As a physiotherapist and as someone who has participated in a few triathlons myself, one of the most important things to know is knowing where to start!!
Firstly, developing a base level of aerobic fitness is extremely important for anybody looking to combine various disciplines into one race. Couch to triathlon does not necessarily mean starting training for all the disciplines all at once!
The most common combination in the triathlon is a swim, a cycle and a run. Many people who are thinking of doing a triathlon have some level of experience in one or all of these disciplines, but usually not in combination! When we look to combine the three into one race it places new demands on our muscles and body systems. As we change from cycling to running we are now asking many of the same muscles to work just as hard, but in a slightly different way and different movement pattern.
Here are some tips on how to do this successfully…
Establishing a base fitness level
First of all we need to ensure that our muscles and cardiovascular/respiratory systems are capable of working together efficiently for the time period required in the race that we wish to undertake. Without initially combining the three disciplines we can slowly build up our fitness level by training inside or outside the gym. We can gradually build up the time that we exercise for over a number of weeks. This can be done on a crosstrainer, a stationary bike, the treadmill or the pool in the gym, or by undertaking a walk-jog-run or cycling program outside the gym. Gradually build up the time that you are exercising for until you have reached a point where you can exercise comfortably for the period of time required in the race. During this period incorporating some yoga/pilates/core stability work can be very beneficial in injury prevention as your training for your first triathlon progresses!
Beginning to ‘BRICK’ train for your triathlon
A’ brick’ is a term for combining two of the disciplines in your upcoming race, ie a bike-run, a bike-swim or a swim-run. The brick type training places new demands on us requiring us to change the way we are using use our muscles in quick succession. The most difficult of these transitions is usually the bike-run, as our legs often feel heavy and almost ’alien’ when we hop off the bike and immediately ask them to start to run! The good news is that this new and uncomfortable feeling will decrease as we continue to run, and also as we continue to train in this manner.
A good way to start is with a few ‘transition runs’ following a cycle. The cycle part can be as long as you like, followed by a short run (5-10 minutes) of low intensity- (even walking briskly initially can help to build up this tolerance, and isn’t quite as daunting a challenge to begin with!). Over the coming weeks you can gradually build up the time that you run after the cycle, building up to a full workout in both. From here you can work towards gradually building up the intensity of the run/cycle until you reach your goal for race pace!
The hardest brick to practice is the swim-bike as it can present some challenges as to cycling up to the pool! Luckily this is usually one of the easier transitions which requires less practice as the swim requires more equal use of the upper body and lower body muscles.
Nutrition and hydration
Hydration and nutrition also very important factors when increasing any type of training. As we train hard we excrete moisture, but also loose a proportionate amount of electrolytes ( eg sodium, potassium) in our sweat. Using an isotonic sports drink can be very useful for post exercise re-hydration.
Finally, as a physiotherapist, I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your body. Rest days are highly important as our bodies need time to recuperate and recover from intensive training in order to allow you perform well in your next session. A good warm up and cool down are also essential components of training.
And of course, if you do run into any issues with your training, have any questions, or feel that an injury is starting to impede your progress; a physiotherapist is never too far away to help you on your way to your goal!