Triathlon Training: Transition Workouts for Swimming to Biking and Biking to Running

Triathlon Swimmers Exiting Water
Getty Images / Warren Little

Sure, you can run a half or full marathon, go for miles on end on two wheels, and swim laps at your local pool until they kick you out. But if you’re not training these events collectively, one after the other, to teach your body how to push through fatigue, you’re going to have a much harder time in your triathlon than you bargained for. 

What’s more, you need to treat transition areas like an extension of the race—not just a resting spot to reapply sunscreen and chat with the friendly volunteers. Whether you’re trying to beat your own time or race competitively, you can lob off a solid 2-3 minutes at each point by setting up zones and practicing the strip down (wetsuits aren’t known for being easy to peel off) and swap of shoes and gear. Here, James Beckinsale M.Sc, high performance coach and author of The Triathlon Training Book offers two transition workouts for swimming to biking and biking to running so you can build up your endurance, practice your plan, and have your body running on autopilot come race day. 

Prescription: Depending on your weakness (i.e. you feel like you need to work on the swim to bike section more) add one swim to bike or bike to run workout per week. Or, if you feel like you need to strengthen you bike to run legs, do the bike to run specific workout once per week and run for a bit after you get off the bike.

Swim to bike (using open water or a pool)

The Setup: Set up your triathlon bike with your shoes clipped on the pedals (if you can’t mount this way, practice; it’ll save you loads of time), helmet resting on the handlebars or seat, water bottle in tow, sunglasses, and gels taped to the frame. “Put the bike into the gear that most represents your race pace power output,” Beckinsale says. Then, pull on a wetsuit or swimskin, depending on your race’s requirements, over your trisuit (or shorts/jersey). 

The Warmup: Go through a dry and wet warmup. The on-land warmup will get your blood flowing to key muscles. Complete vertical and horizontal arm swings, monkey stretch (swing your right arm up and over your head and try to touch your spine while you swing your left arm to touch your opposite arm). Turn your head side to side, up and down, then roll your neck around. For the in-water warmup, perform backstroke, and swim drills like head rotation, full body rotation, catch arm, and full stroke. 

The Workout:

Swim 4x25m hard, taking 30 sec rest in between sets, to get your body hypoxic (oxygen deprived during rest to improve endurance and speed). After, pull your wetsuit off to simulate a race-day situation and go straight into 1x400m at race pace on the bike. Since your cycling shoes are already attached to the bike, pedal with your feet on top until you’re cruising at a decent clip. Coast and slip your feet in your shoes. (This will require practice.)

Next, bike for 10min at race pace.

Repeat this whole progression 2-4 times. Obviously you won’t be able to use the wetsuit after the first round since you’ll be soaking wet, but it’s still important to practice taking the wetsuit off as you prepare for the bike for time efficiency’s sake.

Bike to run (on the road or in the park)

The Setup: Create a transition area so your bike is set up as you’d have it in a race—shoes clipped on the pedals, helmet resting on the handlebars or seat, water bottle in tow, sunglasses, and gels taped to the frame. Note: This won’t be a problem practicing alone, but be cognizant of where your bike is racked during the actual race so you can easily spot it from the swim exit and bike entrance. 

The Warmup: Jog for 5 minutes, then get some dynamic stretches in like walking lunges, A skips, B skips, high knees, butt kicks, side shuffles, dynamic glute stretch (bring knee to chest) hip flexor stretch, and dynamic hamstring stretch (toe touches or Frankensteins). You can also try this dynamic warmup on land, and finish with 20 pushups to get the blood pooling in your muscles. 

The Workout:

Run into your transition area as though you’re coming in from the swim. “Put your helmet on, grab the bike, and run out to your mount line,” Beckinsale says. “Jump on the bike, getting up to speed, then put your feet in the bike shoes and maintain race pace.” 

Bike 6min above race pace (3 min out, 3 back if you dont have a 6-min circuit); and go directly into the next transition phase. Get out of your cycling shoes. “Remember your dismount line and keep your helmet on until you’ve ‘racked’ your bike,” Beckinsale explains. Pull your running shoes on (as well as your hat and fuelbelt as you would for race day) and run for half or three-quarters of a mile in a loop that will bring you back to your bike. 

Jog back the “transition zone” and repeat 2-4 times. 

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!