Specific aspects of contemporary triathlon: Implications for physiological analysis and performance

David J. Bentley, Grégoire P. Millet, Verónica E. Vleck, Lars R. McNaughton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


Triathlon competitions are performed over markedly different distances and under a variety of technical constraints. In 'standard-distance' triathlons involving 1.5km swim, 40km cycling and 10km running, a World Cup series as well as a World Championship race is available for 'elite' competitors. In contrast, 'age-group' triathletes may compete in 5-year age categories at a World Championship level, but not against the elite competitors. The difference between elite and age-group races is that during the cycle stage elite competitors may 'draft' or cycle in a sheltered position; age-group athletes complete the cycle stage as an individual time trial. Within triathlons there are a number of specific aspects that make the physiological demands different from the individual sports of swimming, cycling and running. The physiological demands of the cycle stage in elite races may also differ compared with the age-group format. This in turn may influence performance during the cycle leg and subsequent running stage. Wetsuit use and drafting during swimming (in both elite and age-group races) result in improved buoyancy and a reduction in frontal resistance, respectively. Both of these factors will result in improved performance and efficiency relative to normal pool-based swimming efforts. Overall cycling performance after swimming in a triathlon is not typically affected. However, it is possible that during the initial stages of the cycle leg the ability of an athlete to generate the high power outputs necessary for tactical position changes may be impeded. Drafting during cycling results in a reduction in frontal resistance and reduced energy cost at a given submaximal intensity. The reduced energy expenditure during the cycle stage results in an improvement in running, so an athlete may exercise at a higher percentage of maximal oxygen uptake. In elite triathlon races, the cycle courses offer specific physiological demands that may result in different fatigue responses when compared with standard time-trial courses. Furthermore, it is possible that different physical and physiological characteristics may make some athletes more suited to races where the cycle course is either flat or has undulating sections. An athlete's ability to perform running activity after cycling, during a triathlon, may be influenced by the pedalling frequency and also the physiological demands of the cycle stage. The technical features of elite and age-group triathlons together with the physiological demands of longer distance events should be considered in experimental design, training practice and also performance diagnosis of triathletes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-359
Number of pages15
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Triatholon


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