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Training for a Triathlon with the Spinning® Program–Part 1

The sport of triathlon is growing in popularity across the globe. I bet if you ask the participants in your class, you will have somebody that has either competed in one, wants to do one, or knows somebody that has completed one. This is great news for the Spinning® program!

Having a performance goal outside of the Spinning® room gives our riders a real sense of focus, direction and excitement. It not only benefits their commitment to their specific training (i.e., swimming, biking, running), but most importantly it gives them a much clearer focus when participating in their Spinning classes.  Our job is to ensure we support them in getting the most effective training benefit during their indoor cycling session. This will translate into improvement in their outdoor riding and their race results.

The Spinning Energy Zones™ were created with the athlete in mind. An athlete in this context could be defined as: a person that wants to train with purpose and direction using heart rate parameters to ensure they work at intensities that are suited to a particular stage of their training cycle. For the general indoor cycling participant, the energy zone may just seem like a fun way to label classes. However, when a person begins to train for performance, you may notice a shift. They will start to become more interested in and understand the real necessity and benefit of having a structured plan to their weekly rides.

Each Spinning Energy Zone can be matched perfectly to the various cycles that exist in a periodized training year.  This is key to keep our triathletes coming back to classes and also to give them an indoor option when they cannot ride outside. When people train to race, a class needs to be about much more than just fun, music and sweat. They have a plan, they want results and every single hour of training is focused on making them the fittest and fastest athlete they can be when race day comes. Your classes most definitely can support their pursuits.

Simply defined, periodization is when the year is divided into training periods. These periods then have a different focus and allow for the manipulation of volume and intensity to meet fitness requirements that are specific and necessary to peak for race day. Or as Joe Friel simply states, “Periodization means that the closer in time you get to the race, the more race-like your workouts become.”

For more information on periodization for triathlons, I would highly recommend Joe Friel’s "The Triathlete’s Training Bible." He has over 30 years of cycling and triathlon coaching experience and he is the master of writing about complex systems in a very easy to comprehend manner. This is a fantastic book for individuals just wanting to gain a clearer understanding about triathlon and periodization. It is also an absolute must for any self-coached competitor.

With periodization, the periods of training refer to time. In Joe’s books, he refers to these periods as: Prep, Base, Build, Peak, Race & Transition. Each has a specific training focus. The closer these periods get to race day the more specific to race conditions they become.

In order for a person to create a personalized annual training plan, they will need to establish a number of key factors:

1. When are they racing?
2. How many training hours they can mange on average each week?
3. How many sessions can they do each day?

Other than the above, there are certainly a number of other considerations to include in order to create a successful plan, such as limiting factors, strengths and race goals. However this is definitely a good starting pointing for the average Joe.

Once an annual training plan is established, the athlete will then be able to identify what period they are in and therefore what type of training sessions they should be doing during that period. Basically, a yearly plan is configured working backwards from the date of the athlete’s race.

The table below illustrates the periods and how we can use the Spinning Energy Zone class formats to suit each period.

Period Purpose Duration
Spinning® Energy Zone™
PREP Prepare to train 2-4 weeks Recovery
BASE Establish basic abilities  12 weeks Recovery
*Keeping HR <80%
BUILD Build race-specific fitness  8-9 weeks Recovery
PEAK Increase rest and race specificity  1-2 weeks Recovery
RACE Rest and prepare to race  1 week Recovery
TRANSITION Recover both physically and mentally  1-8 weeks Recovery
Other rides

Provided your participants know what training period they are in and they have a heart rate monitor, they can attend classes that suit them. If the class does not fit their training purpose, but it is the only time slot they can attend, then there is always the option to ride at their own heart rate parameters that suit their goal without necessarily follow the class format. In order to avoid any disruption, I would always suggest to my participants to notify the instructor as a courtesy if they plan to ride at a different pace than the rest of the class. I would also suggest they sit toward the back of the room so they do not disrupt the flow of the rest of the group.

Although the Spinner® is a great training tool to build fitness, unfortunately you cannot ride a Spinner on race day! When you get down to the pointy end of the proverbial stick, there is nothing better than riding your own bike, on the road and more time should be spent outdoors than in a Spinning room. However, keep in mind this will depend where the athlete is in their training cycle. If they are in their Prep, Base or Transition period, then Spinning classes are a fantastic option.  Then as they get closer to the Build and Peak period, more of their rides should be as race specific as possible, which means saving the Spinning classes for recovery sessions.

The duration of a Spinning class for most will not provide enough volume or hours on the bike for most training days. Even a sprint-distance triathlon will have even the fastest riders on the bike for at least thirty minutes. The ride time for triathlon races ranges from thirty minutes up to six or eight hours on the bike, depending on the rider. Therefore it is necessary that participants ride for at least one hour or more when they are training for triathlon goals. This may then mean they arrive early or stay on the bike longer or possibly do back-to-back classes.

Stay tuned for Training for a Triathlon with the Spinning® Program–Part 2, including examples of weekly training schedules and how instructors can independently include Spinning Energy Zone rides into their weekly classes.

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