If you’re training for a triathlon, at some point you’ll need to get outside to swim, bike, and run. You might split the disciplines up into one or two segments. Other times you’ll want to combine all three to simulate race day. But, that doesn’t mean all of your training must follow an exact template, occur outdoors, or even involve swimming, biking, and running. There’s a lot that you can do inside of a gym. This is especially helpful if you’re training during winter (or summer, depending on where you live).
Let Aaptiv be your training sidekick. We have classes across several cardio classes to help you improve endurance and speed.
To learn more about training for a triathlon using readily-available machines and other gym equipment, we enlisted Matthew Martin, a certified personal trainer and six-time half-Ironman finisher. See below for his pro-training tips broken down by event. Enlist them before your next—or first—triathlon.
“You should never attempt an open-water swim without first having practiced at least a few times in open water,” says Martin. “Even if you’re a good swimmer, no amount of gym pool laps will translate to swimming in dark water with a few hundred people kicking around you.”
So, take heed. If your triathlon includes an open-water swim (and most do), then you’ll need to put in some time in the actual water. But, Martin has a few gym-based tips for you because you don’t have to do all of your swim training in the water.
“Overall core strength is super important for swimmers. Anything involving planks or other core exercises that introduce instability can be beneficial. Like planks on a bosu ball, crunches on a Swiss ball, the superman, or hanging leg raises,” says Martin. He also suggests using the lat pulldown machine and pec deck machine to work your lats and chest. Additionally, he advises performing military presses, bench presses, and squats for overall strength and explosiveness in the water.
This one’s easy. Hop on a stationary bike, ideally an indoor cycling bike, as opposed to anything in a recumbent position, as it more closely simulates a real bicycle. “If you’re already in pretty good shape, then most triathlon training either comes down to improving speed or improving endurance,” says Martin. For shorter triathlons like the sprint (12.5 miles) and Olympic (25 miles) distances, he notes that you might try intervals to build up your speed. With longer distances like the half Ironman (56 miles) and Ironman (112 miles), you’ll want to work more on your endurance. This includes more than just your legs and cardio.
“Sitting on a bike for 56 or 112 miles is a long time in the saddle,” he says. “Those sit bones and everything nearby will be aching. But you’ll also start to feel it in your hands, arms, shoulders, and neck. The worst thing you can do is log one-hour rides when training for an eight-hour ride. Your body will hate you.”
In addition to spending plenty of time on that bike seat, he also suggests using a few machines and bodyweight workouts to improve your strength and endurance. He likes hamstring curls, lunges, leg press, and squats to work every muscle in your legs. Plus, he suggests deadlifts—either with a barbell or dumbbells—to work your hamstrings, glutes, and back.
“The stair climber is also great for overall cycling fitness, and it can help you on hills,” adds Martin. “Nothing can replace actual riding. But these exercises will help to strengthen the muscles you use on the bike.” And, that will make cycling easier come race day.
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If you’re running indoors, the treadmill is an obvious choice. It doesn’t directly simulate outdoor running, as the latter includes variability in weather and road conditions. But, the treadmill is a great way to get in your miles. Martin notes that the elliptical isn’t an ideal choice for run training, but that it can be a useful tool for warm-ups and active recoveries.
He also likes squats and single-leg squats for general strengthening, as well as hip bridges and side steps with a resistance band around your knees. “Side steps with resistance will strengthen your hips and glutes while protecting your knees,” he adds.
Put it all together
Now that you’ve got some exercises to try, it’s time to put it all together. You don’t have to work all three disciplines every day that you train. However, at least once a week, Martin suggests doing a circuit that incorporates workouts geared toward the swim, bike, and run. If you’re doing a shorter distance triathlon, make your circuit an hour. If you’re doing a longer triathlon, try a swim-focused workout for 30 to 60 minutes. Then bike and run for a couple hours each, if you can handle it.
“Whatever you do, take it slow as you build up endurance,” says Martin. “Long workouts are great for endurance training. But if you go too hard too fast and get hurt, then you won’t be able to compete, which kind of misses the whole point.”
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