Calling all Cyclists, Swimmers, and Runners ~ If your client is seeking some challenging competition, it may be time to “try a tri”!!!


Excelling at any sport requires a tremendous amount of effort, time and training. I marvel at those individuals (such as my husband) who can carve out adequate space in their busy lives to excel at three sports at the same time.

‘Tis The Season

Triathlons have come a long way since their inception in 1974, when 46 people competed in the inaugural swim/bike/run race held in San Diego, CA. To date, more than 2 million individuals of all ability levels participate in triathlons every year.

Now that summer has arrived, clients may begin soliciting your advice on the most effective way to prepare for a triathlon. Such a training module must include biking, swimming and running, but also encompass specific resistance training.

Clients who have never challenged themselves to complete a triathlon have many choices to make. Competitive options abound, and helping them decide on an appropriate race requires a bit of knowledge about this sport.

What Does a Triathlon Include?

Most novices choose to participate in a Sprint Triathlon. Such a contest typically begins with a 0.5-mile swim, 12.4 miles on a bike, and concludes with a 3.1-mile run.

The next level up is referred to as an Olympic Triathlon, which includes a 0.93-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bicycle ride, and a 6.2-mile run.

If your client happens to be a seasoned athlete and wishes to truly dedicate serious time to his training and building his competitive edge, you might suggest choosing a Half Ironman Triathlon. Not for the faint of heart, participants swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and end by running 13.1 miles.

The most highly coveted honor that many endurance athletes seek is participation in the famous Ironman Triathlon: 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running.

An important factor to keep in mind is the lengthy preparation time involved before even arriving at the starting line of an event. For a newcomer to the sport, most experts agree that 12-16 weeks of active training is probably sufficient.

Such workout programs do not always involve working harder; by preparing in a smarter fashion, you can help your client make the most of this time. Consider intensity versus duration.

The Specifics Of Tri Training

Prudent triathlon preparation includes 2x/week participation in each activity. Build in what is known as a “brick session”, training 2 of the 3 activities back-to-back. Seek also to practice swimming in an open body of water in addition to a swimming pool; many triathlon organizers have had to make such a switch at the last minute.

The goal throughout this training protocol is to slowly build endurance by lengthening distances. Aiming for a 10% increase each week is a safe pace. By the time race day arrives, the athlete hopefully is capable of completing at least 10% more in each sport that the total race distance. Having built such a buffer into the training serves as a “comfort zone” for many.

Stressing Strength

While the endurance aspect of a triathlon is not to be minimized, resistance training becomes a valuable tool in preparing the body for the competition that lies ahead. Planning a program requires a bit of mechanical knowledge of how the body is challenged when performing each sport.

Muscular strength, as well as stability, will contribute greatly to a client’s performance. A smart protocol aims to enhance strength in most of the major muscle groups. Swim training focuses on the back, shoulders, and arms as well as seeking to create mobility in the trunk. Both cycling and running require strengthening quads, glutes and hamstrings.

Client Commitment

The following exercises are prime examples of what might be included to cultivate the strength required to triumph in a triathlon: overhead squats, Romanian deadlifts with upright rows, split squats, planks, and push-up’s that place emphasis on the triceps.

If your eager client embarks on this journey truly deconditioned, a few extra weeks of preparation time may be essential. Keep in mind that his body will need time to build his bone density, strengthen joints, and challenge muscle tissue that has been lying dormant.

These adaptations cannot occur overnight. Cells require time to create all new enzymatic/metabolic pathways and energy systems. It is at this juncture where a bond of client/trainer trust begins to play an important role.

Sore muscles and fatigue often threaten to become discouraging elements for novice triathletes. Building in one or two rest days each week will facilitate healthy recovery. While you remain certain that your client will soon witness the transformation and feels the results, he may lack such confidence. By staying positive, you can encourage him to keep going and not allow his momentum to lag.

Encourage With Confidence

According to Adam Kelinson, a recreational triathlete, a nutritionist specializing in sports performance, and author of The Athlete’s Plate Real Food for High Performance, a participant may discover that he is strong in one or two of the triathlon’s sports, but needs work in the third endeavor.

You can remind him that strength in a particular sport never makes up for weakness in another. Imparting such knowledge will enable him to train harder on exercises that no doubt are not his favorite.

Once you have laid out a 12 or 16-week plan for the client, he will also appreciate any practical tips you can offer. Aside from the obvious suggestions of well-fitting swim goggles, practicing cycling outdoors as often as possible, and running in high-quality footwear, here are a few other tips that a novice athlete may find valuable.

Swimming requires mastering the coordination of breathing with stroking, not only to accomplish this first leg of the triathlon, but also to keep the swim efficient so there is ample energy left in the body for the bike ride and the run.

Cycling becomes highly effective when the bike is custom-fitted to the client’s body size. While this might be a slightly expensive endeavor, reassure your client that the results will be worth this investment.

Endurance running necessitates a proper stride cadence. By leaning slightly forward through the chest, keeping elbows at an approximate 90-degree angle and not tensing the arms, a comfortable pace can be established.

Proper Fuel and Hydration

If temperatures on race day are expected to creep into the 80’s or 90’s, placing considerable emphasis on hydration could mean the difference between your client crossing the finish line or collapsing at the mid-point. Beverages that contain added electrolytes or vitamins provide a significant boost in energy. In terms of fuel, encourage a meal plan that is rich in both lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

Above All, Find The Fun

One of my clients challenged me to step out of my comfort box (bodybuilding and teaching group exercise) and join her in a 5K. Having not run prior to accepting her offer, I found that cultivating new abilities is most empowering! She, too, was proud of our time at the finish line. Be ready to share in your client’s success! You never know when YOU might decide to “try a tri”!

Check out this article for exercise ideas for runners and cyclists.

Was your client successful? We’d love to hear your feedback!

[info type=”facebook”]Share with us in the NFPT Facebook Community Group.[/info]


Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!