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Base - Triathlon

TrainerRoad offers Base Training Plans specifically tailored to meet the swim, bike, and run needs of triathletes. With workouts for all three disciplines included, triathletes can select their Base Plan depending on the type of triathlon they'll be targeting.

Triathletes can choose from a Sprint, Olympic, Half, or Full-Distance plan. TrainerRoad members can view the plans and choose what plan volume suits them best here.

Of course, the TrainerRoad software can't be used with the swim or run workouts, but we provide full descriptions of intervals, drills, and perceived exertion levels for these off-bike workouts. The following is a list of the swimming drills and swimming/running perceived exertion levels we use in our workout descriptions.

Swim Drills

  • Catch-Up (CU) - Your lead arm will remain fully extended in front of you until your working arm completes a full stroke. The working arm now becomes the lead arm and remains fully extended in front of you until your working arm completes its full stroke and “catches up”.


  • Half Catch-Up (HCU) -This abbreviated catch-up will bring the full catch-up drill closer to your actual freestyle stroke. Instead of waiting until your working arm reaches your lead arm, start pulling with your lead hand a little earlier, when your working hand is even with your lead arm’s elbow.


  • Fingertips & Thumbs (F&T) - During your normal freestyle stroke, keep your elbows high and lightly drag your fingertips across the water as your working arm recovers. Then, as your working hand exits the water on the release, lightly scrape your thumb against your thigh. These two actions can be done individually or combined.


  • Fists (F) -Swim with clenched fists and focus on rotating your shoulders and bending your working elbow during the catch such that you create a pull that's nearly as powerful as one done with an open hand.


  • Single-Arm (SA) -Restrict yourself to one arm’s use for an entire pool length by keeping the opposite arm extended in front of you or at your side (advanced). If necessary, perform this drills using fins until you improve to the point that you can eliminate them. Try to use a moderate kick and normal body positioning, rolling into your working arm.


  • Front Sculling (FS) -Stretch your arms out in front of you, fingertips pointed forward, arms no more than shoulder width apart and use both hands to propel yourself forward by “sculling” in a figure-eight pattern as you simulate the catch over & over. Use a minimal kick and do this with your head up or down.


  • Chest Sculling (CS) -With your chest facing down, bend your elbows and point your fingertips down while keeping your elbows high. Make the same figure-eight patterns with both hands in order to propel yourself forward, effectively repeating the center of the stroke.


  • Back Sculling (BS) -Keep your arms at your sides and point your fingertips back toward your toes as you propel yourself with those familiar figure-eight movements without moving your hands any wider than shoulder width.


  • Sighting (S) -Instead of turning your head to the side to breathe, raise your head to look forward and “sight” a landmark toward which you’ll swim. Breathe just as you would when turning to the side by inhaling before lowering your head, exhaling underwater, and learn to disrupt your stroke as minimally as possible in the process - eventually not at all.


  • Kicking (K) -Swim facedown using only your feet to propel you as you breathe just as you would during a freestyle stroke by rolling to the side and turning your head to catch some air. Focus on “pushing” your chest down while keeping your legs & hips up toward the surface as you practice balance & kicking technique.


  • Side Kicking (SK) -Swim on your side with your lower arm extended ahead of you and the upper arm resting against your side. Rest your head against your shoulder and look down keeping your head completely submerged while using only your kick to propel yourself. Rotate your head slightly when inhaling and try to keep your hips & legs high throughout as you swim a full pool length before switching sides.


  • Kick & Rotate (K&R) -Begin kicking on your side for 3-5 seconds then rotate onto your belly and “catch up” to your leading arm with the other arm bringing both arms out in front of you. Pull with the arm that was leading as you roll onto your opposite side. Kick for 3-5 seconds on this side, catch up with the other arm and immediately pull the previously leading arm and rotate to the opposite side. Over time, try to spend only 2 seconds at a time kicking on each side.


  • Stroke Counting (SC) -Target your stroke efficiency by trying to reduce the number of strokes you use to reach the opposite side of the pool. Count your strokes on your first trip across, then try to reduce the number of strokes during the next 2-3 trips across the pool by taking longer, more powerful pulls, rotating more & gliding a bit longer.


  • Bilateral Breathing (BB) -Swim your regular freestyle stroke while breathing during every third stroke forcing yourself to discover and improve your weaker side. If this is challenging & uncoordinated at first, hang in there - your clumsy side will improve with practice.

Swimming/Running Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Key

RPE 2 Recovery Active Recovery
RPE 4 Easy Warmup/Cooldown
RPE 6 Easy-Moderate TR Endurance
RPE 7 Moderate TR Sustained Power
RPE 8 Moderate-Hard TR Threshold
RPE 9 Hard TR VO2max
RPE 10 All-Out TR High Power
RPE N/A Sprint TR Burst Power
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  • Avatar
    Mark Beveridge
    This scale [above] lines up with descriptions in the 'Half Distance Triathlon' plan I intend to follow ...So thank you for publishing this However, it doesn't line up with the 10-point RPE/Borg scale as I've seen it published before (and used for various marathon plans). 2=Easy, 5=Hard, 9=ReallyReallyHard ['for most people this is the most strenuous exercise they have ever experienced'] For me that isn't a big issue for Running, where I'm fairly comfortable with pacing and sustaining various levels of effort, and also what's typical. But it could be very confusing for Swimming, where I'm not (and in the past have mostly gone 'steady')
  • Avatar
    Alex Kizis

    Hi Mark, Here's what Head Coach Chad had to say:

    "First, there's no standard for relating effort levels or energy systems or intended physiological adaption, etc. to a particular Borg rating (and this isn't Borg since it's 1-10 vs 1-20). We're just trying to get across that if 1 is basically, slow-walking easy and 10 is all-out sprinting (in terms of running, anyway), then everything else is somewhere between.

    Besides, what one person considers a 9 won't necessarily be the same level of exertion for another.

    Secondly, RPE is RPE, regardless of the sport. Sprinting is a 10 in terms of "I couldn't work harder if my life depended on it" perception whether you run, ride or swim, and recovery is somewhere at the opposite end of that spectrum regardless of the sport."


    I hope this helps clarify things, Mark.

  • Avatar
    Mark Beveridge
    Hi Alex : I didn't really intend for it to be a criticism, or to say you'd done it wrong (as you've published your table/assumptions, above, so I can adjust the numbers in the plan to those I'm familiar with). It was more an FYI, as my previous sources had been consistent ...Joe Friel [] and Triathlete Europe magazine, amongst others (and for the 20-point). (And my interpretation may be wrong, but personally I wouldn't record a (say) 100m sprint as a 10, because of a low starting HR ...but a flat-out 100m sprint at the end of a very hard 5K or 10K might be a 9or10 for me ...taste of 'blood' and so on ...with the overall 5/10K maybe an 8.) Anyway, thanks for the reply, and thanks again for the key. Best, Mark
  • Avatar
    Mark Beveridge
    Oh, and I agree about "RPE is RPE, regardless of the sport" ...My comment about swimming was that if you told me to do RPE6 I would have tried to sustain a hard/vhard pace and failed to complete much of my first (Base) session ...If I didn't have your key, above. (But for running I know my limits, and the training stress my body responds to, much much better.) Mark
  • Avatar
    Alex Kizis

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the response! Our conversation certainly underscores the potential confusion of RPE scales. :-)

    In addition to the variations in the way RPE levels can be interpreted, there absolutely could be something of a learning curve to contend with (as you alluded to in your last post). Any person that is new to training, or an athlete that is trying out a new sport may very well need to suss out how to interpret their RPE for that specific type of exertion.

    We're spoiled with the objective nature of power measurements in the cycling world, so we at TrainerRoad are all very excited about the potential of other sports branching out into similar areas in terms of training metrics. For now though, athletes will be able to get great workouts in as they learn to use RPE to their advantage. :-)

    Good stuff, Mark!

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