Summer is quickly approaching, and with warmer weather comes triathlon season. Originally reserved for uber-toned fitness fanatics wearing obnoxiously-colorful spandex, triathlons are now accessible to anyone and provide good motivation to get into full body shape. Even Lance Armstrong has switched from cycling to triathlon!
Contrary to popular belief, a triathlon is not necessarily the long, tortuous Hawaii Ironman event broadcast on NBC each year. Instead, a triathlon can be any event that involves the three sports of swimming, cycling, and running (although occasionally, in a winter triathlon, the sport of swimming will be substituted with cross country skiing).
So unless you have aspirations to do an Ironman, you don't need to swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles to do a triathlon. That's just one kind of triathlon -- called an "Iron distance." In addition to the Ironman, the three other most common triathlon distances are:
Training for a triathlon can be a bit intimidating at first, since you not only need to schedule a swim, bike, and run several times per week, but you also need to consider weight training, stretching or yoga and pay close attention to proper recovery.
On the other hand, because you're exercising with so many different activities, your risk of injury decreases because you're not stressing the same joints over and over again, as would be the case if you were, for example, training for a marathon. In addition, your overall fitness will quickly increase, because you are presenting so many different forms of exercise to your body.
Here are a few tips to start your triathlon training:
For swimming, the best place to begin if you aren't an experienced swimmer is to take a swim lesson at your local health club, or meet up with the local Master's swim club, which is a group of adults that do swim workouts together, usually with a coach. Most triathlons take place in a river, lake, or ocean, so you'll want to be prepared to practice swimming in open bodies of water, and you may also need a wetsuit, which can keep you both warm and buoyant while swimming.
For cycling, you don't necessarily need an expensive triathlon bike, and especially if you're just getting into the sport, a simple road bike will suffice. For the first four years that I competed in triathlons, I rode on a used $300 road bike I bought on the Internet, and you can often find good deals on Craigslist, eBay, or the classifieds section of many triathlon websites. Once you have a bike, contact your local bike shops to see whether they have any beginner rides you could join.
When it comes to equipment, running is the easiest of the three sports to outfit, since all you need is a pair of running shoes. But be warned: Compared to running with fresh legs, running after riding a bike can feel like plodding along with bricks strapped to your shoes, so in your triathlon preparation, be sure to practice some running directly after your cycling workouts.
For your overall weekly triathlon training schedule, you should set an initial goal of running, swimming and cycling twice a week, and also weight training one to two times per week.
If squeezing all this exercising seems intimidating, you can use this a sample triathlon training schedule to see how to set up a typical week. There are no hard and fast rules -- you can do these workouts in the morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on what works for you!
If you want more details, then here's a link to a free audio podcast that I recorded with a triathlon coach.
Triathlon is a complex sport, and I've only scratched the surface here. But now you know what it takes to start training for your first race!
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