Active Expert Gale Bernhardt Answers Your Tri Training Questions

The Active Experts are here to help. Feel free to contact them with your sports-related questions.

At Active Trainer, we get great questions from athletes about training and racing. Because the information might help you as well, here are some of the questions and answers that might help in your next race.

Q. Dear Gale -- I have looked at your training plans to help me train for my first sprint triathlon, and I really think I can do this! My question, though, is can any of the bicycling training be done on a stationary bike? As a single mother of three very young boys, I'm fairly limited to the gym for my workouts, so would appreciate any thoughts you have on this. I just bought my first-ever goggles and cap yesterday! You have really inspired me so far. -- E.R.

A. If you follow a training plan that fits your profile I am certain you can complete a sprint event. To answer your question: Yes, the bicycle training can be done on a stationary bike and the running can be done on a treadmill. Many busy moms have done a good chunk of indoor training to complete an event while managing family responsibilities.

Q. My half-Iron distance race went well--except for the run, where I began to cramp (quads) less than one mile from the start. This forced me to walk/run for the balance. I felt the training program had me in shape to do the race and am pleased with that. I'm left wondering what I could have done differently to avoid the cramp issue.

During training and racing, I have been meticulous about making sure that I properly hydrated using Gatorade Endurance sports drink, consuming PowerBars and gels, taking salt tablets, stretching, etc. There was no indication of having this problem during training, although last year during an Olympic-distance race it happened on the run, which was why I was so careful leading up to this one. Your thoughts on how to resolve this would be most helpful. Thanks again for the program, I couldn't have completed the race without it. -- D.A.

A. Cramps are a nasty issue. I see them most often in circumstances (stand-alone or in some combination) when:

  • The athlete is under-trained and not prepared for the event.
  • The athlete gets dehydrated.
  • There is an electrolyte imbalance (not consuming any electrolyte tablets or a drink containing electrolytes).
  • An athlete does a race in conditions hotter than recent training conditions.
  • Race efforts are higher than those produced in recent training.
  • A race course is very hilly compared to training courses.
  • The athlete is extremely stressed and worried about completing the event.

It looks like the first three bullets do not fit your case, so have a look at the others on the list. Perhaps the solution requires better training preparation for that specific race.

Q. Thank you for the workout schedule. I'm only on the second day, but I feel great and I'm very excited about training. I do have a few quick questions.

I also have a personal trainer who I work with in the gym two days a week (Tuesdays and Fridays). Should I just do my gym workout and then do what you have scheduled afterwards? What is the best way to utilize the gym? Also, Friday is a planned rest day on your schedule. Since it is a gym day for me, should I plan a different rest day? Thanks in advance for any suggestions. -- C.U.

A. Thanks for selecting one of my training plans. You have some great questions. If possible, do the aerobic work assigned on the plan first, then weights. I prefer this order so people can maintain good form when swimming, cycling or running. Be certain your trainer knows you are training for a triathlon and you will be exercising beyond what you do in the gym. Your trainer should probably modify your workouts to compliment your aerobic work.

For the rest day, some athletes find they can lift weights on a rest day, just keep it light.

Q. Thank you for contributing your article "Treadmill Workout: Guaranteed Speed!"

I used it tonight, but when I got to the part to elevate to 12.5 percent, I discovered my treadmill only goes up to 10. Is there a work-around for this? Perhaps start at a lower elevation and faster speed, then maxing out at 10? Or, as I did tonight, rather than going to 12.5 percent I just upped the speed by 0.5 mph? The end effect is that I began the warmup at 5 mph, ran in zone two at 5.5 mph and did the final set at 6.5 mph for at least five minutes.

Also, does zone one, two and three correspond to a heart rate? I believe my running heart-rate range goes from 80 to 160 (44 years old with a resting heart rate of 55 to 60 beats per minute). Would zone three be maxed when I get to 160 b.p.m.?

Lastly, I am training for my fifth marathon. If I do your drill once per week, do you think my speed will improve as a result? -- M.M.

A. Glad you liked the treadmill workout--it's so fun to go fast! You can increase the speed some if your elevation is limited.

As for heart-rate specifics, check out the supporting document "Training Intensity."

You asked about repeating the workout to gain speed. The workout helps you gain the neuro-muscular speed that you can later translate into sustained speed with race-paced speed work for longer intervals. Keeping a speedy workout--like the treadmill workout--in the mix once per week or every other week helps. You can repeat the workout and manipulate speed and inclines, or another option is to utilize the four-workout series in the appendix of my book, Training Plans for Multisport Athletes.


Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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