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The wants and needs of the modern triathlete

With the flood of information, marketing, expert advice and well-meaning peer recommendations surrounding triathlon and cycling equipment and technology, it can be hard to know exactly what is a need and what you can do without (at least for the time being). Rik Cook from Townsville-based Optimal Coaching Designs breaks it down to give you an idea of exactly what you need at each stage.

Just getting started – the needs

So you have decided to start triathlons, but where do you begin? At the simplest level, you need a roadworthy bike and helmet, running shoes (that are correct for your feet), some swimming bathers and goggles… congratulations you are now a triathlete!

On a more serious note though, let’s try to break it down to tell you what you actually need for each discipline:

“I know people that have made their debut in triathlon borrowing a bike or even using their child’s bike! Don’t put a limitation on it — just get out there and get going!”


A road bike is a preferred option here — more importantly, one that is fitted to you correctly. A road bike will not only make your training more efficient and easier, it will cater for your growth in the sport better. But it’s important to note that any roadworthy bike will do. I know people who have made their debut in triathlon borrowing a bike and even using their child’s bike! Don’t put a limitation on it — just get out there and get going!

Bike essentials are simply the things that keep you safe and on the road, including helmet, gloves, spare tube, pump, lights, water bottle cages and glasses. But you should also aim for proper cycling knicks and a jersey (you cannot put a value on a good pair of knicks!), plus be moving towards clipless pedals and cycling shoes.


Local triathletes Bob and Connor McKay.


Good quality, well-fitted running shoes and socks are an absolute essential. Take the time and effort to get your feet analysed and fitted properly by someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s also handy to have a race belt for race day and a watch (with stopwatch) for training.


Swimming bathers (please), goggles, a pull buoy, kickboard, and flippers — these few simple tools are will cover most stages of your triathlon development.


Taking it to the next level – the wants

OK, you have been training for a while and are fully submerged in the triathlon lifestyle. You are constantly being given ‘advice’ on what you ‘need’, but you’re just not sure:

“If you are using a heart rate monitor, it needs to be used in conjunction with a heart rate-based training plan. Just strapping one on does not provide much valuable feedback”


Aerobars: These will help make your riding position more relaxed, aero-dynamic and allow you to get into a better position to help you run well off the bike (using your quads a bit more on the bike saving glutes and hamstrings for the run).

Bike fit: Now you are spending more time in training, having a professional bike fit done to ensure you are in a safe, efficient position on the bike is invaluable.

Computer/heart rate monitor: You’ll receive valuable feedback and data from your training sessions, allowing you to monitor speed, distance and cadence. If you are using a heart rate monitor, it needs to be used in conjunction with a heart rate-based training plan. Just strapping one on does not provide much valuable feedback.

Wind/fluid trainer: A ‘love-hate’ object! Fluid trainers allow you to safely train in a controlled environment at times when you wouldn’t otherwise want to be on the road. They are great for interval-based workouts and brick sessions. This equipment does not need to be fancy, or have computer screen or programs — a fluid trainer with a well-designed training program is just as, if not more, effective.


Running shoes: Another pair as these would be worn out by now!

GPS/heart rate monitor: Heart rate monitor as per above, but having GPS can allow you to set up distance-specific intervals and accurately track your running training volume (which aids in progression and avoids overload). Another option is an App you can download to your phone like Map My Run which gives you distance, time, average pace and splits.

Race laces: They speed-up transitions and transition training sessions.

Racing flats: Save these for race day — you will feel light and fast [barely-there, super-light race shoes].


Wetsuit: A correctly-fitted wetsuit can be a fantastic swimming aid for wetsuit-legal events.

Paddles: These help for strength training in the pool once you have mastered your stroke.

Airlie Swim

Getting serious

So now you are racing and training as much as you can. You are looking for ways to get a competitive advantage wherever possible. Here are some things for you to consider:

“Being able to utilise power in conjunction with heart rate and athlete feedback are the keys to unlocking its true potential”

Race wheels: Wheels transform how a bike performs more than any other component. Race wheels, however, have pros and cons to them. Deep section carbon wheels really have no benefit until you hit about 32-35km/h and are less effective on twisty and hilly courses. Sometimes a better option is a set of lightweight, shallow profile wheels. These accelerate quickly, roll well and climb well and are effective at any given speed.

Time trial bike: Over long distance events these can make a big difference to your comfort and, therefore, speed. The shorter the race the less benefit there is to a TT bike, plus they are less suited to twisty courses or draft legal events.

Tri-specific shoes: Once again, for sprint and Olympic distance events, these can shave seconds off those transition times.

Power meters: These are ‘flavour of the month’ at the moment, so worth mentioning. There’s no denying that training with power can be one of the most accurate ways to monitor training performance. As with most things though, this needs to be done in conjunction with a specific training plan and under the guidance of an experienced coach, skilled in training with power.

Turning up to a session a few times a week and watching your power output, or riding around looking at how many watts you are producing is simply not effective. Being able to utilise power in conjunction with heart rate and athlete feedback are the keys to unlocking its true potential. If you have a highly skilled and experienced coach or exercise physiologist looking after this for you, by all means go for it, otherwise, there may be more effective ways to spend you hard-earned dollars.

Time trial helmets: Yes, they look silly, but they do actually make a difference. Once again, used well these can have a similar effective to adopting a TT position or using race wheels.

Plus some more…

Don’t forget these valuable tools for avoiding injury:

A foam roller: You will have a ‘love-hate’ relationship with this, but — used properly — it can avoid the need for painful injections to treat over-tight muscles and fascia. Regularly roll-out your quads, hammies, calves and ITB.

Tennis ball: With the same benefits to the above, a humble tennis ball is great for getting into the tricky-to-reach piriformis muscle. Sit on it and roll and you should be able to find it straight away!

The information provided is general in nature and should not substitute any specific health or medical advice. You know the drill…

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Rik Cook

Rik Cook

Rik Cook and his wife Tamara have 40 years combined experience in the sport and exercise field. Not only have they been athletes themselves, but they enjoyed working with a variety of athletes over the years; including a world 24-hour mountain biker, age group winners and a vast number of athletes just chasing their own better. With a no nonsense, no frills approach to training, they pride themselves on getting the very best out of each individual athlete.

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