Sprint Triathlon Training and More!

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Sprint Triathlon

Sprint Triathlon

Triathlons used to be the domain of elite athletes. Not anymore. More than 1 million people stepped up to a triathlon starting line last year—37 percent of them women, according to USA Triathlon. “Triathlons have taken over the reins from marathons as the new personal challenge,” says Barrie Shepley, Canada’s former Olympic and National Triathlon Team coach.

It’s no mystery why: The swim-bike-run combo combats workout boredom and practically guarantees weight loss. Plus, the popular sprint distance (half-mile swim, 12-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run) eliminates intimidation. Just be forewarned: The feeling of accomplishment coupled with body-sculpting effects can be addictive!

Why Tri?

Watch any triathlon and you’ll see lean legs, flat abs, and sculpted arms whizzing by—all thanks to the one-two punch of endurance and resistance exercise. “Conditioning your body to plug away at three back-to-back disciplines builds muscle endurance,” says Lesley Mettler, a triathlon coach in Seattle.

“The resistance comes from pushing yourself through water, which is thicker than air, and cycling up hills or into wind. Triathlon training is very balanced—it’s whole-body training.”

And it shows. When you focus exclusively on one sport, you often end up strong in some areas and soft in others. Triathletes get body benefits from all three sports and are lean and fit from head to toe, says exercise physiologist Shannon Grady, owner of Go! Athletics. Plus, the constant cardio can result in serious weight loss.

But all that cardiovascular action is good for more than just dropping a few pounds: A recent study in Radiology found that triathletes have larger, healthier hearts and a 17 percent lower heart rate (fewer beats means your ticker is so strong it doesn’t have to work as hard) than other athletes.

Your joints, tendons, and muscles will thank you too. “Overuse injuries like tendinitis and stress fractures often result from weakness elsewhere in the body,” explains Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and an eight-time Ironman finisher.

“Because of the amount of cross-training, triathletes build stronger muscles around all of their joints, which reduces their injury risk,” he says. “Think of it as building scaffolding around a building.”

A stronger body and better health starts with this step-by-stroke-by-pedal plan.

There’s a reason even fit women end up hanging onto the side of the pool when they first start doing laps. “In swimming, you use every single one of your muscles to stay afloat and work through the tension of the water,” says Pete McCall, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “And since those muscles need oxygen and fuel, your body is asked to work harder.”

But have no fear! Once you get your feet (and the rest of you) wet, you’ll build endurance fast and quickly learn to love this soothing, no-impact workout that burns more than 500 calories an hour.

Technique 101

Breathe. “It’s the single most important thing to master in swimming,” says Shepley. A steady inhale/exhale rhythm keeps you relaxed (like in yoga) while increasing your speed and eliminating the need to gasp for air every couple of strokes. Breathe out of your nose while your face is in the water and, on every other stroke, tilt your head to the side, halfway out of the water, and take in oxygen.

Once you’re comfortable with that, breathe in on every third stroke to practice getting air on both sides—a handy skill in open water since waves may break on your favored side.

Roll with it. Rotate your shoulders, torso, and hips with each stroke to help you glide through the water. “If you rotate your body from side to side—rather than swimming flat—you’ll move like a torpedo,” says Shepley. In other words, fast as hell.

Kick sparingly. Save your legs for the bike and run, and rely mostly on your arms to pull you through the water. This prevents lactic acid from building up in your legs, which in turn keeps your legs from tiring so they’re ready when you really need them. During training, squeeze a pool buoy between your legs as you swim to practice using your upper body.

Do It!

At first, aim to swim 250 meters once or twice a week. If you’re sucking wind (or water), break it into intervals of 25 meters (usually one length of a pool) of nonstop swimming with 20 seconds of rest in between to catch your breath. During the final month, make one session each week an open-water swim, if possible, and practice sighting by looking up every six to eight strokes to confirm you’re on course.

Start each workout with 10 to 15 minutes of the following warmup drills. These three exercises from Shepley will refine your stroke and help you generate more power so you can learn to glide through the water effortlessly. More at How to Train for a Sprint Triathlon

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