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Base Training 101

BY Steven Moody

If you've heard of base training but aren't quite sure what it means or how to do it, this is a good place to start.

I always try to look out for the newbies who join our triathlon club, mainly because they tend to display the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look as they nervously try to join an established group with much more experienced athletes than themselves. I am always happy to discretely ask “Do you have any questions?” and more often than not, they gladly open up.

The latest query that I fielded was about base training, and it resulted in a discussion that many new athletes might find useful. Below you’ll find the key elements of base training, so you can take advantage of it in pursuit of your own goals. 

What Is Base Training?

Base training is one element of a periodized endurance training plan which, in the classic model, progresses as follows:

Base >> Build >> Taper >> Race

Simply put, base training is the time of the year when cyclists, triathletes, and runners develop endurance and stamina, or to quote Joe Friel, when “we train to train.” If you were manufacturing a car, think of this phase as building the body, wheels, engine, etc. The part where we put in and test the gears comes later in the plan, in the build phase.

Disclaimer: for the purposes of this short article, I am looking at a standard periodization approach. Reverse periodization takes a different approach in that speed, high-intensity workouts feature much further out from an athlete’s race.

What Happens in Base Training?

Since the goal of base training is to build endurance, workouts during this phase will include low-to-moderate intensity (i.e., Zone 1 and 2) for longer periods of time. This allows the body to complete the sessions primarily using its aerobic energy system (aerobic means with the presence of oxygen).

Aerobic intensity exercise utilizes mainly fat and some carbohydrates for energy. Higher-intensity (anaerobic) efforts recruit more carbohydrates. By training in an aerobic zone, we are essentially teaching the body to be more efficient in using oxygen and fats, which makes it more efficient overall. 

This will also have the effect of helping an athlete build strength and muscle over time, if completed with some element of strength and conditioning program.

Base Training Workouts for Triathletes

As noted above, the intensity requirement is low to moderate, and this applies to all of the disciplines. Some recommendations for getting your base training right are noted below:


Core element: Longer and slower swim sets, staying away from the sprint/speed work. Some paddle and pull buoy work can help build up swimming specific muscles.

Bonus element: Get a swim analysis done and identify 2-3 things to fix in your stroke — it’s much easier to make corrections when going slow and steady.


Core element: Long steady rides with a group. There’s no need to be flogging one another, so focus on easy low-gear hill work, or steady-state Zone 2 trainer work.

Bonus element: Get your bike setup looked at and adjusted to ensure you will be comfortable during longer rides.


Core element: Long, slow runs with a pal of roughly your level. You can even try flat trail running to make it interesting.

Bonus element: Throw in the odd tempo effort or schedule a park run/5km race to keep things feeling real.


An often-overlooked part of base training is to take the opportunity to build general and sport-specific strength. Make sure you consider this when planning out your week/months ahead.


Have a look at your current diet. Could you improve things?


Goal setting: What is your A-goal this year? What are you going to change to improve? Is it the right time to push or will there be other non-triathlon goals that will take priority?

Planning: Do you have a clear plan of what your program looks like, what your macro plan is and what your skeleton week will need to be to take into account? Consider your family/work/life constraints.

A note on injury prevention: Injuries can occur even in low to moderate intensity activities. Make sure you add in some preventative activities such as foam rolling, stretching, yoga, pilates, etc. to supplement your base training. 

How Long Should I Be Base Training?

This answer depends on your event type, your current level of fitness and how early you want to start your training. A rough guide is below

  • Sprint distance: Between 6 – 8 weeks
  • Olympic/international distance: Between 6 – 12 weeks
  • 70.3/HIM distance: 8 – 12 weeks
  • Ironman/full distance: 12 – 24 weeks

What Comes After Base Training?

After the base phase comes the build phase, which involves a lot more intensity (or some might call it fun stuff!), but that is another article altogether.

Until then, remember that a good base is the key to success, no matter your goal!

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About Steven Moody

Steven Moody has starred in the corporate rat race but found that his greatest source of satisfaction came from his 20 years of endurance racing including numerous IRONMAN finishes and world championship qualifications.

Realising this, Steven abandoned his cubicle and moved into full-time coaching. Steven is now Tri Sutto, IRONMAN UNIVERSITY ®, ITU and Training Peaks Level 2 certified. He was awarded Triathlon Ireland Coach of the year in 2017. Browse his pre-built training plans by clicking here, or if you have triathlon queries you can contact him via


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