We enlisted Nick White, who coaches under Lance Armstrong’s former cycling coach, Chris Carmichael, to design an accessible, eight-week program for completing your first sprint triathlon.
First, familiarize yourself with this key, which you can revisit at any point during training:
RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion): This is nothing more than a subjective way of ranking effort — 1 being no effort; 10 being your maximum effort.
RBI (Rest Between Intervals): This indicates a period of exercise at an exertion level that allows you to recover from an intense interval, but doesn’t stop exercise altogether.
ER (Endurance Run): This is a moderate intensity run for building long-haul endurance. RPE 6-7; HR 50-97% (the wide HR range accounts for real-world variations like stoplights, and going up and down hills. Ideally, you’d stay somewhere in the middle)
Running Strides: Short, hard intervals meant to build force in your running stride. From a standing start, accelerate into fast running, though not an all-out sprint. Recovery is easy jogging back to the start point. RPE: 9; HR: not applicable. (The intervals are too short for heart rate data to be useful).
Tempo Intervals: Running near max effort to help you sustain power over time. RPE 8; HR: 92-98%
Fartlek Intervals: Running at max effort to help build top-end speed while fatigued. RPE 10; HR: 98%-108%
BIS (Base Interval Set): Moderate intensity swimming, for building long-haul endurance. RPE 5-6; Pace: 104-120% of your field test pace per 100 yards. (Considerably slower, in other words.)
PSS (Pace Swim Set): Race pace swimming, the hardest you’re likely to push in competition. RPE 8; Pace: 100-109% of your field test pace per 100 yards.
CU Drill (Catch Up Drill): During each stroke, keep your forward hand extended in front of you for as long as it takes for as long as it takes for the toher hand to complete its pull and recovery.
CF Drill (Closed Fist Drill): Exactly what it sounds like — swimming with closed fists. The idea is to get yourself pulling with the entire surface area of the forearm.
Endurance Miles: Moderate intensity cycling, for building long-haul endurance. RPE 7; HR 50-91%
SSI (Steady State Intervals): Near max cycling effort, this is all about building your maximum sustainable power. RPE 7-8; HR 92-94%
OUI (Over Under Intervals): Over Under Intervals require switching between two intensity levels: hard, and very hard. This teaches you to handle pace changes during hard, sustained efforts. RPE 8-9; HR: 92-94% for the Unders; RPE 9-10; 95-97% for the Overs.
PI (Power Intervals): These are your max-effort biking intervals, all about building explosive sprint speed. RPE: 10; HR: 100%-max
WU: Warm up
CD: Cool Down
Next, before week one, consider completing these four fitness tests:
Calculating Your Heart Rate Zones
Rate of Perceived Exertion (see key) is a remarkably effective way to train and you can follow this entire training plan using RPE instead of a heart rate monitor. Even if you do decide to use a heart rate monitor and the field tests described below, you should still use RPE as a primary measure of output during every training session.
For a more accurate measure of your exertion level, use a heart rate monitor capable of capturing your average heart rate for a given interval, and complete some simple field tests before you begin your training. These tests and some simple calculation will determine your “HR Zones” and dictate exertion levels throughout your sessions. Complete your field tests on separate days.
Cycling Field Test
Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, then reset the heart-rate monitor’s timer to zero. Start the timer and, on your bike or an indoor stationary trainer, go for eight minutes at maximum effort. Stop the timer when you’re done and spend the next ten minutes pedaling easy. Then restart the timer and go for one more eight-minute all out effort.
Note your average heart rate for each of the two max efforts; the higher of the two is the heart rate, from which you’ll calculate all of your cycling intensity ranges. So, if your field test heart rate is 150 beats per minute, and you’re doing an “Endurance Miles” ride that calls for a heart-rate range of 50-91% of your field test, you’d keep your heart rate between 75 bpm and 136 bpm.
Running Field Test
Warm up with ten minutes of easy jogging. Start the timer and run as hard as you can sustain for eight-minutes. Stop the timer when you’re done and record your average heart rate. This is the number by which all running intensities will calculated.
Swimming Field Test
Swimming field tests do not require a heart rate monitor, as they don’t work well in water, and they’re hard to check while doing laps.
Time yourself swimming 400 meters (16 laps in a standard 25m pool) as fast as you can. Calculate your average 100-yard split time by dividing your total field test time by four (if you completed the 400-yard field test in eight minutes, your 100-yard split time is 2 minutes).
So if you’re doing a Base Interval Set calling for a pace-range of 104-120% of your field test, you’d perform the set by swimming at an average pace per 100 yards of 2:04-2:24.