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Starting from nothing


I am going to start training for my first sprint triathlon next year and am wondering where to start. My current fitness is poor and I am basically starting from scratch. I know there are loads of guides and programs out there but don't know which would be best for me. Any advice would be appreciated. As it is coming to the end of the season I intend training in the gym and purchasing a starter pack next year.


  • triadtriad Posts: 62
    Welcome to Tri. Good on yer. If you can swim, cycle and run well already then ignore me, otherwise, get a couple of swim lessons and read all the 220 tips on how to better your cycling and running. I took some swim lessons when I started and I think it made a world of difference. You could even get an on-line coach.
  • BARNYBARNY Posts: 157

    I think your priority is to work on your base fitness. I find the best place to do this is a gym as you can maintain a consistent steady rate and easily gradually increase the distance etc.

    Recommended Gym workout:

    1) Rowing machine – maintain 25spm at a relatively low resistance – say 7or8 out of ten for 5mins – this is very easy and you should NOT get out of breath or sweat while doing this, if you do then reduce SPM or resistance. Alter the part of your body you pull the bar back toward while doing this i.e. chest, belly, head and also change the the way you hold the bar (just for the sake of variety). If you have a heart rate monitor then aim for around 60-65% 120-130 bpm.

    2) Cycling machine (alternate between upright and reclined just for fun) – most machines have a way of giving your heart rate so you can use this to manage your effort level. Keep your RPM (cadence) at 85, your heart rate at 60-65% 120-130bpm ish – alter the resistance to maintain this balance between cadence and heart rate. Do this for 10 minutes. Make sure you put the saddle at the correct height and strap your feet into the pedals. Concentrate on the RPM and on maintaining a smooth consistant pedle stroke. Again this is easy you should not be out of breath, you will start to get a bit clammy from sweat but nothing excessive.

    3) Running machine, set at 1 % incline and run for 5mins at the same effort level as the bike – about – try to maintain about 150 bpm heartrate (130 would be better but its really hard to keep it that low while running!!).

    Gradually increase the time your are doing the cycle and run sections of the session by 2.5mins every time you do it, the rowing by 1min every week, try to do the session twice a week.

    Mix this in with some 1 bike on the road for the same duration as the gym session and running for the same duration as the bike + row section of the session – do this at fast pace.

    You will also need to do swimming to work on technique – I like to do this straight after the gym session.

    Get ready for a funky mighty morphin power kick once you get the static bike up to around 30mins as a wonderful feeling of euphoria you shall have

    Have fun!
  • taytay Posts: 18
    I took swimming lessons and did lots of practice in the pool (as it was the first bit of the event, worried about it most) - also bought a couple of books - collins need to know triathlon by joe beer (nice pictures and straightforward programmes) and your first triathlon by joe friel. both good introductions and useful reference reading before the big day.

    Also, enter try a tri's as newbie events - I did 2 and absolutely loved them, everyone was so helpful - even putting on my numbers for me and helping me with my bag when I was panicking before the start!

    And mainly, just enjoy it, its all about taking part and giving it a go for me....
  • ZacniciZacnici Posts: 1,385
    The crucial thing about starting from scratch is to avoid injury and where at all possible get advice, if in a gym -ask. I see people doing things that to me don't look right particularly on the weights where there seems to be a lot of macho grunting and exertion and impending hernias. Does your gym do personal training? A bit expensive at first but once you get set on the basics you will (hopefully) be doing the correct training and work more efficiently.

    I would say one of the most vital bits of kit is a decent pair of running shoes, go to a running specialist shop where they can analyse your gait on a treadmill with cameras. You will pay more but once you know the type of shoe you need the next pair you can get off the interweb although you can pick up end of season bargains. You will find that triathlon can be very 'bling' intensive and if you are not careful can get drawn into 'must have' upgrades every year (from someone who has had 2 new bikes in 12 months).

    Bike, get properly sized, see if anyone at the gym is in a cycling club and ask their advice, alternatively look for a good local bike shop (lbs).

    As Tay says if at all possible see if you can get a newbie event in this year such as a Super Sprint in, 200m swim, 10Km bike and 2.5km run. Borrow a bike, give it a go, doesn't matter if you doggie paddle the swim, amble round the bike at a vicar's pace and trot on the run. It will be fun, you will learn a lot and you will have done your first tri so next season you can hit the ground running.

    And by the way, welcome and good luck.
  • cranmerecranmere Posts: 34
    If I can do it anyone can since I started out as a fat, totally unfit 50 year old with flat feet and a fear of bicycles. (I'm now a slightly thinner, quite a lot fitter 52 year old). The only real essential is to invest in a pair of good shoes from a shop that really knows what they are talking about, you can get some good running advice at the same time. Shoes that don't fit or are wrong for your gait can cause injury so it's really worth doing that bit properly. Don't worry if you can't run at all yet, neither could I, but by building up gradually it's surprising how quickly you improve.

    A few swimming lessons pay huge dividends because good technique takes a lot less effort. For your first event though if you swim breast stroke, doggy paddle or anything else it really doesn't matter, the only important thing is to stay on top of the water. Buy or rent a cheap wetsuit for your first season, but if you get bitten by the bug you'll find that the expensive ones really do feel much better and give you more freedom of movement.

    Ride whatever bike you have, I borrowed an ancient mountain bike to start with that weighed a ton and I learned to ride from scratch on it because I had never ridden as a kid, but it served its purpose and I finished. I'm still terrified of going downhill fast so I tend to get through brakes rather quickly :lol:

    Don't worry about looking silly, you're out there doing it and what matters is your own sense of achievement whether you finish first or last. I look like an over-stuffed black pudding in my wetsuit , lycra shows off my wobbly bits and I shamble around the run but it sticks a huge grin on my face.

  • ianmullianmull Posts: 3
    Cranmere your post is an inspiration. I signed up 2 days ago for a triathlon in six weeks. I've been panicking ever since that I'll be the only wobbly man in the race. I know the time isn't important in the first race but how long should it take to do the different disciplines in training if I don't want to finish absolutely last?
  • Hi ian,

    First of all welcome and well done!!! The hardest part is summing up the courage to enter a race and you've done that now.

    As for how long it should take, your're right, time isn't your main focus - finishing is a great goal in itself. Without knowing the distances it's hard to say what the average times will be - what distances are the swim bike & run
  • Thanks, it's great that everyone here is so encouraging.

    The race is 3mile Run, 10mile Bike & 250m swim.

    What do you think?

  • gde,

    I am in a similar situation to yourself and have found this thread very useful.

    I have just turned 25, re-joined the gym after a couple of years in the wilderness. Started training about 10 weeks ago, lost a steady 10 lbs and already feeling the benefits.

    The thing that has really helped me out with my fitness and weight loss has been weekly spinning classes at the gym. I was absolutely dreading them as everybody I spoke to, said they were intense. But now I am addicted. I did a 2 hour session on bank holiday monday and didnt want to get off the bike!!!

    As Barney stated, I have been focusing on my base fitness and working on my flabby core. I have been doing some brick sessions, 5k bike and 3k run. The first few were hard and stopped a few times but I have now got through that and now running a consistent 5min Kilometer (i could'nt run 100 metres 10 weeks ago without panting!!)

    Now i just need the balls to sign up for a newbie event to have something to focus on!!


  • nivaghnivagh Posts: 595

    Some helpful and encouraging responses as ever, and I have nothing much to add to the general sentiment of support, but a note on ergometers (rowing machines) - it's well worth getting your gym staff to give you a proper instruction on these - it's very rare that I see them used correctly and people normally shoot up and down the slider at a really high stroke rate, but transforming little of their effort into power in the machine.

    I can't possibly write an explanation of how to row a good ergo on here, but in order to separate the different parts of the stroke, make the best use of your energy, and avoid injury, it's worth learning to do it properly.

    Once good way to encourage good habits is to start with a drill every time you row. With your legs straight out in front of you, row 20 strokes with your arms only. Then introduce your back lean, so that you use your back before your arms when you're pulling, and when you complete your stroke, you do the reverse - arms away before you lean forwards. Again, 20 strokes.

    Next, start to bend your legs. At first, barely bending your knees, keeping each part of the stroke more or less isolated - push with the legs, then use your back, then the arms. Your arms should be the fastest moving part of your body whenever you row. After 20 strokes, move on to bringing your knees to a 90 degree bend. Your legs, back and arms should still be distinct movements - as you push your legs down you should feel a little pressure at the base of your spine as you transmit the power in your legs through to your body. The same principal applies as you move on to perform a full stroke. You can pu one more intermidiate step in if you want, which is bringing your shins to vertical, and the last step is to slide as far forward as you are able.

    The reason this helps is because if you watch people on a rowing machine, they are often pulling with their arms at the same time as they are sliding forwards, and when they're straightening their legs again, they're pushing their arms forward, and the motions cancel each other out! This feels like you're doing work, but none of what you're doing is being transformed usefully to work into the machine. A higher stroke rate does not mean you're working harder or going faster!

    Many gym staff are ignorant of the "correct" use of an ergo and I tend to get people asking me what I'm doing when I'm next to somebody who's rowing a split of 2 1/2 minutes per 500m at a cadence of 40 strokes per minute and I'm pulling a 1.45 split with a cadence of 25!

    There are probably articles on the web concerning how to row - maybe check out Concept 2, who are the most ubiquitous manufacturer of rowing machines.
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