Types of training sessions – and how to perform them

Posted on: December 17, 2018

Types of training sessions – and how to perform them

As noted in our previous blogs, Training for a triathlon – a different approach? and How to approach your training, triathlon should be approached in a way that is conducive to performance. Recapping, to boost TRIATHLON performance you need to train for TRIATHLON – not swim, bike and run.

Is summary, training should:

  1. Train the body to become as fit and fast as possible by developing aerobic efficiency and muscular endurance (strength)
  2. Train the body to produce power with skeletal muscles (muscles surrounding the skeleton) without taxing the cardiac muscles (heart and lungs). Basically – move faster whilst keeping heart rate and breathing rate low
  3. Learn to feel and regulate your effort. Fitness Testing to establish training levels (EASY, MEDIUM and HARD) as well as learning how to strength train (skeletal muscles not cardiac)

Training in the most effective way

The development of a good aerobic base with correct movement patterns (NOT technique, but movement patterns) should be the key component to triathlon programming. Combining this with the development of strength, for muscular endurance, allows for sustainable power in the swim, bike and run over the goal race distance.

The correct mix of aerobic, strength and some (a small percentage of the overall) high intensity sessions at threshold will enable ongoing development without causing undue stress and injury.

Training programmes should therefore comprise a lot of aerobic training while strategically placing strength training and some higher intensity sessions. It is the correct combination you will find that you are able to train and race at higher levels, while feeling less fatigued and recover quicker.

Aerobic, Strength and Threshold Sessions

The following section explains the types of sessions and how you should perform them. They are listed in priority: Aerobic, Muscular Endurance (strength) and, finally, Threshold.

Aerobic Development Sessions

Aerobic sessions are the longer easy sessions for swim, bike and run and should (MUST be) be performed at the EASY level. These sessions are aimed at strengthening your cardiac system – heart, lungs, blood oxygenation and supply, as defined below.

Strength Development Sessions

Strength sessions are NOT anaerobic or threshold sessions and are performed almost aerobically. Elevating the heart rate or breathing rate is NOT the objective; both will inevitably rise, but it will be the heart and breathing rate playing catch up with the efforts rather than them being held for periods of time.

The focus in these sessions is to strengthen your skeletal muscles, not your cardiac muscles. These sessions should be heavily structured, with defined times / distances and repetitions, but more importantly, there will be plenty of rest (the rest keeps the sessions almost aerobic)

When performed in this way, power goes up in all sessions as the body adapts to both the strength training and aerobic training; your skeletal muscles have higher strength endurance and your cardiovascular system is more efficient at dealing with higher power outputs.

Threshold Development Sessions

This is the training that uses the higher training levels: L3 – MEDIUM and L4 – HARD and should be designed to help perform for long periods at higher aerobic levels.

These sessions should feel hard and verging on uncomfortable (but still manageable). Heart rate and breathing rate at a level that prevents full conversations, breathing is through the mouth (not nose) and you will have a red face and perspiring – or should be!

Triathlon Specific Strength Sessions

The strength side of triathlon training often confuses people – strength training does NOT need to happen in the gym and is NOT anaerobic cardiovascular training! Here are typical strength session descriptions for each discipline:

Swim: shorter efforts focussing on working hard to push back/drive the hand to full extension (with or without a paddle). The aim is to feel the arms, shoulders and torso muscles working with the increased resistance of the paddles (and ankle band, if used)

The following is an example swim specific strength session, it is very simple and very effective. Use a pull buoy throughout to help with body position and enjoyment. This strength set is to be performed after a 400-500m warm up (multiples of 25m-100m) and concluded with a 20-400m cooldown:

150 Pull / Paddles, 15RI – EASY                                                       )

10×25 Pull / Paddles / Ankle Band, 20RI – HARD                      ) Complete 3 times (1500m)

4×25 Pull sprint on 60sec                                                                  )

This is a great set for learning to generate propulsion with the upper body and to fine tune your perceived effort – EASY and HARD!

Bike: These sessions and can be performed on either a turbo or outdoors on hills and involve HARD efforts at low cadence with big gears. Focus on applying power to the pedals to overcome the resistance of the hill or turbo/gears. 50-60rpm for 1minute repeats, depending on your current strength!

The aim is to build the quads (front thighs) and glutes (backside) while lowering the strain on the cardiac muscles and run muscles (calfs, hamstrings and hip flexors).

Pushing down is the most powerful phase of the pedal stroke and is the movement we all naturally adopt when we first learn to ride. Review our blog on Peanuts or 8’s to learn more about pedal technique

Run: Like bike sessions, hills (real or treadmill) provide the perfect way to develop leg strength. Repetitions of hill repeats will work leg muscles as the effort to run up the incline against gravity makes these hard.