Sprint Triathlon Program for Beginners

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Triathlon Program for Beginners

Michael Foley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Have you ever wanted to "tri" a triathon, but thought it was something beyond the reach of mere mortals? Well, I've got news for you: You can complete a triathlon. In the process, you'll even find your inner athlete. Learn how to train for a sprint triathlon with this program, designed specifically for beginners.

This program works beginners up to a sprint triathlon. A sprint typically consists of the following legs:

  • 750m swim (.47 mi) -- although sometimes 400 to 500 m (especially if the swim is in a pool)
  • 20km bike (12.4 mi)
  • 5k run (3.1 mi)

Although the event is called a sprint, don't let the name scare you. You'll actually be racing for more than an hour, so you won't have to "sprint" through the thing at full speed.

Note: You should be able to run a 5K before starting any triathlon training program. Here's an excellent 5K program to get new athletes up to speed.

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Training Schedule

ITU World Triathlon San Diego, 2012
ITU World Triathlon San Diego, 2012. © Nils Nilsen

One of the first difficulties you might face when training for a triathlon is time. How do you fit swimming, biking, and running into a week, along with all the other necessities of life like family, friends, work, and well…sleep?

Good news: The following training schedule has you training at most 3.5 hours a week.

The following are some notes about this schedule:

  • You'll do each discipline (swim, bike, run) twice every week.
  • You have at least one rest day each week.
  • Every month includes at least one recovery week.
  • Feel free to move around the workouts. Make the schedule work for you.
  • Although not noted, try to stretch at least 10 minutes every day.
  • I haven't included any strength training. Feel free to include some if you can sneak it in.
  • Be lazy when you're supposed to be lazy! Don't exercise on off days. Don't go all out in recovery workouts. And try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. You'll need the rest.
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Phase 1 (Weeks 1 - 8)

Sprint Beginner Training Program Phase 1 (Weeks 1 - 8)
Sprint Triathlon Training Program Beginners Phase 1 (Weeks 1 - 8). © Chris Tull

The following program allows beginners to build their fitness levels over a period of 16 weeks (followed by a three week taper before the race). This isn't a 'I want to just finish the race' program, though. I know secretly, you want to race as competitively as possible. This program will allow you to do that.

Note: The type of workout displays in parenthesis (). Please refer to the Glossary for descriptions of these workouts.

Week 1

Day 1: Run, 20 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 25 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 25 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Swim, 20 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 2

Day 1: Run, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 25 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 3

Day 1: Run, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Bike, 30 minutes (Recovery)

Week 4

Day 1: Run, 20 minutes (Recovery)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 25 minutes (Technique)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 5

Day 1: Run, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 6

Day 1: Run, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 60 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 7

Day 1: Run, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 60 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Bike, 30 minutes (Recovery)

Week 8

Day 1: Run, 20 minutes (Recovery)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 25 minutes (Technique)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

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Phase 2 (Weeks 9 - 16)

Sprint Beginner Triathlon Program Phase 2 (Weeks 9 - 16)
Sprint Beginner Triathlon Program Phase 2 (Weeks 9 - 16). © Chris Tull

The following details Phase 2 of the program (weeks 9 - 16).

Note: The type of workout displays in parenthesis (). Please refer to the Glossary for descriptions of these workouts.

Week 9

Day 1: Run, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 4: Bike, 60 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Swim, 45 minutes (Base Building)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 10

Day 1: Run, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 15 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Bike, 75 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 30 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Swim, 45 minutes (Base Building)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 11

Day 1: Run, 55 minutes (Base Building)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 15 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Bike, 75 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 35 minutes (Base Building)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Bike, 30 minutes (Recovery)

Week 12

Day 1: Run, 20 minutes (Recovery)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Technique)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Technique)
Day 5: Run, 25 minutes (Technique)
Day 6: Swim, 40 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 60 minutes (Hills)

Week 13

Day 1: Run, 40 minutes (Base Building)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 20 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Bike, 75 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 20 minutes (Fartlek)
Day 6: Swim, 40 minutes (Technique)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Fartlek)

Week 14

Day 1: Run, 40 minutes (Technique)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 20 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Bike, 75 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 35 minutes (Hills)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Bike, 30 minutes (Recovery)

Week 15

Day 1: Run, 20 minutes (Recovery)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)
Day 5: Run, 25 minutes (Technique)
Day 6: Swim, 15 minutes & then Bike, 45 minutes (Brick)
Day 7: Off

Week 16

Day 1: Run, 40 minutes (Base Building)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Bike, 60 minutes & then Run, 20 minutes (Brick)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Open Water)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

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Phase 3 (Weeks 17 - 19)

Sprint Beginner Triathlon Program Phase 3 (Weeks 17 - 19)
Sprint Beginner Triathlon Program Phase 3 (Weeks 17 - 19). © Chris Tull

The following details the Phase 3 of the program (weeks 17 - 19). This phase has you gradually tapering your efforts. Tapering allows your body and mind to recharge from the previous weeks of hard training. Give your body some rest so you feel fresh come race day!

Note: The type of workout displays in parenthesis (). Please refer to the Glossary for descriptions of these workouts.

Week 17

Day 1: Run, 40 minutes (Base Building)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Bike, 60 minutes & then Run, 20 minutes (Brick)
Day 6: Bike, 30 minutes (Recovery)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Week 18

Day 1: Run, 40 minutes (Base Building)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Swim, 30 minutes (Open Water)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Bike, 60 minutes & then Run, 20 minutes (Brick)
Day 6: Swim, 30 minutes (Open Water)
Day 7: Bike, 45 minutes (Base Building)

Race Week!

Day 1: Run, 45 minutes (Recovery)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Bike, 30 minutes (Recovery)
Day 4: Swim, 20 minutes (Recovery)
Day 5: Run, 15 minutes (Recovery)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Race!

Complete this training program and you’ll find yourself quite possibly in the best shape of your life. You’ll also find yourself hopelessly addicted to the sport of triathlon.