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Build Your 6-Month Ironman Training Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Ironman Training Plan 6-Month

Embarking on the journey to conquer an Ironman triathlon is a monumental undertaking that requires meticulous planning, dedication, and a strategic training approach. 

Whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or a newcomer to the sport, the key to success lies in crafting a well-structured training plan tailored to your individual goals, fitness level and experience, and lifestyle. 

In this guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of designing a 6-month Ironman training plan, breaking down each phase from base to peak to help you achieve peak performance on race day.

Phase 1: Establishing a Solid Base (Months 1-2)

Ironman Triathlon Bike Training

The foundation of any successful Ironman training plan is laid during the base phase. This period, typically spanning the first two months of your training journey, focuses on building endurance, establishing good technique, and enhancing overall fitness levels.

Training Focus

Key priorities during this phase include:

  • Building Aerobic Base: Begin with moderate-intensity workouts across all three disciplines—swimming, cycling, and running—to develop cardiovascular endurance gradually.
  • Technique Refinement: Dedicate time to refining your swim stroke, bike posture, fit, and skills, and running mechanics to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of injury. 
  • Strength and Mobility: Incorporate strength training and mobility exercises to enhance muscular endurance, prevent imbalances, and improve overall stability.

Key Workouts

pool swim drills for triathlon

In the early phase of training for an Ironman, it’s important to utilize a combination of endurance-building and technique-refinement workouts. I have skill-based workouts across all disciplines I regularly give to athletes, including:

Swim Session

This is a swim session I give to athletes to reconnect with the feel of the water, especially if they’ve had any time off from swimming. 

  • Warm-up: Easy 300 choice swim. 
  • 8 x 75 with :20 rest as 25 R arm/25 L arm/25 swim. Focus on pull and finish of stroke.
  • 8 x 25 with :10 rest sculling. Feel the water on your hands and forearms.
  • 300 easy pull. 
  • 8 x 50 side balance with :15 rest. Side balance drills teach efficient body rotation for freestyle. You should imagine that you are swimming like a knife cutting through the water.
    • For this drill you will kick while balancing on one side. The trick with this drill is to keep from rolling either onto your back, or your front. 
    • Start by lying on your left side, with your left arm extended in front of you and your right arm laying at your side. Your right hand can rest on your hip/leg. 
    • Press your head toward your extended arm and kick. When you complete one length, switch to the right side of your body, and repeat.
  • 8 x 50 free with :15 rest build each 50 from easy to hard – build to 85%
  • Cool down: 200 easy

Bike Session

This is a skills-based bike session that is not physically demanding but is important for improving efficiency and smoothness in the pedal stroke. 

  • Warm-up: 10 minutes easy
  • Main set:
    • 5 x 30s left leg, 30s right leg
    • 5 minutes steady, zone 2
    • 5 minutes toe touch drill – Every time your foot comes to the top of the pedal stroke (12 o’clock position), imagine pushing your foot forward in your shoe, such that the toes might touch the front of the shoe (they won’t actually do this, but that is the motion you are imagining). The purpose of this drill is to work on a smooth transition through the top of the stroke. As you improve, you should feel your ability to turn the pedals quickly improve.
    • 5 minutes steady, zone 2
    • 5 minutes top side drill – As you pedal, keep your foot in constant contact with the top, inside of your shoe (by pulling up into it). Try not to push down on the pedal at all (or very little). This drill encourages you to focus on the upstroke, but you should not be applying excessive upward force – the focus is on easy and smooth movement.
    • 5 minutes steady, zone 2
  • Cool down: 5 minutes easy

Run Session

Easy to steady run sessions are included in athletes’ schedules year-round but are a key component of this base phase. They are also a great opportunity to focus on pieces of run form. Here’s an example of some cues I often give athletes on a steady, zone 2 run: 

See if making adjustments to form impact how you feel, your pacing, and your heart rate. As you make subtle adjustments take note of how that allows you to run faster/slower, at the same or different heart rate. 

Below is a checklist to consider, but my recommendation is that you take 2-3 of the items on this list, and make them the focus for the run. You can then either stick with the same focus for a few runs, or shift the focus once you feel you’ve developed mastery:

  • Where is your gaze? Ideally, you are looking forward, neck in line with spine, eye shot is about 6 feet in front of you.
  • Relax your face
  • How about your shoulders? Relax your shoulders down your back. Don’t hunch them forward, or keep them tight up toward your neck.
  • Arms at 90 degrees, swinging in a most straight line from front to back (don’t allow them to swing across the center line of the body)
  • Hands are loose but not so loose the fingers are dangling. Imagine you are holding potato chips and you don’t want to crush them.
  • Engage your core to keep your pelvis in a forward position. Don’t let your lower back sway and your butt to “stick out.”
  • Land under your center of gravity. Take a moment to look down and see where your foot is landing – it should be mostly under your pelvis. To avoid overstriding, you will need to increase your cadence and shorten the stride length depending on how fast you are going.
  • As your foot moves from landing through toe off, imagine yourself actively pawing the ground.
  • As you toe off, lean forward from the angles (not the waist). The faster you go, the more pronounced the lean.
  • As you pull the leg through and prepare for the next landing, imagine driving the thighs from the hips.
  • Check your glutes. Are they engaged? Can you squeeze each glute independently?

Phase 2: Building Strength and Speed (Months 3-4)

Ironman Training Plan swimming

As you progress into the build phase, typically spanning months three and four, the focus shifts towards building strength, speed, and muscular endurance. 

This phase is characterized by more intense workouts and structured training sessions aimed at pushing your limits while still allowing for adequate recovery. 

Training Focus

Key components of the build phase include:

  • High-Intensity Work: Introduce interval training, tempo runs, hill repeats, and threshold efforts to improve speed, power, and lactate threshold across all three disciplines. I love having athletes do training blocks of VO2 max-focused work before moving onto blocks of threshold work while we are still far out from having to do race-specific work.
  • Longer Endurance Sessions: Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your long training sessions to simulate race conditions and build mental resilience.
  • Brick Workouts: Incorporate brick workouts—back-to-back sessions of cycling followed by running—to prepare your body for the unique demands of the bike-to-run transition on race day.

Key Workouts

Race-Specific Triathlon Swim Workouts in Pool

Swim Session

This is a threshold-focused swim with decreasing rest through the set which teaches controlled pacing early so an athlete can hold on for the last round of 100s. 

  • Warm-up
    • 300 easy
    • 4×100 build from steady to hard by the last 100, rest :15
    • 200 easy
  • Main set:
    • 9×100 hard, threshold effort rest :20
    • 9×100 hard, threshold effort rest :15
    • 9×100 hard, threshold effort rest :10
  • Cool down: 300 choice

Bike Session

Threshold bike sessions that also focus on high torque, low cadence work are effective in building bike-specific leg strength and I often give these to athletes during the build. We progress to a workout like the one below this with smaller duration intervals and build the time at threshold over several weeks. 

  • Warm-up: 10 min easy + 9 min steady/zone 2  + 6 min hard, threshold effort + 5min easy
  • 2x 10 min @ 50-55 rpm at hard, threshold effort (zone 4) + 5min easy
  • 3x 8 min @ 50-55 rpm hard, threshold effort (zone 4) + 4min easy
  • 10 min easy cool down

Run Session

Hill repeats are great for building speed and run-specific strength and can pose less of an injury risk than traditional speed work. An example of a hard hill workout I’ve given athletes over the winter months is: 

  • Warm-up: 10 min easy + 3 min steady/zone 2 + 2 min hard + 5 min easy
  • Main set: Run 2 rounds of (10 x 30 sec hard hill repeats with 50 sec recovery) with 5 min easy running between rounds. 
  • Cool down: 10 min easy running

Phase 3: Race-specific Training and Peak/Taper (Months 5-6)

ironman bike training plan

In the final months leading up to your Ironman race, the focus shifts towards fine-tuning your fitness, honing race-specific skills, working at race intensity and in race conditions, making sure race fueling is dialed in, and ensuring optimal recovery. 

The peak phase, spanning months five and six, is all about striking the right balance between maintaining fitness levels and allowing your body to fully recover before the big day. 

Training Focus

Key elements of the peak phase include:

  • Race Simulation: Incorporate race-specific workouts, such as long brick sessions and open water swims, at race-specific intensity to fine-tune your pacing and fueling/hydration strategies.  Also try to train in similar temperatures as the race if possible, even if that means starting later in the day to experience hotter conditions which you may face on the marathon.
  • Tapering: Gradually reduce training volume and intensity in the two weeks leading up to the race to allow for complete recovery, peak performance, and mental freshness on race day.
  • Nutrition and Hydration: Focus on dialing in your fueling and hydration strategies during training sessions to optimize performance and minimize the risk of cramping and GI distress on race day.
  • Mental Preparation: Use visualization techniques, positive self-talk, and mental imagery to cultivate a confident and resilient mindset leading up to the race.

Key Workouts

ironman swim simulation

Swim Session

  • A simple but effective Ironman-specific swim I like leading up to and Ironman race is 10 x 400 at aerobic threshold (top of your zone 2) with 15 seconds of recovery. This allows an athlete to dial in race-specific pace and effort and see how well they can hold pace through the set. 

Bike/Run Brick Session

I prescribe more frequent bike/run bricks as an athlete gets closer to race day, and I often give a few longer ones to test out race fueling and help build run durability. Here’s an example of one I like to give 3-4 weeks out from race day: 

  • 5-hour bike that includes:
    • 60min building from easy to steady
    • 2x90min at Ironman race intensity/watts  + 15min easy
    • 30min steady to finish out the ride
  • 60 min run immediately following the bike  at ironman effort/pace

Takeaway

By following a structured and progressive training plan that encompasses these key phases, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle the challenges of an Ironman triathlon with confidence and determination. 

Remember to listen to your body, prioritize recovery, and stay flexible in your approach to training as you navigate the highs and lows of the journey. With dedication, perseverance, and smart planning, crossing the finish line of an Ironman race will be a truly transformative and empowering experience.

Related Resources

Lindsay Leigh Triathlon Coach
Lindsay Leigh
Endurance Coach at No Limits Endurance Coaching | Website

Lindsay Leigh is an endurance coach with No Limits Endurance Coaching. Her coaching credentials include USAT Level 2, USA Swimming, and, UESCA Ultrarunning, among many others. Lindsay has extensive experience coaching athletes of all levels – from 5k to 100-mile distance, from sprint triathlon to the Ironman distance. She works with athletes in various disciplines, including triathlon, swimming, running, cycling, spartan/OCR, and motocross.