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5 Fitness Tactics to Power Your Performance

By Jay Zacharias

running on trackEarly season triathlon training is all about building your aerobic base with long, slow distance (LSD) work. While the LSD training is certainly important, it's only one part of the puzzle. The real key is to build your overall fitness. 


Why Fitness Matters

If you want to finish further up the food chain in your age group then increasing your fitness is the first step. According to Dean Brittenham, the former athletic director at the Shiley Elite Training Program at Scripps Clinic, San Diego, “It's not the best athlete but the fittest athlete that will win.” 

Whether your definition of winning is to break six hours in your next half-distance race or sprint ahead of your competitors to win your age group, start by building a foundation of overall fitness and the rest will follow. Here's how:


Increase Frequency

One of the fastest ways to improve your fitness is to increase your number of training sessions. Sure there's some crossover from each of the three disciplines, particularly with your aerobic development, but the more often you can swim, bike and run, the better triathlete you'll become. 

Put less emphasis on duration than the frequency early in the season. Build the habit of two sessions a day, five to six days a week if possible. A routine I like to use to get started is to swim and run one day and bike and strength train the next. Other than strength training, it's very hard to get better at the three disciplines by doing less than two sessions a week of each.


Drills = Skills

The better your technique the faster you'll go at every distance with the same effort. This is why elite athletes always work to improve their skills.


Whether it's catch-up or kick drills in the pool, fast-spin or single-leg drills on the trainer, or kick-butt or high-knee drills on the run, build some technique drills into each session. Good technique equals free speed, so go get some.


Speed All the Time

If you've been off training for a while or you're just starting back up, give yourself a few weeks before incorporating speed. Otherwise what are you waiting for? Speed work builds strength, makes you faster and improves your technique.

Just be sure to keep the sessions short, 5 to 10 seconds for the first few weeks, and then build to 20 to 30 seconds progressively as you feel more comfortable. 


  1. You'll get better.
  2. It's more fun to go fast! 

Eat to Improve
If you want to become a fat-burning machine then you have to do more than just aerobic zone training. You have to feed the beast to match your training. 

Reduce or eliminate the breads, pasta and pizza and force your body to tap into fat stores for fuel. This is known as being metabolically efficient. The better you do this now, the longer you can hold your race pace on your big day. And by the way, even the skinniest among us has plenty of fat to fuel our efforts.

Make It Fun
Not every activity, especially early in the year has to be triathlon specific. It's a long season, so look for creative ways to build fitness, particularly if you can include your family members. 

If your swimming is limited then try some dryland training with stretch cords and work on your strength and technique. Go mountain biking or put the biggest tires you can on your road bike and try some of those unpaved roadways that have always looked interesting. 

Racing triathlon is a choice so make it a fun one. Go find new, active ways to enjoy yourself and you'll get more fit in the process ... guaranteed.

Jay Zacharias is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and licensed primary sports nutritionist. He's been involved with triathlon since 1981 and is co-founder of, the leading community for self-coached triathletes. Grab your free short and long-course training plans by visiting

This article originally appeared on — your source for information, training plans, expert advice and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.