As spring arrives, we find ourselves dreaming and planning our fitness goals.  If you havn’t yet, you should be.  The Pittsburgh Triathlon is a little over 4 months away and it’s time to consider how you’ll get from here to there.

Last month we talked about what motivates you to train for and compete in a triathlon. That motivation is what will help you make smart daily decisions on training. If you havn’t read Coach’s Corner #1, do that now. Write down your motivations and tell at least one person.

This month’s coach’s corner is about creating a day to day training schedule suited for you.   Starting in April, I’ll be sending out weekly updates for beginner & intermediate training for both the sprint & international distance events. It’s up to you to sort out how to work in those recommendations with your daily schedule.  My most important job is to help you understand some of the basics of managing time so that  you can make smart decisions.

Consistency – the Most Important Element

The most important factor in a successful training plan is consistency. Consistent regular training helps your body adapt to training stress gradually by building stronger muscles, a heart that pumps more blood and overall more efficient energy use.  You will have the most success and enjoy training the most when it is consistent.

Training that is irregular forces you to try and regain ground each time you resume a workout.  it’s like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back.  Don’t do that!  The simple secret to consistent training is the ‘basic week’.

The Basic Week

The Basic Week is an idea I learned from Gordo Byrn.  It is an outline of the training time that you have available, week in, week out, that you could do repeatedly and consistently without creating undue stress on your work, family or social life.  Your training must fit in with the other elements of your life, or you won’t be consistent.  This doesn’t mean you may not decide to sacrifice time watching Netflix, or go out less often after work for drinks, but it does mean that you need to consider your social needs & work responsibilities when structuring your training week.

Available training times for triathletes with regular work hours include in the morning before work, at lunchtime, right after work, and anytime in the evening.  Bare minimum training for a new triathlete is training or practicing twice per week in each sport. With 3 sports, that’s a minimum of 6 sessions per week. It’s not too hard to fit in six sessions with just one training session a day and one day off per week.

To see faster improvement, 3 times a week per sport may be even better. If you can only do 7 or 8 sessions per week, then you’ll want to spend more time on the discipline you are least skilled in, and less time on the one you enjoy the most.  For example A new triathlete who is a long time runner, may wish to cut back from running 4-6 days per week to only 2 in order to fit in time for both cycling & swimming so that she can improve on those two sports while maintaining her run.

One of the biggest mistakes I see triathletes make is overestimating the amount of time they will have available. Overestimating your training time, creating a schedule and not fulfilling it creates frustration, disappointment and a lack a sense of achievement.  The last thing we want to do is set ourselves up for failure.

Remember, this is what we can do repeatedly and consistently week in week out between now and the triathlon.  You can always add extra sessions, and likely will as training goes on…but don’t cram your basic week with over-ambition.  Ease into more training frequency and you’ll be more likely to remain motivated and not get hurt training. It’s better off to start moderately and continue to add as your fitness & enthusiasm progresses.

What I’d like you to do now is sit down and sketch out your basic week. Take a sheet of blank paper and  turn it sideways. Across the top write the days of the week. Along the left write down morning, lunch, evening.   Sketch in the blocks of time you can dedicate to training on a fairly consistent basis.  Don’t over-schedule!  See if you can leave one full day of rest either during the week, or on the weekend so that you can catch up on other important things and rest your body.   Create your own basic week as a starting point.  Try to block out a minimum of six sessions.   7-9 is even better if possible.  It’s OK if you don’t know the details of training right now, just think about how you can structure your upcoming triathlon training to set yourself up for success.

Suzanne Atkinson, MD, founder & head coach of Steel City Endurance, LTD is a Level 2 Certified USA Triathlon & USA Cycling Coach.  She works with endurance athletes of all abilities from first time finisher to elite amateur and in all distances from Sprint to Ironman Distance.

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