12-Week Beginner Triathlon Plan

Is it finally time to scratch your triathlon itch? Triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports in the US, so why not let this be the year to go for it! Follow along as I coach 13 On Your Side personalities, Laura Hartman and Shanna Grove through their first tri.

We will be following a 12-week periodized training plan. If you have already established cardiovascular fitness and are familiar with swimming, biking and running, then a 8-week program could work for you.

I designed this beginner triathlon plan specifically for the sprint distance at the Grand Rapids Triathlon. This is a course I've raced numerous times, and has very little elevation change. It includes a 600-meter swim, a 12.4-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run. This race is a perfect one for beginners! The plan assumes you have limited or no experience in triathlon, you're beginning with a lower level of fitness, and you're racing a relatively flat course. You may need to adjust the plan if your circumstances are different.

The plan is divided into three phases; base, build and peak. Click each title below to view the plan with weekly guidance, or click here to download the entire 12 week plan, specific for GR Tri.

Base phase is meant to build your fitness in swimming, biking and running and get your machine used to training for the three disciplines - work out some of the bugs and build your base level fitness.

Build phase is where the more challenging training begins. Here you begin to improve your strength and endurance in each of the three disciplines by adding more volume and intensity to your workouts. This is intended to stress the body so it will adapt to the greater workload. Here we train each discipline about twice per week, including a weekly bike/run brick.

Peak phase is where we will work in some race specific training such as open water swims and riding the course. Here you’ll see the volume begin to decrease as we prepare for your race.

Click here for week 1-4 Base phase training plan

Each workout in your training plan has a purpose and should be performed at a specific intensity. Understanding the goal of your workouts will help you to progress appropriately.

LONG WORKOUTS: The training plan includes a long workout in each discipline each week. Long runs/rides/swims should be performed at a steady, moderate pace, with no breaks, at an intensity where you could hold a (breathy) conversation. These workouts are intended to build your cardiovascular and muscular endurance.

SPEED WORKOUTS: The plan also includes speed workouts for running and swimming each week. These shorter workouts are commonly done as intervals and should be performed at an intensity that leaves you quite short of breath. These workouts improve your speed and strength stamina. Check out a previous blog on the tempo run (which you'll see in your plan)

BRICK WORKOUTS: Brick workouts combine two disciplines into one workout. You'll see brick workouts starting in week 5. Transitioning from bike to run is an essential part of triathlon success, so these workouts are very important. Your legs will thank you on racing day for doing your brick workouts!

As you follow the schedule, I’d encourage you to be flexible on which days you train. Use this schedule as a guideline, not a blue print. If you are a strong runner and terrified of the water, then you should run less, and swim more. One very important thing is to listen to your body - over-training any particular discipline leads to injury. So, take rest days as needed, and if you need to move things around, just make sure to prioritize your "long" workouts.

Running workouts require the most of your cardiovascular system, and may require a longer base building phase. You may always take the option to do a run/walk combo rather than run. Just keep moving at a steady clip! Remember, the one and only thing you truly need for success is the drive to move your body for 90+ minutes.

If all this has you feeling confused, then simply following the training plan of one of my favorite down-to-earth professional triathletes, Jesse Thomas:


  • Swim on Tuesday and Friday

  • Bike on Wednesday and Saturday

  • Run on Thursday and Sunday

  • Take Monday off because Mondays are busy

Which ever plan you use, I invite you to follow along with Laura, Shanna and me over the next few months as they train for their first tri (and I become a mommy again!). Please post your questions or comments below.

Don't forget to check out my first blog post in this series: Intro to Triathlon

Click here to download a printable version of the 12 week plan for GR TRIATHLON

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