Polarized Workouts for Triathletes 

What does polarized training look like for triathletes? Find out with these tri-specific swim and run workouts.

Pathways Logo graphic interpreting polarized training method as 80/20 mix of intensities, from green to yellow/red
Triathlete Training

There are six tri-specific workouts below from Ryan Bolton—three runs, three swims—that are mostly targeted at athletes racing 70.3 and Ironman, but could work for those preparing for sprint or Olympic-distance racing too. If you’re looking for cycling workouts, check out this Three Rides to Polarize Your Training article. Note that Bolton uses a 5-zone training zone system in his workout prescription.

RUN 1: The out-of-transition long run

This is a long run with a spicy one-mile 70.3 race-pace effort early on—and again towards the end.

  • 1 mile warm-up
  • Then run 1 mile at 70.3 race pace
  • Go directly into 10 miles at 30 sec. per mile slower than 70.3 race pace
  • Then speed up and run 1 mile at 70.3 race pace
  • Cool down with 4 miles aerobic run in zone 2

RUN 2: The mid-week tempo

This 75-minute pyramid tempo workout builds in 15-minute increments and is best done mid-week.

  • 15 min. warm-up in zones 1 and 2
  • 15 min. in zone 3, steady (nearing 70.3 race pace)
  • 15 min. in zone 4 (faster than 70.3 race pace)
  • 15 min. in zone 3 (nearing 70.3 race pace again)
  • 15 min. in zones 1 and 2

RUN 3: The recovery run

Ensure all the higher-intensity work can be absorbed with this aerobic recovery run that includes some short strides at the end.

  • 30 min. aerobic run in zones 1 and 2, aerobic and in control
  • Then run 8 x 20-30-sec. strides at near max-mile pace, taking approx. 60 sec. recovery between each stride. Be sure to let heart rate come down between each stride—this is important. Focus on perfect form!
  • 5 min. cooldown in zone 1

Swim 1: Long, aerobic endurance

This is a 5,600-yard swim focused on building endurance.

Warm-up:

  • 600 choice 

Main set: 8 x 500 (all with 30 sec. rest) as:

  • 1-2: 100 drill/100 kick (with fins) 
  • 3-4: aerobic with perfect technique 
  • 5: breathing every 5 (hypoxic breathing)
  • 6: breathing every 7 (hypoxic breathing)
  • 7: 100 aerobic/25 at threshold pace 
  • 8: 75 aerobic/50 at threshold pace

Rest 2 min.

  • 16 x 50 pull with buoy, band and paddles (on 15 sec. rest) 

Cooldown:

  • 200 choice

Swim 2: The triathlon-specific swim 

This is a 4,200-yard swim with a variety of intensity.

Warm-up:

  • 200 swim (30 sec. rest)
  • 100 kick (30 sec. rest) 
  • 200 pull (30 sec. rest)
  • 100 kick (30 sec. rest) 
  • 8 x 50 drill or stroke (no free) (20 sec. rest) 

Main set:
Swim 3 rounds of:

  • 200 fast (10 sec. rest) 
  • 300 swim steady (15 sec. rest)  
  • 400 pull (60 sec. rest) 

Then swim:

  • 6 x 50 fast (30 sec. rest) 

Cooldown:

  • 200 easy 

Swim 3: Recovery and technique

This is a 2,000-yard including drills and neuromuscular work.

  • 800 choice  
  • 10 x 50 drills for your technique limiters (20 sec. rest) 
  • 60 sec. rest 
  • 8 x 25 fast form, 90% of max. effort (on 45 sec. rest)  
  • 500 easy cool down

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