that you can link it to your outlook or Google calendar which helps with organisation and motivation.
Season long triathlon training plan.
A season-long plan has three key phases. A taper phase may also be added if you are training for a long event, which you really shouldn’t skip.
The base phase lets you build up a basic level of aerobic fitness that will form the foundation for more strenuous sessions as you get closer to your race. The sessions will tend to be easier, either shorter or performed at lower levels of intensity to build fitness and strength without the risk of injury, they may also focus on reinforcing certain skills or promoting muscle memory which will make later sessions more productive, and on training your body to use the specific aerobic energy systems to improve your aerobic endurance and performance.
The majority of the work for the season is done during the build phase, where the athlete starts to specialise and focus on the performance goals of a target event. This might be building endurance for a long race, power for a hilly race or speed for a sprint based event. The Sessions in this phase will be more intense and involve anaerobic or threshold activities which are designed to help you sustain higher power outputs over greater periods of time and promote active recovery which lets you do it time and again.
Sprints, intervals, hill repeats are a key ingredient of this phase but must be balanced with aerobic and recovery sessions.
Injury is a concern in this phase as well, so foam rolling and massage, physio sessions and flexibility exercise such as pilates may well be promoted during this phase.
Speciality or conditioning phase
During the final phase, the assumption is that you have reached the level of general fitness required to complete the event, but need to be sharp and injury free to compete. Training loads will drop off but become more focussed. The intention is to practice the kinds of mental and physical effort that will be required in the race, effectively simulating important parts of the race but at less than race levels.
For major events, this phase may include B or C races which are added as training or testing events to allow you to understand your performance prior to your A race, so you can optimise your prep and focus on your areas of weakness.