There’s a saying by successful businessman and syndicated columnist, Harvey Mackay, “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.”
Truer words have never been spoken for the triathlete. Every hour is a precious commodity, which always seems to be in short supply. Yet every bit of time’s small stock is absolutely necessary to achieve any sort of triathlon-related goal. As any seasoned triathlete is aware of by now, successful triathlon training requires a significant quantity of hours of work per week in order to mean something.
The real question is, how much is enough?
Hours per week of training, or training volume, are, of course, very dependent on a lot of variables. For one, what are your actual triathlon goals? Are you aiming just to finish? Or do you want to win your age group? What is your history in endurance athletics?
More importantly, what distance of triathlon are you intending to compete in? Sprint or Olympic distance? Or the daunting IRONMAN?
The reason for these questions should be self-evident. Training volume in hours per week will depend on the person. But even so, we can still be interested in the difficulty of knowing how much is enough.
This post does not serve to answer that question definitively. An intelligently prescribed and nuanced training plan, which has accounted for all of these factors and more, much like the TriDot Triathlon Training system, is the only real answer to how many hours of triathlon training you need.
But in a more general sense, we can still dismiss unfortunate misconceptions and myths regarding this popular question. For one, more is not always necessarily better.
As TriDot Triathlon often preaches, functional threshold (preferably in the form of TriDot scores) is the basis on which your training plan should be structured. You need to know your baseline capability in order to extrapolate what might be possible on race day.
But even if your functional threshold is known, you might mistakenly use this initial measurement as the generator of your training volume. To understand what this means, we can look at a hypothetical example.
For instance, let’s say that based on your current functional threshold for the run that you’ve roughly estimated an IRONMAN marathon of approximately 4:00, granted that you eventually obtain the proper amount of stamina to finish such a distance. Understandably so, you then decide that your frequency of run workouts and your long runs should be at such a volume so that you can reasonably run for a four-hour duration off the bike.
However, this is where the faulty reasoning comes in. Rather than increase training hours to match the duration of race time you think your currently ability puts you at, why not increase your capacity for finishing faster?
In other words, if you focus and increase your functional threshold early in your training plan then your capacity to require less training hours in order to cover a new finishing time potential is completely possible.
Too many triathletes make the mistake of simply putting in more hours at lower intensity early in their training phase and expecting the vast amount of endurance workouts to somehow make them a better endurance athlete. With consistency this method will offer some slight improvements, sure, but only sparingly so.
A more effective plan would be to keep training volume low in the beginning while intensity is high, build a foundation of strength, and work to increase your threshold capacities. Then, as the season progresses, gradually increase training hours until you have the stamina required to compete at your desired triathlon distance with confidence.
This methodology attempts to lower your potential finishing time as much as possible in the early stages of triathlon training. By doing so, your need for more hours of training time is also lowered. This puts less unnecessary stress on your body and allows every hour that is devoted to triathlon to truly mean something.
In other words, quality trumps quantity. And as TriDot advises: Strong before Long. Fast before Far.
How many hours of triathlon training you need is dependent on a number of variables unique to the individual. However, a consistent truth is that it’s always better to increase threshold capacity early in your training phase, and then increase training hours later.
TALK WITH TRIDOT:
Have you made the mistake of assuming more hours of triathlon training will produce better results? What do you think about the ideas posed in this post?
JARED MILAM is a former professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and former member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 17 years of competitive running experience and 12 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.