So you are looking for training tips for sprint triathlons. A standard distance sprint triathlon involves a 750m swim, a 20km bike, and a 5km run.
A lot of triathletes dismiss sprint triathlons, believing that anything under an Olympic-distance race is a waste of time, and are best left to beginners.
However, and in contrast to this opinion, sprint triathlons aren’t only suitable for novices.
Even card-carrying Ironman finishers can benefit from this shortened race distance.
Training for a sprint triathlon can have a significant knock-on effect on your performance over longer distances.
Such a short race means that you’ll need to up your speed, and you definitely can’t afford to lose time in the transition area.
Sprint triathlons also take a lot less out of your body than longer races.
If you enjoy racing, peppering your season with sprint events will allow you to race more often.
The more races you can get under your belt, the more experience you’ll accumulate, and a better triathlete you’ll become.
Once you are triathlon fit, there is nothing to stop you from just turning up for a sprint triathlon and competing.
You’ll probably perform reasonably well. But if you want to clock up a good time, some specific training will help.
Here are some tried-and-tested training tips for sprint triathlons.
Swimming Training Tips for Sprint Triathlons
As always, the swim is the first event in a sprint triathlon. In Olympic distance races and longer, it pays to take it easy during the swim to make sure you have plenty of energy for the bike and run stages.
In sprint races, the swim is so short that you really can’t afford anything but a fast swim.
Intervals all the way
Swimming 750 meters should be well within your capabilities, and swimming longer distances won’t increase your speed.
Because of this, when training for a sprint triathlon, your primary focus should be interval training.
Interval training allows you to swim faster than your average race pace. This not only increases your fitness, but it also conditions your muscles to maintain a faster pace over longer distances.
You still need to include over-distance training in your swimming sessions, but the best way to accumulate this distance is with intervals. Good interval training sessions include:
- 4 x 400 meters
- 8 x 250 meters
- 1 x 800 meters, 2 x 400 meters, 2 x 200 meters, 4 x 100 meters
- 1 x 500 meters, 1 x 400 meters, 1 x 300 meters, 1 x 200 meters, 1 x 100 meters
Build some strength and power
If you want to swim faster, you need to increase your strength and power.
This doesn’t mean bulking up like a bodybuilder, but you should try and improve muscle performance.
One swimming-specific way to do this is with hand paddles and fins.
Both increase water resistance, so you have to work harder to move your body through the water. Tethered swimming and drag belts are also useful.
While these strategies are effective, do not overuse them. Swimming with hand paddles and fins can affect your swim stroke, and not necessarily for the better.
Tumble turn like a pro
If your race involves a pool swim, learning and mastering the tumble turn can save you a lot of time.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to teach you how to tumble turn but, without a doubt, it’s a skill worth perfecting if you want to clock a fast swim time.
Cycling Training Tips for Sprint Triathlons
The bike phase is the longest, which means it is where you can make up or lose the most time.
At 20km, this is not a big test of fitness or endurance, and that means you should be able to really power around the course.
Included time trials in your training schedule
Time trials are solo races where your aim is to ride as fast as you can.
A once-weekly time trial will help you to assess your current speed and fitness while delivering a fun and productive training session.
Time trials should be short, preceded with a warm-up, and followed by a cool down. For example, ride five miles at a comfortable pace, ride ten miles as fast as you can, and then ride another five miles to cool down.
During the time trial, you should do your best to ride as hard as you can – right on the threshold of blowing up.
Try and pick a route that allows you to ride without interruption, so no traffic signals or road junctions.
Focus on all the things that will enable you to ride as fast as possible, such as holding a good aerodynamic position and gear selection.
Become a hill master
Hills provide an excellent opportunity to pass any riders ahead of you, both on the way up and on the way down.
The best way to become a hill master is to ride them more often. A lot of triathletes avoid hills in training especially beginner training, and that’s why they struggle with them on race day. Do the opposite – seek out hills and ride as many as you can.
One way to develop both your climbing and your descending speed is to do hill repeats.
Find a long, moderate to steep hill and, after a warm-up, ride up it as hard as you can, and then turn around and descend as fast as you can. Repeat as many times as desired.
Strengthen your legs
More leg strength will help you push your pedals around faster and with more force.
Again, there is no need to take up bodybuilding, but some well-chosen leg exercises will help. Good options include:
- Box jumps
- Leg presses
Two 30 to 45-minute gym-based strength training sessions per week will have a big impact on your leg strength and cycling speed.
Running Training Tips for Sprint Triathlons
With the end of the race in sight, the run is your last chance to make up time. It’s only 5km, but, after a hard bike stage, your legs may be feeling heavy.
Also, 5k is short enough that you can really push the pace – tired legs be damned!
One-kilometer turnarounds are one of the best speed and endurance workouts for a faster 5km.
The premise is simple, even if the execution is very punishing. After a warm-up, place two cones 100 meters apart on a flat field or stretch of quiet road.
Run as fast as you can between the cones, clocking up ten lengths or 1000 meters.
Slowing down, turning, and then accelerating again really takes its toll on your legs, lungs, and heart. This workout is a killer!
Rest 3-5 minutes and then go again, aiming to complete your next interval in about the same time as the one before.
Do six sets to total 6km, and then jog for a few minutes to cool down.
Running after cycling is one of those things that only triathletes understand. The sensation of going from cycling to running ranges anywhere from uncomfortable to painful to just plain odd.
In a sprint triathlon, you don’t have time to ease yourself into the run with an easy half a mile or so.
Instead, you need to set off at a fast pace and maintain it right to the finish. Brick sessions, where you run immediately after cycling, are a must.
Head out and do a tough bike ride for 40 to 60 minutes and then, on completion and without resting, run hard for 15 to 20 minutes. A once-a-week brick session will do wonders for your sprint triathlon performance.
Do some fartlek training
Fartlek is Swedish for speed play. A fartlek session involves running at a range of intensities and for a variety of distances, usually selected at random.
For example, you might jog for five minutes, run as fast as you can for one minute, walk for two minutes, sprint for 30 seconds, run hard for four minutes, jog again for two minutes, and continue in the same vein for 30-40 minutes.
A lot of triathletes are guilty of always running at the same speed during training.
Then, when race day arrives, they can’t understand why they can’t run faster. This is the fitness law of specificity in action – you are fit for what you do.
If you want to run faster in races, you need to run faster in training, and fartlek is one way to do this.
Putting it all together – mini-training triathlons
If you really want to boost your sprint triathlon performance, you should also include some mini triathlons in your training. For example, swim 400 meters, cycle 12km, and run 3km.
Focus on your speed, not just in the pool or on the road, but in your transitions too.
Experiment with different transition setups and strategies to find what works best for you.
Once you have discovered your best transition strategy, stick with it on race day. Mini training triathlons are ideal weekend workouts.
Wrapping up Training for Sprint Triathlons
Sprint triathlons might be popular with novices, for many of whom finishing is their primary goal.
But, that doesn’t mean they intermediate and advanced triathletes can’t enjoy them too.
With longer distance races, you have to think about pacing and energy conservation.
You’ll also need to plan things like hydration and re-feeding. You may even have doubts about whether you’ll finish the race at all. It’s a lot to think about
With sprint triathlons, your only focus is going fast, and that’s very liberating. Finishing the race is never in doubt.
Over in about 90 minutes or so, sprint triathlons are fun, and training for one will also improve your performance over longer distances.