For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
You know the drill. You’ve got a swim on your schedule, but no lap lane in sight. Or a run, but you’re staying right off the freeway by the airport with no sidewalks around. Fret not! Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean your training must suffer. Presenting six inventive ways to keep your swim-bike-run on track when you can’t find one.
Good: Stay in a hotel, motel, Holiday Inn, campsite or highway underpass—it doesn’t matter! Bring along a pair of swim cords (Finis, $32, Finisinc.com), and attach to a doorknob, tree or roadside guardrail. While stroke count can be useful, dry-land workouts for time are better. Be sure to attach the cord roughly at waist level, bend from the hips and keep your trunk taut while pulling through the entire stroke—no snaking.
Better: Stay somewhere with a pool, any pool, even if it’s in the shape of a Disney character or an amoeba or an ice cream cone. If the pool is long enough to actually swim in, the easiest way to measure your workout without constantly checking your watch is counting strokes. At home, find out how many strokes per length you average for a 50 interval, a 100 interval and a 200 interval (they will be different), write each down and use those as your baseline for workouts.
If the pool is too small to swim more than 10 strokes, bring along a stationary swim bungee (Aqua Sphere, $20, Aquasphereswim.com) that takes up less luggage real estate than a pair of pants. Hook it up to any poolside surface and you’re ready for a great workout that actually improves the evenness of your stroke. Bring a pull buoy if you struggle with sinking legs.
Swim Cord Workout
6 rounds of the following:
20 very slow right arm pulls
20 very slow left arm pulls
2 min both arms “swimming” at 7/10 effort
15 fast, powerful right tricep kickbacks (rear half of stroke only)
15 fast, powerful left tricep kickbacks (rear half of stroke only)
30 sec rest
Stationary Swim Workout
This workout is based on a swimmer’s stroke count for a 25-yard interval at home being 16 strokes; 50 yards is 36 strokes; 100 yards is 80 strokes. Substitute your own stroke counts for best results.
5 min warm-up easy swimming, finding balance point and eliminating stroke dead spots.
3 rounds of the following:
4×80 strokes at 7/10 effort, 20 sec rest
2×36 strokes at 8/10 effort, 25 sec rest
4×16 strokes at 9/10 effort, 30 sec rest
5 min cool-down easy swimming, keeping stroke smooth
Good: Call around for hotels in the area to see who has a (functioning) stationary bike. Of course a stationary bike from 1986 isn’t likely going to have the aggressive tri position of a P5X, but with a good workout, you’ll at least maintain some muscle memory and fitness while away.
Better: Look online for spin classes in the area you’ll be traveling to. Spin studios can be found pretty much everywhere, most have clip-in-compatible bikes (call ahead to be sure you have the correct cleat on your cycling shoes), and many even have free trial memberships. The beauty of going to a spin class in a strange land is threefold: You’ll meet new people, get a killer aerobic workout and you won’t have to worry about the logistics of riding while traveling. Be sure to measure your home bike fit before you go and do your best to replicate the seat height and fore/aft adjustment.
Stationary Bike Workout
First, get a baseline for the resistance levels of the stationary bike: Play with the adjustment to find the hardest resistance while still turning the pedals smoothly while standing—this is your max (10/10). The minimum (0/10) should be just harder than no resistance at all. There should never be a time when the wheel can spin freely without any force.
10 min warm-up at 2/10 resistance
15 min at 4/10 resistance
3 min at 6/10 resistance
30 sec at 8/10 resistance
3 min recovery at 2/10 resistance
10 min at 4/10 resistance
5 min at 6/10 resistance
1 min at 8/10 resistance
10 min cool-down at 2/10 resistance
Good: It’s rare, but sometimes there is no treadmill or safe place to run. When that happens, find a tall building or outdoor staircase to work on strength and leg speed. Twenty to 30 minutes of continuous stair running is a great way to maintain fitness because of its built-in interval training. Start slow with single-step running and build up to double steps for the toughest workout. Once you’ve gotten comfortable, try carefully descending the stairs backward (use the railing) or sideways to work on more muscle groups.
The most important thing to remember when running stairs is to not run entirely on your toes (placing undue stress on calf muscles); focus on driving your knees instead. If you use indoor stairs, bring water and be careful if you have respiratory issues—fire-escape staircases are notorious for dusty air.
Better: There aren’t too many hotels around anymore that don’t have a treadmill, but be sure to call first to confirm that it’s a functioning treadmill. Bear in mind that most hotel-quality machines won’t be capable of accurately meting out fast sessions at high speed, so plan on quality aerobic runs or a good build workout on the hamster wheel. Be sure to drink more water than usual and load up on towels from your room to soak up the sweaty mess you’ll make.
Treadmill Run Workout
Most hotel treadmills are not particularly accurate when it comes to pace—especially as speed increases. So for the best workout, go by perceived effort, not speed. Be sure to set the incline to at least 2 percent to simulate road conditions.
15 min easy warm-up
10 min at 5/10 effort, increase speed only
10 min at 6/10 effort, increase speed and incline
10 min at 7/10 effort, increase incline only
10 min easy cool-down at warm-up speed/incline