Once an athlete has entered an event, their thoughts will soon turn to training for that event, and in most cases choosing a training plan.
For those not familiar with the term, a training plan is a series of workouts for you to follow to help you achieve a goal. These workouts are progressed in a fashion which should (hopefully) protect you against injury and allow you time to recover between big workouts. However, there are various options available, from writing your own plan to hiring a coach to work closely with you. We’re going to look at the pros and cons of each.
This is the option that many newer athletes will default to, which is completely understandable. They simply start swimming, running and cycling in a way that suits them, and the gains come quickly. When you’re starting from scratch, it’s not difficult to see rapid improvements.
However, this option falls short in a number of areas. Firstly, athletes will tend to focus on their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. If you’re an accomplished marathon runner but hate swimming, chances are you’ll run three times a week and only go swimming once, maybe twice.
Secondly, there is a lack of accountability or outside perspective. If you wake up and are in two minds as whether to go training, it’s all too easy to roll over and feel there are no consequences. Following a plan, especially if supervised by a coach, creates a much greater sense of accountability if you see the workout turn red or you are unable to tick it off.
Finally, it takes a huge amount of knowledge and experience to write a plan which helps you achieve your potential without injury. You can learn to fix your car yourself if you invest in all the tools and spend hours pouring over car repair books/forums, but in many people’s minds they’d rather drive it to the garage and get someone else to do it for them. The same is true of triathlon training, though a training plan is often significantly cheaper than getting your car serviced!
- Rapid results in the short term
- Lack out outside perspective
- Often limited understanding of the training process
- Liable to injury/burnout
Free Training Plan
There are several free training plans available to athletes. These can be found in magazines, books, online or even on the website of the race organiser.
These are a step above self coaching for most as they involve some structure. You’ll have scheduled rest days, progression in your workouts and sessions designed to help simulate racing such as running after bike workouts.
They are however pretty basic, with very little detail for the most part. They may be as simple as “30 minutes in Z2” or “Long ride” in some cases. They will also be written almost exclusively for first timers who are coming to the sport from a non athletic background. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but unless it’s your first race or attempt at the distance, it may feel a bit basic.
- Basic structure
- Easy to follow
- Written for first timers
- Very basic
- Normally in paper format, which can make execution fiddly
Stock Training Plan
These are training plans written for the masses, and sold on platforms such as TrainingPeaks. These are a big upgrade from the above options, as they can be tailored to specific athlete groups, and sync up with your training devices.
By choosing a training plan through TrainingPeaks you can pick one that matches your ability. If you’re a first time Ironman athlete there are thousands of plans for that. If you’ve been competing at sprint duathlon events for several years but want to qualify for a world championship event, there’s a plan for that. No matter your ability or experience, someone will probably have written a plan for you to follow. Ot may require a bit of tweaking depending on your ability and availability, but you’ll likely get a much better result then you would training ad-hoc or using a plan from a book.
Workouts are uploaded to your watch, cycle computer or training software for you to follow in real time. If you’re following a run workout your watch will beep at you if you go over or under the target range. If you’re following a cycle workout on Zwift it will let you know when you are outside the target range. This removes a lot of fiddling, creating custom workouts on platforms or trying to remember your workout while you’re training.
If you were my friend signing up for an event, I would recommend a plan from TrainingPeaks as a starting point. Our selection of plans can be found here.
- There is a plan out there for most people
- Workouts sync to devices
- Low cost
- If you are especially strong/weak in one discipline you may find the plans limiting
- Some sports/distances aren’t catered for as well as others
Choosing the right training plan from those available can seem intimidating, but remember that the best training plan is the one that you will follow. If in doubt, go for a slightly easier plan which you know you’ll be able to complete, rather than choosing a training plan you will struggle to keep up with. There are various filter options on the TrainingPeaks store to help you choose plans of a suitable duration, weekly hours and intensity, which work well with the devices you own (power meter, heart rate monitor e.t.c.).
Custom Training Plans
The vast majority of stock plans work on a number of assumptions. That you work Monday-Friday, you have around an hour on the weekdays for training, you are roughly the same ability in each sport, and you have a standard period of time to train for an event (3-4 months for a sprint, 9 months for an Ironman e.t.c.), and you are young/healthy enough to train for six days a week. If you fall outside of these parameters, you may find yourself struggling to find a plan that works for you.
This is where you may find a custom training plan better suited to your needs. A custom training plan can be whatever you want it to be. If you only have a handful of hours a week, a custom training plan can help you make the most of the time available. If you want to go under 10 hours for an Ironman, a custom plan can help you focus on your weaknesses and maximise the time you have available. You may be looking for a plan for eight weeks or for a whole year, a custom plan can be written to suit your needs.
They are more expensive than stock training plans as you are paying for a coach’s time to write a plan for you, but it will almost certainly be cheaper than your entry fee. We charge £10 a week for our plans, to make them affordable to the masses.
The big downside of a custom training plan is that you have limited contact with the individual who wrote the plan. After the plan is written it’s generally a case of a handshake, good luck, and let me know how you get on. If you miss several weeks due to illness, your bike is out of action or you pick up an injury, I will be able to advise the best way forward, but won’t be able to re-write the plan or have a phone call with you about it. This is of course no different to any of the above options, but this is where the final option comes in.
- Build around you as an individual, fitting around your lifestyle
- In the vast majority of cases it will be delivered on a platform such as TrainingPeaks where workouts will be synced to your devices
- Relatively low cost
- Limited contact with the coach once the plan is delivered
- Plan cannot be adjusted for free
Full Coaching Relationship
This is the ultimate option for the athlete who can afford it, and would feel best placed to benefit from the guidance. If you hire a coach to help you develop in the long term, plans will be written on a rolling (generally weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis) depending on how you have responded to the training so far, and changes to your availability.
If you hire me as your coach I will analyse all of your workouts and be in daily contact to discuss your training. You can reach out to me at any point with questions about training, equipment, nutrition, your race or any other triathlon related matters. You receive a bespoke strength and conditioning plan, and catch up calls.
This of course comes at a cost (£200 a month to hire me), however there are cheaper options available for less experienced/qualified coaches who you may have less contact with, and there are equally much more expensive options available for those who want to hire the likes of Dave Scott or Mark Allen as their coach. If you are serious about the sport, feel you would benefit from the additional contact, or simply have the disposable income to justify it, then hiring a coach is the quickest way to see improvements.
Hiring a coach also brings with it accountability, and someone to turn to when things aren’t going so well. Having someone in your corner who is dedicated to helping you have the best race possible takes a huge load off of someone’s mind, knowing that they will have workouts ready for them every Monday morning and someone to ask all their triathlon questions.
If this is somethings you’re seriously considering, have a look at our guide on choosing a triathlon coach.
- Complete guidance from a professional
- Adjustments to the training plan over time
- Some athletes may struggle to hand control of their training over to someone else
I hope this has provided you with an insight to the options available, and help you choose a training plan that’s right for you. If you are interested in any of our training plan services, drop us an E-mail.