Q&A: How do you manage to fit in triathlon training on top of your work as a PT and spin instructor?

I was recently asked how I manage the physical demands of training for triathlon alongside being a personal trainer and indoor cycling instructor. It’s a really good question because it’s not easy and it’s something that I’ve struggled with in the last couple of years since I’ve been doing this. The answer is twofold, because I haven’t been following a structured training plan for endurance sport for 24+ months straight! As regular readers will know, I’ve had to take some time out for health reasons, so I have a different approach when I am focussing on triathlon training and when I’m not.

When I’m following a triathlon training plan and I have multiple swim, bike and run sessions to complete each week, I’ve had to either limit my energy expenditure during work commitments or count the work commitments as training and substitute it for a quality session where the focus is on me. The former is generally better for the people I work with anyway, as I can spend more time observing them and feeding back.

An example of this is in my Bootcamp classes, I will demonstrate exercises where needed for a couple of repetitions and then watch the group as they follow. For spinning classes, there is an expectation that the instructor will be on the bike leading the group through the session, so I would count these towards my bike training for the week. Yes, it’s a compromise as I’m focused on the group and the session plan rather than on my own intensity, and in an ideal world I would not choose to train on a spin bike, but when you’re not a professional athlete you have to make compromises and I’m grateful to be paid to do a job I enjoy.

I operate a mobile personal training service and travel to appointments on my bike, so I limit journeys to no more than about 15 minutes, although I will still clock up a number of hours on the bike each week in these short journeys.

I have at times cramped while trying to deliver a class after already having finished a swim and a weights session and an instructor with cramp is not cool, so you learn to avoid things that might trigger this (ahem, high knees!) and avoid doing them.

The great thing about having a flexible schedule when you’re training is being able to get in the pool when there’s hardly anyone there! I have no shame in saying I’m disappointed to share a lane in the olympic pool with more than 1 or 2 other swimmers – it’s my reward for the 6am starts!

Next, thinking about when I’ve not been training for triathlons, like at the moment. I did a middle-distance triathlon in May and loved getting back into my training routine in the months leading up to the race, but I felt like my health was still taking a bit of a hit from the (‘cautious’) volume, so after that, I decided to take some time to just exercise and keep fit without a race to train for. I also found out I have low bone density, so I’ve shifted the type of exercise I do so there’s more focus on things that stimulate bone growth and that means less swimming and cycling.

At the moment I’m doing a mix of yoga, weight training, running and occasionally boxing / kickboxing outside of my work commitments. I’m currently teaching about 1-2 spinning classes a week at Lee Valley Velopark which is my main high-intensity cardio exercise and I’m also less strict about not getting more physically involved in my classes and PT sessions, so if numbers are low and if it looks like the participants will get more out of the session if they have someone to burpee with, then I’m in! It might still sound like quite a lot of activity, but a few of these things are less energy-demanding than endurance sport training and because I’m not working to a schedule with time-limited goals to hit; if work or personal commitments mean one less workout, that’s ok and I’ll embrace the extra rest day.

So I hope this helps to demonstrate that I’m not superhuman (in the unlikely case that anyone was in any doubt!) and the sum of my activity is not that of a triathlete plus a fitness instructor, it’s a manageable meshing of the two. Secondly, and I think this is a good thing but up for discussion(!), it shows that it is possible to be a personal trainer and not actually do much very much exercise (see point 1 in this article from Telegraph online)! The caveat is that obviously you need to know what it feels like to do the work you prescribe to others in order to empathise, encourage and give effective coaching points, but that experience doesn’t need to be in real-time.

I would also add that, as a result of my past health issues, I’m pretty cautious about not overdoing it and I could argue that, by not overdoing it you can avoid the health issues that for me, led to having to take so much time off and consequently changing the type of exercise I do as well as erring on the side of caution so much these days. My advice to other trainers would be, to be smart, use work as training if it works for you and your clients but remember it’s your compromise not theirs. Put your health and sanity first and keep it real – I’ve tried to be honest about the ups-and-downs on my social media profiles and never wanted to give the impression of being superhuman, but now more than ever I believe we have an obligation to avoid this. Given I was asked the question, perhaps I still need to work on showing more ‘real life’ so that mine is less of a ‘highlights reel’ too.


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