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The Fitness Zone

How to help your client prepare for their first Triathlon
February 22, 2018 | by Annette Chatterton

Every new year most of us, and our clients, set our resolutions and plan our goals (SMART ones) for the coming year. So, what if your client’s goal for 2018 is to complete and perhaps even compete in a Triathlon?

Even if you have never completed a triathlon yourself, you can help a client improve their aerobic fitness, and well prepared to give it a “tri”.

Plan the When and What first. 2-4months preparation for an aerobically fit client is adequate, providing the client can already swim competently. Once the date is set, consider the distance best suited to their fitness level, skills and somatotype.

A “mini” triathlon is easily achieved – approx. 200m swim, 8-10km bike ride and a 2km run. But often it is for the kids, and your client will look and feel out of place. The “Sprint” distance is a good goal. It’s a 750m swim, 20km ride, and a 5km run. This should take between 1 and 1.5hrs. Double this distance and you arrive at an “Olympic” distance.  It’s the 10km run that hurts the most (in my opinion). Specific skills, good equipment and a high level of aerobic fitness is needed for this distance. I wouldn’t recommend it for a first triathlon.

The entry fee for a triathlon includes 1-day insurance. This is cheaper than joining Triathlon Australia, or a club. Encourage your client to do so if they love it!

Next step is to purchase, or borrow, the right gear. A triathlon suit, or bathers and goggles. Remember they will ride and run in the outfit. Men must have their upper body covered in a tri, so the speedos won’t be enough. A wetsuit with flexible shoulders will assist buoyancy, and warmth in the swim. Obviously a road bike, cleats and helmet are required. Sandshoes will be OK, but cleats are better. Comfortable, light running shoes, sun visor etc is needed for the last leg. Stretchy shoelaces make it easy to slide the running shoes on: no socks though. Another trick is to put talcum powder in your running shoes. It helps slide the shoes on and prevent blisters.

Design the periodised plan to suit your client’s fitness, time availability, dedication and skills. A weekly plan is likely to include 3 swimming sessions, 3-4 runs and 3 bike rides. A PT session each week involving muscle endurance, strength, power and lactate tolerance is ideal, plus a pilates and / or yoga class. It can be hectic! Some of the running and riding can be indoors, but one longer run, and one long bike ride are best enjoyed outside; specific training at a lower RPE. A great high RPM spin class each week for 50-60km is very useful training. Swimming training is likely to be in a 25 or 50m pool, but again, 1 open water swim every week is great to training for “spotting” a buoy or landmark and learning to swim straight. Or perhaps save the open water swim to closer to the event. If you have no experience in designing a swimming program, encourage your client to join a swimming or triathlon group. It’s more fun too.

Gradually build distance in the running, then include intervals, hill repeats and fartlek training. Closer to the event practise transition, “running off the bike”. The hip flexors and QLs can tighten up on the bike, so running can be uncomfortable for the first km off the bike. Make sure the client stretches the hip flexors often. Supportive running shoes for training and light faster shoes with stretch laces are easy to slide on in transition. Bike cleats are more efficient than sandshoes riding, as the hamstrings are engaged more in the lift of the circular foot action. Tri bars attached to the handlebars streamline the body and are more aerodynamic. Practise riding in this position to ensure stability before the race.

Make sure the client is aware of all Triathlon Australia rules. Refer to

Below is an example of a PT triathlon specific session






BB squats

RPE 5-6



Work full ROM, engage glutes

Box jumps




Superset. Choose comfortable height

Smith machine, lunge to knee


12-15 ea leg


Ensure pelvic stability, alignment and a strong knee drive

Chin Ups (wide)




Use assisted machine or band if needed. Control the eccentric phase.

BB lunge to press




Bodyweight lunge, then drive fwd to press. Ensure hip stability. Alt legs

Straight arm standing pulldowns




Shoulders stable and down. Powerful push down to mimic freestyle arm pull

Push ups (suspension straps)




Strong core, stable body and shoulders

Plank on hands, single arm DB rotation and hold 2-3 sec




Stable, strong body. Light weight to control DB. Slower is harder. Avoid butt pike

Partner assisted stretches for all muscle groups after walking or easy jog.

Good luck….I hope you give it a TRI!


Annette is the Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Fitness SA/NT. She has been an active Coach and Fitness Presenter for over 30 years. Her interests lie in aqua, personal training, triathlons snow skiing, and sports coaching.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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