Glossary of Triathlon Terms

Listed below are a collection of triathlon, swimming and endurance sports training terms you will encounter on your training plan, discussions with your coach or other triathletes. We will continue to add to this, but if you have a term to include, let us know.


6 Kick Switch Drill
Swimming. Starting in side-kick position, do approx 6 flutter kicks, then take 1 normal and smooth freestyle stroke to switch to the other side with opposite arm extended, then repeat.
6-3-6 Drill
Swimming. Starting in side-kick position, do 6 kicks, then take 3 smooth freestyle strokes, then 6 kicks again on the other side, then repeat.


Aerobic Threshold. These are the easiest workouts you will do and are the backbone of training to build endurance. The key to these workouts is to keep the H/R at or below your aerobic threshold. During these workouts the athlete can exercise how they feel if you are feeling strong you can exercise right at the AeT. If the athlete´s legs are feeling tired the intensity level should be dropped to an easier effort.
Swimming. This sighting drill will teach you how to be efficient and sneaky at sighting. Swim your normal freestyle stroke, but when not turning your head to breathe, swim with just your eyes above the waterline. Learn to look forward, but still take a breath to the side as you normally would. You'll learn that you do not have to lift your whole head to sight and will save massive amounts of energy.
Anaerobic Workout
A workout bout of up to 3 minutes in duration. The intensity is considered all out, with Heart Rate in Zone 5b or 5c.
Archer Drill
Swimming. Swim a normal freestyle, however on each recovering arm stroke, hold your arm up in the air for 1-2 seconds and hold your balance. Imagine your arm in the air looks like you're pulling back on a bow and arrow; the arm in the water is extended in front while the arm in the air is pulling the arrow back.
Contest. Origin: Greek.


Broken Repeats
Swimming. Refers to a longer repeat broken up into parts (e.g. a 100 can be broken up by doing a 25, then taking :10 sec rest, the do a 50, then :10 sec rest, then finish with the last 25). Other common distances that are broken up are 200’s, 400’s, or even a 1500 could be broken into 3x500 with a short rest interval between each 500.
Usually used in reference to interval workouts, sets, lengths, laps, etc. If asked to build, an athlete would begin at a moderate pace then increase speed as the length, lap or set progressed.


Cool Down. The CD segment, like the RI will mostly be focused in HR/Z 1 or RPE 1 or 6 (depending upon which RPE scale your coach uses. Duration of the CD segment will always be included in the workout description. The CD is equally as important as the W-up and MS segments of the workout. This is a time to allow your muscles to slowly cool and your H/R to settle back to near normal while continuing to force your blood to circulate.
Critical Power. Referencing intensity levels of a workout for those who use a bike power meter. For those using a power meter there are power tests and power zones used to determine your training intensity and effort.
Cyclo-cross (cyclocross, CX or '​cross)
is a form of bicycle racing typically taking place in the autumn and winter and consist of many laps of a short course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike over the obstruction and remount. Races for senior categories are generally between 30 minutes and an hour long.


Used in reference to interval workouts. A descending set is one in which each interval of the set is completed a little faster than the previous interval.
Distance per Stroke. In swimming, efficiency is paramount. Therefore, increasing the distance swum with each stroke is a component in swimming efficiently.
Dynamic Warm-up Exercises
Approximately 10 min in duration and should be included in the warm-up phase of a workout. Dynamic warm-ups prepare the body for the demands of a work out, practice or race; increase heart rate, respiratory rate and blood flow to the muscles; increase core body temperature and enhances muscle elasticity. Following Dynamic warm-up exercises one´s muscles should be warm and one should have worked up a sweat. View more on dynamic warm-up exercises.


Endurance Workout
A workout lasting hours. The intensity is considered easy to moderate, with Heart Rate in Zone 1 or 2.


Fist, Cupped or Relaxed
Swimming. Refers to swimming your normal swim stroke except you either close your hands to make a fist, or cup your hands, or swim with your hands relaxed and loose. These techniques provide some feedback in regards to how your hand operates like a paddle and how much pressure you feel against your hand as it travels through the water.
Functional Threshold Heart Rate (FTHR). Also referred to as Max Functional Heart Rate and is similar to Lactic Threshold. Your FTHR is the maximum heart rate your body can maintain for a measured 20 minutes.
Functional Threshold Power. Functional threshold power or pace (FTP) is the highest average power or pace you can maintain for one hour. That’s quite precise, clear and logical.


Cyclocross. The acronym is a memory tool to help you get over obstacles.
  • (G)ear: Approach the obstacle in the gear you want to exit
  • (A)pproach: To dismount, slow, unclip your right leg, swing your right foot back and over the saddle, so both legs are on the same side of the bike. Unclip the left foot.
  • (P)ortage: Grab the top tube like a suitcase handle and lift (smaller riders can grab the down tube). Remount after clearing the obstancle and…
  • (E)xplode away from the obstacle.


H/R Test
Heart Rate Test. These are not fun and can vary based upon physical condition and race distances. H/R Tests can be done in a lab where they can be fairly expensive or they supervised by your coach and as "Field Tests" in a controlled or semi-controlled environment and are much more afable. Each h/r test takes about an hour. The goal of each H/R Test is to determine the athletes maximum heart rate, threshold heart rate, the distance and/or maximum applicable workload for each specific sport. H/R´s vary by sport due to larger or smaller muscle involvement, gravity, etc.
H/R Zone (H/R Z)
Heart Rate Zone. There are many different Heart Rate Zones. Swim, Bike and Run tests are done to determine your sport specific Maximum H/R (highest h/r attainable). There are also many different H/R Zone calculations. We tend to use the Joe Friel 1 – 5C H/R Zone calculations. Once your personalized H/R Test has been completed your H/R zones will be posted under the "Zones" tab of your individual Training Peaks Account.


Maxiumum Steady State Training (MSS)
Also known as Threshhold Training. A workout bout of between 10-30 minutes in duration. The intensity is considered hard, with Heart Rate in Zone 4.
Main Set. The MS is the body of the workout – the primary focus of the workout. The MS workout description will include duration of the efforts with assigned intensity, RI or S/R if needed between sets, the number of sets with a goal pace for a effort, goal cadence, speed, rpm´s T-pace, as well as notes detailing the goal of the workout.
Muscle Tension Intervals (MT)
Goal: Develop cycling specific strength. High muscle tension during the interval assists in the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers, which are important during intense efforts.
How to do it: This workout should be performed on a long, moderate (5-8%) climb or on a trainer using hard to pedal resistance and gearing; if possible your front wheel should be set on a slight incline, 4-6 inches above the normal horizontal plane to simulate your climbing position. Pedal cadence must be low (50-55 RPM) and the heart rate intensity is not important (because your legs are moving slow your heart rate will be low). Large gears for increased pedaling resistance (such as 53x12-15) are required to produce the low cadence and high muscle tension. Correct form must be strictly maintained during these intervals. Strong concentration is needed to keep your upper body absolutely smooth yet relaxed while concentrating on correct pedaling form (over the top & through the bottom of the pedal stroke).


Rest Interval. This can be referenced in swimming, biking, running, strength training, etc. simply put, it´s the amount of suggested rest before starting the next set.
The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. It can be used both in training and in competition. There are several Borg Scales, but the most common are the 15-point scale, ranging from 5 (20% effort) to 20 (100% effort) and the 10-point scale ranging from 0 (nothing) to 10 (very, very hard). There is a correlation between an athlete's RPE and their heart rate, VO2 max, lactate levels and breathing rates.


Seconds Rest. Interchangeable with RI. This can be referenced in swimming, biking, running, strength training, etc. simply put, it´s the amount of suggested rest before starting the next set.
Steady State Intervals (SS)
Goal: Increase your lactate threshold by training at the edge of your aerobic/anaerobic threshold.
How to do it: This workout can either be performed on the road with a long steady climb, hills or flat terrain. The training intensity is at your individual lactate threshold (LT); heart rate zones 3–4; RPE 6–8 and it is critical that you maintain this intensity for the length of the SS Interval. Interruptions during the interval limits the adaptations from this workout. Pedal cadence for SS intervals while climbing should be 70–80 RPM, and flat terrain cadence should be 85–95 RPM. Maintaining the training zone intensity is the most important factor, not pedal cadence. Focus on continuous riding for the length of the prescribed interval. Steady State intervals are meant to be 10–15% below your individual time trial pace, so don’t make the mistake of riding at your time trial pace during the SteadyState intervals.
Sweet Spot Training (SST)
A workout bout of between 15–50 minutes in duration. The intensity is considered moderate to hard, with Heart Rate in Zone 3 or 4.


Tarzan Drill
Swimming. This is head-ups freestyle. You'll have to work pretty hard on these. Try to keep your head still and eyes focused straight ahead on an object – just like when sighting in open water.
Tempo Efforts
slightly more intense than steady-state and are designed to increase your stamina. As the name suggests, you really improve your running, bicycling or swimming tempo or rhythm with these workouts. They last between 15 and 30 minutes and are done at a slightly harder but sustainable effort – talking test 3–5 word sequences can be used. Tempo efforts are meant to be comfortably hard so don't push the pace. Your heart rate will likely be between 85 and 90% of max (Zone 3). Like the steady-state effort, tempo efforts are continuous efforts but you must preface them with a thorough warm-up.
T–pace Test
Threshold Testing to determine swim pace.
a combining form meaning "three," used in the formation of compound words: triacid; triatomic. Origin: Middle English < Latin, combining form representing Latin tres, tria, Greek treîs, tría.
n. an athletic contest in which each athlete competes in three different events: swimming, cycling, and running. Origin: 1970–75; tri- + (dec)athlon, [from tri- + Greek athlon contest]
participant in a triathlon.
Time Trial


VO2Max Workout
A workout bout of between 3-8 minutes in duration. The intensity is considered very hard, with Heart Rate in Zone 5a.


Abbreviation for Warm up. The initial step in each workout. Describes the time to be used for initial stretching and loosening up of the muscles which may include "Dynamic Warm-up" exercises.