Triathlon preparation – exercise or training

Posted on: December 18, 2018

Triathlon preparation – exercise or training

How are you approaching your triathlon development – through exercise or training? Is there any difference – surely exercising is training, isn’t it?

No, not exactly!

Exercise or training – which is it

Let’s look at what differentiates exercise from training and which is most beneficial for performance development – and so what you should be doing!


Exercise is random in nature. It’s often what happens when you don’t have a goal; often it is a social time when you join in with friends in groups without thought or direction.

It is very common to experience the “post season blues” or “anti-climax” of a season, which leads to a wanting of freedom from the regime. Unless you have a coach controlling your schedule, you may find that you fall into one of the two categories at the end of a season:

  1. Solo Masochist  

Your sessions are done solo and find yourself just going through the motions. Sessions are carried out but become inconsistent and the content is unspecific.

Sessions often end up being too hard! Spending most time at “race pace” to make the session feel hard and “worthwhile”! Remember aerobic training is the key to triathlon, it is an aerobic sport. Too much race pace will develop that “one speed syndrome” we’ve mentioned in the past…

What started out being “training” becomes EXERCISE.

  1. Anonymous Groupie

You have access to clubs or group sessions; triathlon, swims, bike, run, studio classes, etc. but become lost in the masses.

The session may be “planned” (the same day each week with swim sets, bike/run routes “planned”) but don’t / can’t cater for all athletes. You find you work too hard – your competitive nature taking over, or in a bid to keep up.

These sessions are good for socialising, but due to the nature of groups (and human beings!) only 1 or 2 truly benefit.

Training groups become EXERCISE groups.


In any sport, a training approach will allow the athlete to achieving true potential, it happens with systematic planning, structure and consistency.

Training can be solo or in groups; solo training is easy, you just focus on what is needed each session without distraction.

Group training also works, providing you stick to what you have to do and have time / space to do what is needed. Cycling and running is easy enough to keep control of, swimming on the other hand is trickier – mainly because of pool space and lane distribution.

The secret to getting the best from group training is communication with your fellow athletes / coaches and being selfish! Selfish in a good way.

To establish a training plan, you (or your coach) need to consider all aspects of your circumstances and aspirations; what work / life commitments you have, what’s the end goal, how long before the end goal, what are your strengths and weaknesses, etc, etc. 

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Proper planning may sound complicated but will only take a few hours. Once established, you will have a clearly defined route laid out and travelling that route will be easier and more beneficial.

Your consistent session distribution and knowing what the mini-goal is for each session, week and month allows for better life/work management, dietary preparation, recovery and physical adaptation.

You will also find your motivation is kept high, knowing exactly what is happening and when to reach your goal.

Planning your training

If you don’t have a coach monitoring your schedule, dedicate a morning or afternoon to planning your weeks. Think back and write down your typical/average week of training.

Here are some key points for a successful training plan:

  • Duplicate every week, for consistency – every Monday will have a swim in the morning and a bike in the evening, etc
  • Be realistic, NOT optimistic – you may want to train twice a day every day, but can you really fit it in, eat and recover around other life commitments?!
  • Factor in your weaknesses, but make sure the weakness is a weakness! Triathlon is a mix of three disciplines, but each influences the next – it is one sport
    • Running is often found to be difficult in a triathlon or a focus for enhancement but is it a weakness or suffering because your swim and bike are not efficient?!
    • Clock up miles in the swim and bike to become fit and efficient, your run will improve as a result
  • Be selfish when it comes to group sessions – it is all too easy to get carried away or feel bad for holding others back, but why are you there? For you and your progression – stick to your effort ranges


Exercising and training are different.

Approach your journey with structure and consistency (training) instead of randomness (exercise). In doing so, you will get the best out of your valuable time and your body.

Training your body will keep everything in balance; your mind and body will be continually fresh, your resolve will be unhindered or strained, your fitness and strength will continually climb, your race performance will be boosted, and you will enjoy everything!

Avoid the traps people fall into; becoming too random or lost in the crowd. Be selfish and do what is needed!

What does your journey look like?

Training = planning, structure and consistency
Exercise = randomness

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