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Training

How to Design Your Own Workout

Top coaches help you train by design.

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Think of your training plan as a large blueprint—when you view it from afar, you can see a clear picture of what your entire season looks like. But step a little closer to the drawing, and you’ll notice the details that make up the big picture: lines, measurements, and instructions for every element within. Just as a contractor wouldn’t build a house from a sketch done in crayon, so, too, should the triathlete avoid a slapdash approach to training. Even though it’s hard to predict what your season will look like moving forward, you should still be intentional with every session you plot out.

We asked Ryan Bolton, Olympian and director of Bolton Endurance Sports Training, and Derick Williamson, head coach of the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team, to share their insights into how to design your own workout, brick by (bike-run) brick.

Core Elements and Questions to Ask When You Design Your Own Workout

Purpose

What is the objective of this workout?
Why is it important to my specific race goals?

Systems Worked

Which energy system will be recruited: aerobic or anaerobic?
Do I have a good balance of workouts in both systems within a given week?

Timing

Where does this fit into the overall schedule?

Duration

Does this fit into the time I have available to train that day?
Is the duration an incremental increase from what I’ve done recently?

Warm-Up

What do I need to do in order to prime the body for the work ahead?

Main Set

How will I achieve the objective of this workout?
What kind of recovery (if any) is needed during the session?

Cool-Down

How will I gradually return to baseline levels after this workout?

Workout Example: Coach Ryan Bolton’s Anaerobic Capacity Bike Intervals

Purpose

Train the body’s anaerobic system to adjust to the frequent changes in effort during short-course racing.

Systems Worked

Anaerobic

Timing

Mid-week, as a key session (allow ample recovery time before another big session).

Duration

1 hour 40 min

Warm-Up

30 min, Zone 1-2

Main Set

8x(45secZone5-6,30secZone3) 4 min easy recovery spin 8x(45secZone5-6,30secZone3) 4 min easy recovery spin 8x(45secZone5-6,30secZone3) 4 min easy recovery spin 8x(45secZone5-6,30secZone3)

Cool-Down

15 min, Zone 1-2

Coach’s Annotations

These 45-second bursts specifically replicate what an athlete often experiences in sprint- and Olympic- distance racing. With the high intensity efforts being a max of 45 seconds, but the recovery intervals being relatively short, this workout really taxes and trains the body.

Workout Example: Coach Derick Williamson’s Run Test Set

Purpose

Build bodily awareness and intuition instead of reliance on tech devices.

Systems Worked

Anaerobic

Once per week as a test set, performed on the same route every time.

Duration

50 min

Warm-Up

15 min at effort level 4/10, focusing first on stride rate (turnover), then stride length.

Main Set

20 min at 8/10 effort level.
Note landmarks at the 5:00, 10:00, and 15:00 as well as where you finish the 20-minute effort. These will serve as your landmark splits going forward.

15 min, effort level 3/10

Coach’s Annotations

Using the same route every time will hone your pacing intuition (where to push and where to back off) so you can make better decisions on race day.

So many athletes struggle with pacing—going out too fast, too soon. A demonstration of competence with this workout is that over time you are negative splitting the effort. You may hit your first landmark split at the same time, but over time you are hitting your second and third landmark a touch faster, and finishing faster than you started.