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Updated July 2021

For many athletes, a triathlon is the pinnacle of competitive sports. Participating in this event is no easy feat. While different variations exist, all triathlons involve multiple sports — the most common being a combination of running, swimming, and cycling.

Triathlon training keeps you ready to take on the challenge, but it’s important to do your homework in order to be as prepared as possible.

Cardio Exercise for Triathlons

The three major triathlon events all involve cardiovascular exercise. It’s best to stagger your workouts so that you are swimming, running, and cycling a few times each week. For each activity, try these tips:


  • Work up to being able to easily swim approximately 2,000 meters (just over 1 mile).
  • For some swim workouts, do intervals with timed paces and increasing speeds.


  • Find a running plan that fits your current fitness, distance, and time goals.
  • If possible, schedule some of your practice runs on sections of the actual course.


  • Work up to being able to easily ride 40 kilometers (about 25 miles).
  • You can also replace an outdoor cycling session with an indoor session to mix things up.

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Triathlon Strength Training

Cardio exercise is only part of the battle; you also need to ensure that your muscles are strong. Strength training prepares your body for the specific movements you’ll make when you swim, run, and cycle. Strength training a few times a week is an important part of making sure you are ready to compete and can also help you prevent injuries.

Cool Down Post-Training

Stretching and cooling down is key to any workout, and triathlon training is no exception. Try these moves after you exercise:

  • Roll your calves on a foam roller.
  • Rub the soles of your feet over a small ball (golf ball size).
  • Practice upward and downward dog yoga poses.
  • Stretch your hamstrings by gently pulling your raised leg to your chest while lying on your back (a resistance band can help with this).
  • Lie on your back and move your hips and upper body in opposite directions to stretch your lower back.

Preparation Tips to Consider

Here are some tips on preparing for the race beyond just being able to physically complete each portion:

  • Rest — many new triathletes will focus on training for the swim, bike, and run while forgetting that a racing body needs rest. For the best performance and decreased chance of injury, don’t skimp on your daily rest. This includes muscle rest (getting off your feet) and mental rest.
  • Transitions — a triathlon is not just a swim, bike, run, but rather a choreographed race through the transition zones. Since your T1 (transition zone 1 time) and T2 are part of your race, you should practice them just like you swim, bike, and run in preparation. And, remember, it’s more than just a gear change. Your muscles are also transitioning from one type of activity to another, and they need practice.
  • Weaknesses — many new triathletes are stronger in one discipline than another and are tempted to maximize their strengths in workouts because it feels better. In a triple race like a triathlon, your strengths don’t always make up for your weaknesses. If you are a great runner, work on your swimming. If you are a great swimmer, cover the miles or work on cycling technique. Your strengths will kick in when times are hard, so maximize your weaknesses for your best race.
  • Mental training — develop a mindset that the race is really only 5 1/2 inches long. Triathlon is a tough mental event, but if you have put in the physical training, the true triathlon often happens in the 5 1/2 inches between your ears. It takes resilience, problem-solving, sheer grit, and sometimes even a motivating mantra to pull you through. Practice the mental game just like your physical training with visualization and finding a mantra that helps you dig deep and pull through.
  • Nutrition — make sure you are optimizing your nutrition and learning what works best for your body. Try following a sports nutrition plan that is designed for athletes like you, which often involves a carb-friendly routine, picking quality proteins, promoting recovery, planning combo snacks, and staying hydrated.

Race Day Nutrition Dos and Don’ts

  • Do incorporate a carbohydrate-rich fueling plan the day of the race. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel used in long endurance events.
  • Do practice your pre-competition and during-competition fueling plans. Use the same plan the day of competition that you’ve used during training.
  • Do use similar timing during training and on race day with your meals, snacks, and hydration.
  • Do deliver a consistent carbohydrate fueling throughout the competition.


  • Don’t skip breakfast! Fatigue is certain to set in without proper fueling a few hours prior to competition.
  • Don’t eat a large meal right before the competition. A large meal will sit in the gut and cause possible cramping and sickness.
  • Don’t consume fried, high-fat, or spicy foods.
  • Don’t try any new foods the day of the race. Stick to your plan.

Prepare for your triathlon with help from the performance and nutrition experts at UPMC Sports Medicine. To learn more or schedule an appointment, please call 1-855-937-7678 or visit our website.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.