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The Triathlete Blueprint newsletter #08-Beginner's Guide to Triathlon Interval Training

Updated: Aug 12






Read time: 6min.

By Coach Yan Busset



Let's review together the different types of intervals. If you are just starting with triathlon or if your main focus is long distance, your main priority should be to develop your metabolic efficiency at an endurance pace. The "Train slow to go fast" is your "meat and patatoes" of your training volume (more on ways to get you to the finish line here). But in your training, you can also use highly efficient methods to develop your engine, improve motor skills acquisition and economy of your technique by targeting higher intensity. By this, I mean higher than Z2 in a 5-zones system (more on zones here).


Here is a non exhaustive list of most commun types of interval trainings:




Tempo Intervals:

Definition: Tempo intervals involve sustained efforts at a moderately high intensity, challenging

but sustainable for longer periods.

Target: Improve lactate threshold, aerobic capacity, and race-specific fitness.

Intensity Range: Moderately high intensity (RPE 6-7).

Swimming (CSS): CSS pace +5-9sec/100m

Cycling (FTP%): 76-90% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): 106% to 113% of threshold pace.

3-5 reps.

Duration: Each interval lasts 5-30 minutes.

Recovery: 1-2 minutes of easy activity or active recovery.

Example Sessions:

Swim: 4 x of 2-400m swims at CSS pace +5-9 sec with 1-minute rest between each set.

Bike: 3 sets of 10-minute intervals at 90% of FTP with 2 minutes of easy spinning recovery between each reps.

Run: 5 reps of 8min tempo runs at 110% of Threshold pace, rest=2min


Sweet Spot Training (SST):

Definition: SST, also known as Sweet Spot Training, involves sustained efforts at a moderately high intensity, challenging but sustainable for longer periods.

Target: Improve lactate threshold, aerobic capacity, and race-specific fitness.

Intensity Range:RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion): Moderately high intensity (RPE 6-8).

Swimming (CSS - Critical Swim Speed): CSS + 2-7secs

Cycling (FTP - Functional Threshold Power %): 88-93% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): 110-103% of threshold pace.

3-5 rest

Duration: Each interval lasts 5-30 minutes.

Recovery: 1-2 minutes of easy activity or active recovery.

Example Sessions:

Swim: 3 sets of 4-800 meters at CSS pace + 2-7secs, with 1 minute of active recovery between sets.

Bike: 4 sets of 10 minutes at 85-93% of FTP, with 2 minutes of active recovery between sets.

Run: 2 sets of 15 minutes at 85-90% of threshold pace, with 2 minutes of active recovery between sets.


Fartlek Intervals:

Definition: Fartlek intervals are unstructured intervals that combine periods of higher intensity with periods of recovery, simulating real-life variations in pace.

Target: Enhance speed, aerobic capacity, and race-specific fitness.

Intensity Range: Varied intensity based on effort level (RPE 6-8).

Swimming (CSS): Mix of CSS pace and faster-paced intervals.

Cycling (FTP%): Mix of tempo and threshold efforts.

Running (Threshold pace %): Mix of threshold and faster-paced efforts.

Number of reps: Variable.

Duration: Each interval can vary in duration.

Recovery: Active recovery periods of easy activity.

Example Sessions:

Swim: Perform a continuous swim where you alternate between 100 meters at CSS pace, 100m easy and 50 meters at a fast sprint for a total of 30 minutes.

Bike: During a longer ride, include 5-6-minute intervals at 85% of FTP every 15 minutes for a total duration of 90 minutes.

Run: Incorporate faster-paced efforts such as 2-minute intervals at 85% of threshold pace followed by 1-minute recovery jogs throughout a 40-minute run.

In Fartlek interval you can do multiple types of variation using the terrain and constantly change the duration and intensity. It’s by essence a " natural mixed intervals"



Over-Unders:

Definition: Over-Unders combine periods of intensity just above your threshold with periods just below, challenging your ability to sustain high efforts.

Target: Improve the ability to handle changes in intensity during a race or competition.

Intensity Range: Alternating between high intensity (RPE 8-9) and moderate intensity (RPE 6-7).

Swimming (CSS): Alternating between below CSS pace and slightly faster than CSS pace.

Cycling (FTP%): Alternating between 95-105% and 80-90% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): Alternating between 90-95% and 75-80% of threshold pace.

3-4 reps.

Duration: Each interval lasts 8-15 minutes.

Recovery: 2-3 min of active recovery.

Example Sessions:

Swim: 4 sets of 300-meters intervals, built with 250m at tempo pace and a 50m above CSS, with 2 minutes rest

Bike: 3 sets of 12-minute intervals, alternating between 8 minutes at 100% of FTP and 4 minutes at 80% of FTP, with 3 minutes of easy spinning recovery between each set.

Run: 4 sets of 10-minute intervals, alternating between 7 minutes at 92% of threshold pace and 3 minutes at 78% of threshold pace, with 2 minutes of easy jogging recovery between each set.




Threshold Intervals:

Definition: Threshold intervals focus on improving your lactate threshold by maintaining a high but sustainable intensity.

Target: Enhance the ability to sustain high-intensity efforts for an extended period.

Intensity Range: High intensity (RPE 7-8).

Swimming (CSS): Slightly faster than CSS pace.

Cycling (FTP%): 88-95% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): 99-105% of threshold pace.

3-4 reps.

Duration: Each interval lasts 10-20 minutes.

Recovery: 2-3 minutes of active or passive recovery.

Example Sessions:

Swim: 10x 200m swims at CSS with 40sec rest between reps.

Bike: 3 sets of 15-minute intervals at 90% of FTP with 3 minutes of easy spinning recovery between each set.

Run: 10 sets of 300m intervals at threshold with 2 minutes of easy jogging recovery between each set.



VO2max Intervals:

Definition: VO2max intervals aim to improve your maximal oxygen uptake by performing high-intensity efforts near your maximum capacity. In simple words, when endurance makes your engine more efficient VO2max is aiming at increasing the size of it.

Target: Enhance aerobic power and increase the body's ability to utilise oxygen.

Intensity Range: Very high intensity (RPE 9-10).

Swimming (CSS): 5-9 sec/100m Faster than CSS pace.

Cycling (FTP%): 105-120% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): 90-100% of threshold pace.

3-5 reps.

Duration: Each interval lasts 3-5 minutes (aiming 8-20min max of effort at this intensity)

Recovery= effort time

Example Sessions:

Swim: 5 sets of 150m intervals at a7 sec/100m faster pace than CSS, rest = swim time

Bike: 4 sets of 4min intervals at 110% of FTP with 4 minutes of easy spinning recovery between each reps.

Run: 4 x 500m rest=Run time



HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training):

Definition: HIIT alternates between short bursts of high-intensity exercise and periods of active recovery.

Target: Aerobic Capacity,Anaerobic Threshold,Speed and Power

Intensity Range: High to very high intensity (RPE 7-9).

Swimming (CSS): Above CSS pace.

Cycling (FTP%): 120-140% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): 90% to 96% of threshold pace.

4-6 reps.

Recovery: 1-3 minutes of active recovery or low-intensity activity.

Example Sessions:

Swim: 6 x100m fast (above CSS pace) Rest=1min

Bike: 5 sets of 1-minute intervals at 130% of FTP with 2 minutes of easy spinning recovery between each set.

Run: 6 x200m Fast ( above threshold) Rest=200m easy jog



SIT (Sprint Interval Training):

Definition: SIT involves short, intense bursts of exercise followed by periods of rest or lower-intensity activity.

Target: Improve anaerobic power and speed, neuromuscular Efficiency.

Intensity Range: Very high intensity (RPE 9-10).

Swimming (CSS): All-out sprint.

Cycling (FTP%): 200-300% of FTP.

Running (Threshold pace %): faster than 90% of threshold pace.

4-8 reps.

Duration: Each interval lasts 20-30 seconds.

Recovery: 1-4 minutes of passive rest

Example Sessions:

Swim: 8 sets of 25-meter all-out sprints with 2 minutes of rest between each reps.

Bike: 6 sets of 20-second maximum effort sprints with 3 minutes of light spin or passive recovery.

Run: 6 sets of 100m all-out sprints with 3min passive rest.




As a famous colleague of Ironman once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." These higher-intensity intervals are to be used with care, not too often, to allow the body to assimilate the induced stress. As a rule of thumb, one quality interval per week per discipline is a good way to start for biking and running. For swimming, being a low-impact sport, it induces fewer muscle fibers damages, so you can incorporate intensity more frequently into that discipline throughout the week. The choice of the right interval type will depend on the demands of your goals, what you choose to develop in your fitness, and the timing in your preparation. When training for endurance, it's crucial not to go too fast. But, when higher-intensity intervals are prescribed, it's important to learn not to shy away and to push hard enough to broaden the range of your training gears and develop the whole spectrum of your fitness. This way you will become a fit, all-rounder triathlete.


Thank you for reading and see you next week!

 

Whenever you’re ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:

1. If you are looking for support for your triathlon journey, I recommend you book a 30min 1on1 video consultation with me here.

2. If you are looking for an online coaching service check here.

3. if you are in the Helsinki area and looking for the best training group check here


 

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