Getting started in triathlon with 90210's Ian Ziering

Ian Ziering of <i>Beverly Hills, 90210</i>  Credit: Rebecca Batula/Allsport
You may know Ian Ziering from his television work on Beverly Hills, 90210 or recognize him from a recent appearance in CBS top rated military hit JAG.

But if youre a triathlete, youve probably shared a course with him in some high-profile races, most notably the recent Nautica Triathlon in Malibu, Calif.

Ian (pronounced like one would say the letters I and N consecutively) is quietly pursuing a hobby of cross-training and triathlon competitions when hes not in front of the camera, with surprisingly effective results.

I couldnt even run a mile when I started, and now I can run 6 miles like its nothing! he says. I started on this new life-path of physical fitness, and the results have been really rewarding. I feel so good about myself, and theres such an incredible sense of accomplishment I feel when I finish a race.

Ian was not always a lean endurance machine. Initially a bulky 205 pounds, he frequented the weight room and could easily bench 315 pounds. But when it came to cardiovascular fitness, he was in trouble.

The first time I tried running, I went two blocks and had to stop I had the strength, but it was my chest that couldnt take it I just couldnt breathe! I realized then that I really had to incorporate some cardio training into my routine.

Wisely, he approached one of the fitness industrys best gurus for advice: Greg Isaacs.

Isaacs, author of The Ultimate Lean Routine and director of West Coast programming for Equinox Fitness, has whipped some of Hollywoods biggest stars into shape. His list of clients and supporters includes Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kurt Russell, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, and the cast of Friends.

With Ian, Gregs assignment was to turn a former gym rat and big boy into a cardio-fit triathlete capable of swimming (which he hadnt done since high school), running (ditto) and cycling (he had never ridden a road bike).

My strategy was simple, Greg explains. After assessing Ians body type, I recognized that we really needed to build a base of cardio fitness, while maintaining strength, in a short amount of time. Ian is a competitive guy so it was important that he performed well in his first events, but hes also very enthusiastic and full of great energy. So I had to be careful that he not overdo it in the early stages and end up with overuse injuries.

Ian had been plagued by shin splints in the past due to his muscular, top-heavy build. The goal was to get him back into running shape, without injury. The catch was that Ian only had six weeks to prepare for his first triathlon, having sent in an entry form before committing to a training program. How could he throw himself into a short-term program, expecting immediate results, while avoiding injury?

Carefully, the athlete and trainer developed a program (some would call it a boot camp) that Ian followed for a month and a half, after which point the routine was modified and intensified accordingly. Unconventional as this short-term training regimen was, Ian came through in flying colors, completing the race without injury and becoming a full-fledged triathlete in the months that followed.

Here, Greg and Ian have agreed to share the program, in hopes of encouraging other novices to follow suit. And why not? The proof is in the pudding: A sometime-athlete with no endurance background and limited triathlon ability has discovered newfound success, confidence, and fulfillment in triathlon (not an easy task, especially if you are in the public eye!).

Ian Zierings six-week training program by Greg Isaacs

Swim partial or full masters workout (1,500 - 3,000 meters).
30 to 45 minutes on stationary bike (always tension; aerobic rate)

Speed walk/run, 2 to 4 miles

Swim partial or full Masters Workout (1,500 - 3,000 meters)
30 to 45 minutes interval spin training (high intensity)

Run 2 to 4 miles (Without throwing up, according to Greg)

Swim partial or full Masters Workout (1,500 - 3,000m)
30 to 45 minutes stationary bike (already tension; aerobic rate)

Active recovery: outdoor hiking/light jogging

Yoga/ stretching for increased flexibility and recovery

The above program was followed religiously, then altered with newer challenges as Ian developed increased cardiovascular fitness. Isaacs cautions that jumping into a masters swim program should only be done by those who have a swimming background (however limited). Novices are advised to get private coaching or swim on their own at first, as a group workout can be intimidating and confusing for a first-timer (Ian had the advantage of a high school swimming career behind him).

I had the benefit of swimming on the same masters program that Mark Spitz is a member of, Ian says, laughing. So I had some personal instruction from him. He helped me cut six strokes per length!

After about 10 workouts in the pool (and a few tips from his Olympic legend teammate), Ian graduated from the Guppy lane to a faster group, and there was no stopping him from there.

Greg showed me a completely different way to train, and as I got myself into better and better shape I noticed my muscles became longer, more striated I was eating more, but staying lean. I guess it helped that Greg would call me from time to time and make sure I was sticking to a healthy diet!

Indeed, Ian slimmed down from his previous 205 pounds to a tri-friendly 178. In addition, he was developing a lung capacity that allowed him to do longer, more intensive training even beyond what Isaacs suggested.

I would sneak off to the gym unbeknownst to Greg on days I had some extra time, he says sheepishly, hoping that I keep this information off the record. Id hit the Lifecycle or Treadmill and just do a little extra something to burn some calories and get another workout into the day. Sometimes Id sit in the sauna, 10 minutes in, 5 minutes out, until I covered 40 minutes inside. This would help bring my weight down some and clear my mind.

Unauthorized extra workouts notwithstanding, Ians initial foray into cross-training was happily injury-free, though not always the most pleasant experience.

My goal was to run and train at six miles, and Ill tell you, the first time I made it to six I keeled over and puked on my shoes! But raising my hands over my head and doing a victory cheer made it all worth it. Greg really inspired and encouraged me to push through with my goals.

What is motivating about Ians experience is that he made a commitment in spite of an already-challenging schedule, and was able to accomplish his goals with little more than an hour (sometimes two) each day. While Ian had the proximity, contacts, and good fortune to work with Greg Isaacs, those of us that dont may learn something from this duos work together.

Given that new years resolutions are right around the corner, it was my hope that their results and their regimen could be shared as an example of how to get started right, and without injury.

With minimal background experience, its still possible to achieve a level of fitness to be reckoned with in the sport of triathlon. The hardest part is getting started, but heres a how-to guide from two who discovered a formula for success!

Set a goal! Find and register online for a triathlon today!

Get advice for getting back on track with Alex's Fitness Makeover column

Check out's beginning tri-training guide

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