Developing a Better Triathlon Training Week

I’m not about to offer a radical new approach to triathlon training. My ‘better’ training week doesn’t incorporate special workouts or enable you to finish an Ironman on five hours a week. For those answers you’ll need to look elsewhere. A season coaching a diverse group of athletes has refined existing ideas; evolutionary not revolutionary. At the micro level sessions remain the same and the build over a season hasn’t hugely changed. It’s the intermediate region – the weekly cycle – where my approach has steadily evolved.

Athletes rarely complain that I’ve given them too much. Most of those who seek out a coach are highly motivated and want more, it’s not often I am asked to schedule less. A clear example came while advising an athlete struggling with his performance – he pushed to increase his training load, but results were declining not improving. Life stress was high, training stress was high, breaks were minimal. Sounding a little like over-training the first step was obvious – stop. A period of light training started the turn-around, the more difficult step was developing a plan that worked. The athlete needed to feel he was working hard and progressing, but also needed protecting from simply doing too much.

The week needed very defined blocks that he would work through with very defined periods of recovery. The training had to be challenging enough that the rest was required and appreciated. And life stress played a role, like most age groupers he had limited training time midweek, the plan had to be achievable. So a block of intensity during the week and a block focussed more towards volume at the weekend with easier days between them. Three intensive days might be pushing it, but with a clear recovery day following I felt he would push through. Feedback was good, performance started to improve and the schedule was positively received. There was enough work to satisfy that need to push and enough recovery to keep it under control.

A Simple Training Week Template

Two blocks, three days midweek and two at the weekend, the longer block focusing on intensity, the shorter generally for volume work. This structure and focus is partly a matter of convenience, most age group athletes need consistency and a schedule that fits their life. Otherwise duration and focus of blocks can be changed to suit an individual, the important element is the easier day between each block of work. Some athletes aren’t ready for as much intensity in a single block, some don’t need the volume work; the plan is adaptable.

My previous training templates offered two variations, either packing the weekend with training or allowing for some free time. The first could contain three easier days per week while the second potentially allowed only one. The newer template provides for two, the exact timings in the week don’t matter as long as they break up the blocks of work. The distinction between an easy day and a hard day is more defined; get it right and the easy day is needed when it comes. It can be motivating, work through the block and you know you get a break.

It isn’t for everyone. Some schedules will not match, some athletes find it too intensive and a few don’t need to ease up as much (though I encourage them to work harder within each block). Blocks and easy days vary in focus and intensity between individuals; an easy day doesn’t have to mean doing nothing, I often use them for quality swim work. While it won’t work for everyone it’s become a starting point, a template I’m confident can successfully progress most athletes.

It has it’s problems. Every key workout in the week should be performed well, this template stacks them against each other – a long run the day after a long bike or a threshold bike session the day after a hard run session. If recovery between sessions isn’t adequate adjustments have to be made. Newer athletes, those recovering from injuries or adapting to new techniques tend to be poor fits, often they need more recovery between sessions. Thoughtlessly and rigidly applied it may not get the best out of an athlete. The intention is to keep taking small steps forward, frequently easing up to ensure a smooth progression.

As promised – nothing radical, no short cuts, just refinements following another year. It’s interesting to see how experience adapts my approach, I learn from my athletes and how they respond to their plans. A year from now I may be writing about another new and improved training week.

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From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.


  • Well said russ 🙂 I know if I ever want to go under 10hours its not going to happen by not training 🙁 maybe 2013 when I can every thing clear no house lol 🙂

  • Russ,

    What’s your reasoning behind putting the long bike and run on consecutive days rather than a midweek long run so that you’re not doing the long bike when feeling so tired? I guess it depends on which session is your hardest session does it? If the midweek intensive session is harder than the weekend long run but the long bike is harder than the other rides then you’ve already separated your hardest session.


  • James,

    To be honest I prefer keeping the long run and the long bike separate, it’s often more a matter of practicality that forces me not to. It depends on the athlete, I have a fair few where the long run is part of the midweek block and then the weekend may have an intensive run or bike session in its place. The blocks aren’t so clearly defined, other than the fact they should leave an athlete tired so they use the easy day to recover. Practically though, midweek long runs don’t work for those with limited time, if they can’t manage more than 1 hour in a single session for example, for them there’s no choice.

    The major things are –

    • Each block builds up fatigue (and fitness) through a series of tougher workouts, then the easy day comes along and allows some recovery, often active.
    • This seems to be motivating, people work a bit harder in the block knowing that it’s over at a set point (a bit like how they tend to push the last rep hard).
    • I put shorter sessions in the week because most people are more time limited there.
    • Shorter sessions are generally at higher intensity (assuming that can be handled). The intensity block and the volume block are hard in different ways
    • I’ll probably write more about this next time, but I also mix in easy blocks once or twice a month in order to ensure there’s some recovery. From my perspective working this way, if an athlete is suffering I can quickly ease off the next block of intensity and build back up the following week.

    That’s the problem with presenting generic plans though, never quite captures everything.


  • Cheers Russ. Probably depends on target race distance too. For example I’m doing half IM for 2012 so my long runs will be shorter than those for someone training for IM which means it’s easier for me to fit them in mid-week.

  • Definitely, much easier to fit in the longer sessions for shorter distance athletes. The guy I came up with this structure for was actually a short-course racer, mostly Olympic distance, intensity is higher for him in general.

    At this point in the year there are many similarities between the training of all my athletes – I don’t focus on volume too much at this point as it’s miserable out! Instead we mostly work on developing threshold, a bit of speed and intensity, nothing too hard, but not simply logging aerobic miles. Volume will build and they’ll be greater differentiation as we move through winter and into spring. Not that I completely rule out longer sessions, I just don’t prioritise them.


  • Dehan

    I really like this format of setting up the week. The mini blocks seem perfect to keep things reasonable and to keep one motivated to work hard when hard work is due. I have followed a similar structure previously, but am now sidelined for 12 weeks due to achilles injury. This reality check has shifted much of my focus to adding some weights and core session. When do these fit into the prescribed week? Should they be added to make hard days harder, or easy days less so? thanks for your help

  • If there’s a need for some form of strength work within the plan, such as addressing an injury or weakness then I tend to put the strength work on the easier days. It does increase the relative load on those days and will reduce their capacity to provide recovery, but scheduling on the heavier days is more likely to directly compromise either the original workouts planned or the strength work itself. Fitting it in on the easier days is probably easier for an athlete to schedule and should mean the sessions maintain some quality. Of course that may not prove true for everyone and if a routine proved to compromise training I’d adjust it.

    If an injury is recent then chances are elements of the schedule will be reduced or even stopped – so with an achilles injury for example there’s a good likelihood I’ll stop the athlete running and then phase it back in gradually. During that time it’ll also be easier for them to adopt a strength training routine and adapt towards the load. Once the rehab process is complete strength work will be more about maintenance than development and should be less of a load. As a general rule I don’t have my athletes doing big strength sessions, some may have small routines focussed around areas of weakness or injury.