Triathlon tips: How to get the balance between swim, bike and run

19 July 2022


Balancing life and sport can be a pretty daunting and overwhelming task. When you throw three sports into the mix, this feeling can soon intensify. Triathletes must balance training, nutrition, recovery and well… Life!

Giant UK Ambassador, Tom Davis, gives insight into how he navigates his way through this difficult task.

“Figuring out how to combine swimming, cycling and running can be a hard task at times, what with knowing how to combine the three, along with hard sessions, easy sessions, recovery (the list goes on)...

The hardest and probably most important place to start with all of this is working out what your goals are. As soon as you know what your objectives are you can get a plan in place and work towards your set targets. From there, start with your weaknesses - as this is probably where you can make your biggest improvements, and program your strengths around those key sessions targeting the areas you want to improve.

Obviously how much work you can tolerate in each sport depends a lot on your background, and where you’ve come from. For instance, trying to do a maximum effort bike session after a hard run isn't going to work, as the impact from a hard run realistically doesn't allow the legs to push on two wheels. Running in general is the hardest to add into a plan as it carries the most load; and creates the most muscular damage, hence requiring the most recovery, and carrying the greatest risk for injury. Most athletes always complain that it's their run that is letting them down in a triathlon, however a lot of the time, that's far from the big picture, and by becoming more efficient on the swim and bike, the run naturally improves with clever programming. Next, it's important to schedule in adequate rest so you can make sure you adapt to the training - It's all well and good doing the work, but it's the periods when you rest that improvement happens.

There's also the interaction between sports to consider… It's easy to think you need to do hard sessions all the time in all 3 sports - but that quickly becomes a recipe for disaster as everyday has something that is hard, meaning the body never has a chance to adapt and recover. That's where maybe getting a coach can come in really handy, as they can take a step back and really look at the bigger picture - and the long-term development of an athlete, rather than self programming, where it can be easy to always want to push harder or do more.

A lot of athletes come to me saying: “I do three sessions of each sport week in week out”; and that's great and a good structure to begin with, but when I start looking into how the sessions correlate with one another, it just becomes a routine of smashing themselves as hard as they can, until they are forced to take some time for recovery.

The best way is to have a focus, so maybe for 3 weeks you want to look at improving your bike FTP - there's your hard sessions done. I would then say for that three week block, that 90% of the running is then easy or aerobic - any intensity is minimal to allow the space to hit those hard bike sets; and then the swimming should be a mixture of intensities - but backs off to aerobic if you are feeling tired. That's just one example; and will obviously depend on time of year, goals and also you as an athlete as previously mentioned.

Ultimately the question of how to match all three sports is the big question in triathlon…You're investing all that time and effort into training and come race day you need to make sure that you both enjoy and do yourself justice. There's nothing worse than either getting injured before the event, or going into the race with doubt if you've done enough and that's where a coach can work wonders for confidence and belief that you are in the best place possible to deliver”!

Follow Tom Davis on Instagram to stay up-to-date with his latest training, tips and race results.