“There’s many ways to skin a cat” the saying goes…but in triathlon, there has been a strong shift to towards the false assumption that every workout needs to be all about the aerobic training benefit you receive, when in fact many other systems come into play to complete the perfect training plan.


All too often we see people training as if every workout was their only opportunity to develop a greater aerobic engine. The constant barrage of information in magazines, forums and websites is by and large focused on improving one’s aerobic fitness level. While this aspect of training is the most important, if you want to improve as an athlete you need to adopt a new perspective on your workouts because there’s more to it than just building up your aerobic capacity.

Age Group athletes especially need to ensure that each training session carries the maximum “bang for the buck” because training time is limited compared to professionals. Throw in family obligations and a full-time job and you may only have 6 – 10 hours a week to train. So how to improve your triathlon fitness on fewer hours of training?

Well, let’s start by making it clear that performing at your top end, to your fullest genetic potential is like creating an experiment in a vacuum tube. Almost no one, not even top professionals, performs to their fullest genetic potential. Far too many other factors come into play to offset performance, not the least of which are life circumstance and mental and emotional disposition to the goal.

As an Age Group athlete you should not seek a training plan or program that promises to deliver you race-winning performances on modest training volume. This does not exist. What you should seek is a training plan that provides better performances on the same volume of training as other plans. This is where making a shift in perspective on your training can be very useful.

Take two 40-minute run workouts on two separate training plans. One plan reads “40 minutes, Zone 2.” Out you go, run run run. End of story. What has the session delivered? 40 minutes of aerobic training and not much else. Workout 2 reads: “Treadmill 40min. Flat. Increase the effort to a pace that is just barely sustainable for the final 20min of the workout before cooling down.” Workout 2 generates aerobic conditioning, that’s a guarantee. But let’s take a closer look at what else this session delivers.

Without giving away details, you’re running on a flat treadmill for a reason. Running at the same aerobic intensity on land, you can’t run nearly as fast. On a flat treadmill you are able to run faster at a given aerobic effort, meaning your muscles trigger nerve signals at a faster rate. Translation: You are training your body biomechanically to run faster while getting the aerobic workout too. In short, both Workout 1 and Workout 2 train provide aerobic benefits, but through use of a treadmill Workout 2 teaches your body to run fast without additional aerobic strain on your system.

Similarly, you can create training sessions for swimming and cycling that will train you aerobically while also working other systems. When you structure your training, try to understand what other training effects your training sessions provide. Are there multiple dimensions of fitness being trained by your sessions? Or are they simply focused on aerobic training load?

The net benefit is that if you shift your focus from the aerobic benefits of training to an overall view on the benefits of each training session and how these complement each other during your weekly routine, you can structure a training plan to provide multiple training effects. That means you can accomplish more in your training time than simply following a zone-type program. Incorporating the right combination of workouts and recovery means more bang for your training buck. And that means you go faster on race day — with no additional training required

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