Triathlon Jargon: The Complete A to Z Guide

by Laura Siddall


Many of us probably take for granted the triathlon lingo that now rolls off our tongues without a flinch or flicker.  Or perhaps you still have no idea what the coach or our fellow athletes are talking about during the session, ride, or after at coffee when they mention 'fartlek' or 'bonking', but now after years in the sport are too afraid to ask?  Or perhaps you are new to the sport and have entered into a world, where it seems everyone is speaking in a foreign language?

We’ve all been there.  So here at Neuff Red we are going to try and decipher some of the jargon that swims around the triathlon circles, in the hope of unlocking some of the lingo for you all. 

A is for…


It’s all about aero, right, or aerodynamics if we give it it’s full name?  Aerodynamics is about reducing drag (when on the bike) and cutting through the wind with greater speed.

When triathletes talk about aero, they are probably mainly meaning your body position on the bike, but also could mean aero bikes, aero wheels, aerobars, aero helmets, aero drinks systems and clothing.  This is a whole article in itself (one for the future perhaps), but basically for this A to Z, aero is talking about reducing the drag and therefore the resistance from the air as you cycle, by being in the most streamline position you can be you can save watts and increase your speed! 


Often in training you may hear aerobic or anaerobic systems being used.

Aerobic exercise (or perhaps cardio or in triathlon & endurance training) is exercise that primarily uses oxygen in our body to meet the energy demands during exercise.  It is generally light-to-moderate intensity activities that can be performed for extended periods of time.  Think of aerobic as a sustained exercise at an effort that is no harder than a 5 out of 10 in effort.  Talking is still sustainable.

Anaerobic is exercising in the absence of oxygen.  Anaerobic means ‘without’ oxygen.  Without oxygen the body uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and glucose in the muscle cells for energy.  But the process can’t sustain more than 90 to 120 seconds of high-intensity because during this time the muscles are producing lactic acid (see L is for…).  After that time, the body must start to use oxygen in order to break down the glucose to continue to produce energy.  That’s when we move to the aerobic energy systems (longer durations).

Think of Anaerobic as an 8-10 out of 10 in effort. So only really sustainable for shorter periods of time.


An amateur triathlete: one who has swimming, biking and running as a hobby. It’s basically anyone and everyone who starts in the sport as a beginner (or newbie – see N if for…), or even is more experienced in sport, but is competing in an age group (e.g. 30-34year, 50-54years).  It’s generally everyone who isn’t a Professional. 


A run, swim and then run event.

B is for…


Something from the local Sushi take-away for lunch right?  Well kind of.  A bento box is more like a bag than a box, but sits on the top tube of your bike, and is where you store your lunch.  Well, your snacks and nutrition for the ride or race.


Not something that you wear when eating BBQ ribs dripped in sauce, but bibs refer to cycling shorts that have braces-like straps that sit over your shoulders. Bib shorts they are also called.  Bib shorts go underneath your cycling jersey. (Yes I have seen them over the top, inside out (chamois on the outside) and back to front!)


Is the biggest gear on a bike. It means the largest chain ring on the front, and the smallest rear cog on the cassette (see C is for…) at the back.  Big gear work can refer to low cadence (see C is for…) on hills, when it’s a real struggle to turn the pedals, due to the force needed with the ‘big gear’.  Or a big gear is the optimal when descending or riding at high speeds.


In swimming, bi-lateral breathing means alternating your breathing from left to right side, most likely every three strokes.


What this isn’t, is when you put plastic on the grass and cover it in washing up liquid and water, run at it and throw your body onto the ground to slide down the plastic!  Body glide is a product that you use on your body to prevent chaffing (see C is for…) whether from a wetsuit in the swim, cycling kit on the bike, or run kit for the run.


Oh where to go with this one…!  Have a look at this video from Witsup to the different meanings around the world.  One thing that is great about this sport and the global language!  Anyway… bonking.  In triathlon this means totally depleting yourself and running out of energy and fuel.  Also referred to as ‘hitting the wall’ or ‘blowing up’.  It’s when you have depleted your body of its glycogen (energy) stores and not enough new glycogen has been restored.


Brick workouts and training combine two or more disciplines back-to-back with no significant gap or rest period in between.  Most often it’s a bike session with a run straight off the bike.


Oh, so much fun with this one too, due to the difference in pronunciations depending on what country you are in.  In the UK, buoy is ‘boy’, and in America, pronounced as ‘boo-eee.  The latter (although I hate to admit it) probably makes more sense rather than proclaiming you’ve put a swim boy between your legs, and people thinking you are referring perhaps to the life guard! 

A buoy is a flotation device used in swimming to help with body position.  It sits between the top of your legs and helps lift your butt and improves body position (much like a wetsuit would do). 

A buoy can also be a large inflatable marker that shows the swim course and you may have to swim around one during the race.


Or chamois cream, similar to body glide above, but specifically perhaps for your chamois!  It’s normally an anti-bacterial moisturizer that reduces friction between tri-kits / cycling kit and your skin.  For example, when out for a ride or sitting for hours on your turbo trainer, spinning your legs creates friction where your bike shorts and skin touch the saddle.  A lot of repetition and sweat leads to hot spots.  The butt cream creates a barrier to stop chaffing. 


Referring to the legs we need for the bike component of triathlon.  “Hope you brought your bike legs”; or “I had no bike legs today” – meaning we couldn’t find the power or speed on the bike today.

C is for… 


This refers to the pedal rate in cycling.  It’s the number of revolutions of the crank (see below) per minute.  It’s the rate at which the cyclist is pedalling or turning the pedals.  If you don’t have a cadence monitor, count your pedal strokes for 15 seconds and multiply by four.

Cadence can also refer to running, when it’s the number of strides you take per minute.


These are calls when you maybe riding in a Sunday Bunchie (see S is for…) or just a group ride, to let other cyclists in the pack know that there is a vehicle approaching.

Car back, would be a call from the back of the group, informing the riders in front that there is a car approaching from behind.

Car front, would be a call from the front of the group to the riders further back, informing them that a car is approaching from the front.


Not a tape, famous in the 1980s, or musical device that you used to sit by your ghetto blaster, trying to record Sunday afternoons top 40 hits, whilst also trying to not record the DJ’s talk in between songs.  This cassette refers to the rear gears, the gears on the back of your bike.


An effect on the skin that results in a rash, or soreness from the rubbing of clothing on your skin.  If you think this hurts whilst you race, wait till you get into the shower afterwards!


Is a triathlon event company, based in Europe.  Challenge Family runs middle and full distance events, as well as kids races and women’s 5km runs as part of a festival of sport over race weekends.  Challenge Family has over 40 middle and long distance races across 27 countries.  Their flagship race is Challenge Roth in Germany, which is the biggest triathlon race in the world and a bucket list race and experience for sure!

Laura Siddall riding Challenge Roth triathlon event


An affectionate and endearing term referring to someone who gives it their all and their best shot, but have novice (or newbie, see N is for…) tendencies that they just can’t shake or get rid of, no matter after how many years in the sport.  (Thanks to Nikki Bartlett for this one!)


Very useful for inflating flat tires.  CO2 usually comes in a small canister and with a valve can be used to inflate a tire.


There’s probably a whole other article to be written about the parts of a bike, however we’ll include this one here.  Crank is not someone who’s grumpy, but the crankset refers to the gears on the front of your bike (mainly two or sometimes three chainrings.  The crank arm is the part that connects the chain rings to the pedal.  People talk about crank length, and it’s the length of this arm they are referring to.


Probably one of the most confusing words in triathlon, because clipless pedals you actually ‘clip’ into!  So, there is a clip and hence the confusion, well for me it was initially.  (Apparently the name is because they superseded toe clips and straps back in the 80s.)  Clipless pedals refer to the system of the pedal and cleat (a device that attaches to the bottom of your shoe).  This means you need to make sure that the cleats on your cycling shoes match the type of pedals on your bike.  If not, you will be truly clipless and unable to clip in. 

When you ride your bike (good to practice this on grass perhaps first), you step on the pedals, normally toe first, and click your feet in place, the cleat locking into the pedal.  It normally makes a ‘click’ sound when you’re locked in.  To get out (or 'unclip'), you swing your feet heels first to the outside, releasing the cleat from the pedal so you can put your feet down. 

Best to do just one foot at a time and again practice this on the grass or with soft cushions around, if it’s your first time!

The benefit of being ‘clipped in’, is increased efficiency in the pedalling dynamic.  You have more power through the whole pedal stroke as you are able to pull up through the pedal stroke as well as push down.


Really referring to the motion described above of locking your cleat into the pedal and away you cycle.  Don’t forget when you are coming to a traffic light or needing to stop, to clip out before the bike comes to a stop!


This one, doesn’t refer to pedals, just to confuse you, but to aero bars.  If you have a road bike, you can make a good attempt at turning it into a more TT (see T is for…) style bike, by attaching aero bars onto the handle bar at the front.  They are effectively clipped on.

D is for…


Electronic shifting, or digital integrated intelligence, as opposed to mechanical shifting to change gears.  Di2 is Shimano’s version of electronic shifting.  (Etap is SRAM’s version of electronic shifting, but it is wireless as well.)

Check out this Witsup article for all things explained. 


Brakes are used to control our speed on the bike.  Traditionally bikes have used what we call rim brakes, but now we see a move in road cycling and triathlon to disc brakes.  (Disc brakes have been used in mountain biking for a lot longer already.)  The difference between rim and disc brakes is where and how the braking force is applied in relation to the wheel.  Rim brakes base their braking force on the outer edge of the wheel.  Disc brakes focus the forces on a smaller rotor situated towards the centre of the wheel.


This is a rear wheel on a bike that is a completely solid or covered wheel (as opposed to the usual spoked wheels).  A disc is used in a race for speed and aerodynamics (see A is for…), as the solid nature of the wheels is designed to improve airflow around the rear of the bike and reduce drag, improving the aero-ness helping the bike go faster through the wind.

Laura Siddall riding a disc wheelDNF:

Did Not Finish.  The dreaded three letters that appear after your name, if you didn’t complete the race.


Did Not Start.  The three letters that appear after your name if you were on the original start list, but didn’t end up starting the swim or the race.


Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is the soreness and ache you feel in your body after exercise.  It normally lures you into a false sense of security, thinking you’ve recovered and got away with it, only to turn up on day 2 after a race or big training session.


This is cheating in most triathlon races.  (Some short distance races are draft legal.)  In most longer distance triathlons, drafting is illegal.  Drafting ultimately means sitting too close to the cyclist in front and benefiting from reduced resistance caused by the rider at the front blocking the wind from the rider behind.  The rider behind, ultimately has less wind to push through and so it’s easier and can save them energy.

Drafting is NOT ok in triathlon (in a non drafting race).  Most races have a 10m or 12m drafting rule.  This means there has to be 12m from the front wheel of the front rider to the front wheel of the rear rider.  For the Pros there is a push to get 20m drafting, as at 12m there is still a huge drafting effect on the rider behind, whereas at 20m the effect is much reduced and a fairer race.


Or perhaps more affectionately called, Technical Officials.  So, no, these are not what you attach to the bottom of a door to stop the wind whistling through.  Draft Busters are the marshals (usually on motorbikes) out on course, who are looking for anyone breaking the rules around drafting, in a non drafting race.  They award penalties to the athlete who breaks the rules.


Not the home DIY tools we use for making holes in things, but drills in sport are repetitive training activities or exercises.  They are intended to stimulate or focus in on part of a complex movement or segment of a movement chain.  They help with building muscle memory, allowing our bodies to then move freely without conscious thought, as the muscles know how to respond and react.  They can help with technique, improve coordination, speed, agility and power.

Check out these run drills on Sid’s Run Clinic


Mainly on a road bike, 'on the drops' refers to the position of your hands on the handlebars.  'On the drops' is placing your hands on the curved part of the handle bars, directly behind the brake levers.  It tends to be a more aggressive and aerodynamic position on the road bike.  It also helps lower your centre of gravity, giving yourself a more secure hold on the bike, and you often have greater leverage on the brake levers, so braking is more powerful.  Many people will ride on the drops when descending, or trying to ride fast on the flat.  

Triathlon cyclist riding a Ventum road bike 'on the drops'DQ:

Disqualified.  When you have broken a race rule and as a result are eliminated, or receive two or three penalities which subsequently result in being disqualified from the race.


A run, bike and then run event.

E is for…


These can replace traditional laces in your trainers, to speed up your time in T2 (see T is for…) in a race.  They thread through as normal, but secure with a fastener.  Not only are they likely faster in a race to help get your trainers on for the run, there is also no risk that the laces will come undone during the race, causing you to trip up, or losing precious seconds (and more likely just annoying) when you have to stop to tie your shoes again.

Greeper Laces used for triathlon racing by Nikki BartlettF is for…


What the fartlek…did you watch the Witsup video?

Fartlek means ‘speed play’ in Swedish and effectively is a form of interval training.  It’s continuous running that has periods of faster running intermixed with periods of slower running (rather than pure resting or walking for the recovery).

For example: Over the space of 2km, run 200m hard, then 200m jogging, continuously.

Or unstructured, run hard to the next lamp post then jog to the next corner, then run hard again to the traffic lights etc.


The sighting of a fin is something most of us dread if in open water (cue Jaws theme tune) but the fins we are talking about here are, if you are like me, my best friends.  Fins, or flippers are a swimming tool that can help you with improving technique in the water.  Fins (long or short) are worn on your feet and made from rubber / plastic / combinations to help movement through the water.  Fins can help you improve your kick, improve ankle flexibility, reduce shoulder stress (so good for coming back from injury), improve body position and stroke technique and increase strength and endurance.


A flip turn is used in swimming to change direction, when you reach the end of the pool.  For example, if a swimmer is in a 50m pool and swimming a 100m continuous.  As the swimmer completes one length and approaches the wall, they complete a flip turn and push off the wall in a streamline to continue the 100m.  As the swimmer approaches the wall, they tuck almost into a forward roll, their feet landing on the wall enabling them to push off streamline and continue their swimming.


Functional Threshold Power in cycling is commonly defined as the highest average power you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts.  FTP is often used for determining training zones (see Z is for…).  You can estimate your FTP from you best recent 20-minute maximum held power.  Then multiply that value by 95% to get your FTP.

G is for…


Remember B is for Bonking? G is for Gels, and these help to stop you bonking.  A gel contains carbohydrate energy and can be your best friend in times of need.  A gel contains calories which give you energy in a race to keep pushing.

H is for…


That annoying person who, when you are riding side by side, just has to sit with their bike slightly in front of yours, keeping their handlebars ahead of you, and riding almost half a wheel in front of yours.  You speed up to draw level, they speed up to make sure they keep ahead?  It’s a no-no in cycling etiquette, so don’t do it, as you’ll also end up with a whole host of lovely names and labels.


Or hammering, describes absolutely flying along on the bike.


Heart Rate Variability is the difference in time between the beats of your heart.  If your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it’s not actually beating once every second.  Within that minute there may be 0.9 seconds between two beats and then 1.15 seconds between two more.  The greater this variability is, the more ready your body is to train and execute at a high level.  There’s a lot more to go into scientifically here, but in a very basic version, and in a normal and healthy situation, HRV should increase during relaxing activities (e.g. meditation, sleep, and therefore rest and recovery).  HRV should decrease during stress.  Thus, typically HRV is generally higher when the heart is beating slower, and lower when the heart starts to beat faster (e.g. during stress or exercise).


Also, perhaps called 'front catch' or 'front quadrant'.  This high elbow movement refers to the first action that is supposed to happen when your pull is initiated in the water.

When your hand enters the water, the first motion is to press down on the fingertips and forearms and bend the elbow so that the forearm is then vertical.  The arm from shoulder to elbow at this stage is still reaching out forward and stays still, with the elbow still high in the water, until the forearm is vertical.  

I is for…


Ironman is a large corporation that runs 70.3 and 140.6* distance events.  Note that ONLY Ironman events are called 70.3 or half Ironman or 140.6 and Ironman events.

(*See below for 70.3 and 140.6 definitions.)

All other triathlon races that are of the same distance, are called middle or full/long distance or half iron-distance or iron-distance.  Ironman is a trademark and belongs to Ironman, not the sport.

For example, Challenge Roth is an iron-distance event but NOT an Ironman distance.

This is a big bug-bear for me, when people call any middle or full distance event in relation to Ironman when it’s a Challenge race or Outlaw etc.

Ironman is the brand that owns the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.


A middle or half ironman, called 70.3 because you swim, bike and run a total of 70.3 miles.  (Swim 1.2miles, bike 56miles and run 13.1miles)

IRONMAN or 140.6:

The full Ironman distance, owned by Ironman Triathlon. Swim 2.4miles, bike 112miles and run 26.2miles giving a total of 140.6miles. 

J is for…


Jammers are tight shorts used for swimming, worn by men.  They start at the waist and cover to just above the knees, and look a bit like bicycle shorts.

K is for …


See T is for Tri-suit, R is for Race belt… kit is basically referring to all the shit you need for Triathlon.

L is for…


That feeling of wanting to vomit and stop the effort of training?  Lactic acid is the result of normal metabolism.  Oxygen in the blood is necessary to convert glucose into energy.  However, when there is insufficient oxygen (due to high intensity effort), the body breaks down the glucose without oxygen, resulting in lactic acid.  A build-up of lactic acid can make muscles feel sore or tired and you want to vomit.


LT or AT (anaerobic threshold) is the maximal effort (or intensity) that an athlete can maintain for an extended period of time, with little or no increase in lactate in the blood.  Or, the point at which lactate appears in the blood faster than it can be removed.  You may have heard of it as lactic acid (see above).

Also, it is important to not mix up lactate, or to use it as a verb:  'to lactate' or 'lactating'.  This means something completely different and more to do with breast milk and feeding!  


See P is for Pyramid. Same same.

M is for…


“Middle Aged Man In Lycra”, is the official definition.  Initially coined by the British marketing research firm Mintel in 2010, it describes men who were characterised by riding expensive racing bikes for leisure, whilst wearing body-hugging jerseys and cycling shorts.


This refers to the start of a triathlon race, where everyone (or likely all females, or all males) start together on one large group.


The Ironman logo that has become the obsession of age group athletes who, having completed an Ironman branded race (and some who are confused and finish a full iron-distance event, but not an Ironman brand), get the M-Dot tattooed on a body part as a sign of accomplishment.

N is for…


Is a racing (or training) strategy that involves completing the second half of a race faster than the first half.  It’s often considered a very good way to execute a race.  The opposite (which is probably much more common in triathlon) is starting the run (for example) way too fast, and hanging on in the middle and resorting to a survivor’s shuffle at the end.  A negative split run may start patiently and a little slower for the first part, pick up the pace in the middle and finish strongly.  Running this way can be positive as you find your body copes with the increased pace without feeling that much more effort.  A lot about negative splitting is about trust: trusting the process and your body.  Many people are so used to charging from the gun and slowing down they don’t trust that they can control the run at the start and get stronger and speed up during the run.


A person who is new or a beginner in the sport.


See D for Drafting, but Non-Drafting is a race where drafting (sucking the wheel of the rider in front) or being within 12-10m of the rider in front (or whatever the allowable distance is) is not allowed.  Let’s say it again, no one likes drafters and cheaters.

O is for…


This is a traditional distance of a triathlon.  It’s the distance that you see in the Olympic Games, and consists of a 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run.


All about swimming, and open water is swimming in a body of water, that isn’t a pool.  Bodies of water like a lake or the ocean are the obvious ones.  Most triathlon races have open water swims.

P is for…


This is a string of riders following closely behind one and other, benefiting from drafting.  The higher the speed, the more the paceline shelters riders from the wind and delivers faster average speeds.  A paceline is what you see in a team time-trial, with five or six riders, one behind the other, as close as possible.

Paceline of triathlon cyclistsPADDLES:

Another swim toy that can help with technique or power and strength.  Paddles are plastic plate-shapes that sit on the palm of your hand.  They can be attached to the hand with elastic cords, either through the middle finger or back of the hand.  It’s recommended though that you try to only strap the paddle through just the middle finger, or at least without the wrist strap.  This allows the swimmer to focus on their pressure on the water from the moment of entry until the paddle leaves the water.


Describes how training can be built over the year, with different phrases or blocks of training having different focus, depending on where in the year and the season the athlete is.  It’s training that is structured around cycles of progressively loaded training, followed by a rest.


Professionals are triathletes who earn a living from racing (in theory).  To become a Pro, different countries have different regulations for qualification.  Professional athletes compete in the Pro category and for prize money.


A run where the pace increases from beginning to end.


The Professional Triathlon Organisation is a not-for-profit entity that supports professional triathletes and seeks to showcase the passions, talents, determination, struggles and achievements of the professionals, who strive to realise the highest levels of the sport and inspire all those who participate in triathlon, from the seasoned age-grouper to the newbie.

The PTO is the voice of the athletes in a sport that is governed and controlled by corporate businesses. It is to create a sustainable sport, and make it better for future generations. It’s about creating visibility of the sport and growing the sport for the professionals and hence then everyone else involved in the sport.

Check out the website, support the PTO, and support the pro athletes, and let’s grow the sport of triathlon.


This is a training set where you build up the distance and then reduce it back down again.  For example, a 2km swim set could be broken into a pyramid swim by:

100m / 200m / 300m / 400m / 400m / 300m / 200m / 100m.

Q is for…


A quark is a type of elementary particle, and a fundamental constituent of matter.  Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons.  Quark is also a type of fresh dairy product made by warming soured milk until the desired amount of curdling is met, and then straining it.  But we aren’t talking about either of those quarks, we are talking about Quarq, which is a brand of power meter to measure power on your bike.  There are lots of other power meters available, but I needed a Q and Quarq fitted.

R is for…


Worn in a race, to attach your race number to for the run (and sometimes the bike).  It can also be used to hold some nutrition.


These are trainers that are used for racing.  The 'flats' refers to a lightweight shoe designed for longer distance running events.  They often have a lack of substantial heel-to-toe drop compared to normal training shoes.


Repetitions are a set number of intervals in a training session.

For example, the session may be 7 x 5min effort at race pace effort.  7 is the number of reps.


Is the term used to describe the start of a triathlon.  Athletes line up entering the water for the swim start, one after the other in continuous flow.  The athlete's time starts when they cross the start timing mat and enter the water.

Rolling starts invite athletes to self-seed themselves in the swim by their anticipated swim finish time.


When riding in a group, rotating is the movement by the group where you share the work done at the front.  For example, if riding two abreast in a group, the line of riders on the left, moves slightly faster than the riders in the line on the right.  Once the rider leading the left line, gets to the front, they move past the rider on the right, and when clear of wheels, move over to the right, then sit at the front of the line on the right.  The line on the left continues to move through, each time a rider gets to the front, they move to the right letting the next rider come through.

Rotating Paceline when drafting in cycling


The person who finishes second place, behind the winner. Or more harshly, first loser.


Rotations per minute, also known as cadence (see C is for…) is the number of pedal strokes per minute you take on the bike.


Generally, these are often an item that needs to be searched for in lost and found, or regularly seen posted as ‘missing’ and ‘if found, please return to…”, particularly in a race.  Running legs, like B is for Bike legs, refer to the legs you need for running.  Often though, when we exit off the bike in T2 (see T is for..) and start the run component of our triathlon race, we find that we have left our running legs somewhere at home and forgot to pack them in our race kit.  Sometimes if we are lucky our running legs turn up part way through the race for a brief period to say hello, and lure us into a sense that everything is going to be ok again, before *&$@ing off again to leave us, shuffling towards the finish line.

S is for…


See R is for Repetitions… if the total number of repetitions is 10, that is a set.  The session may be 3 sets of 10, which mean 3 x 10 repetitions.  So, do 10 repetitions of the exercise, then 10 more repetitions, and then another 10, most likely with a break in between each set of 10.


Shimano Pedalling Dynamics, SPD, is the Shimano-specific design of clipless pedals and cleats (see C is for…).  Shimano, like many of the other cycling brands, make a range of SPD cleats, within which there are differences for road & triathlon, compared to mountain biking & gravel, and even differences within those categories.  So, it’s good to remember that not all cleats are compatible with all pedals.  So double check when buying.


Downing your beer in one go!  Technically that is sculling too, and maybe in triathlon, that’s your post race celebration with your teammates.  However, more typically it means a drill in swimming.  It’s a technique that allows swimmers to “feel the water”, maintaining the ideal hand and arm position to move through the water.  It helps to maximise the surface area for movement in the water for the catch phase of the stroke.


KOM, QOM: King and Queen of the Mountains, are the titles aimed for by many athletes.  It means that they had the fastest time, over a specific segment during their ride or run.  Many people go searching for and chasing ‘strava segments’ as if it was a full time career.


A group ride on a Sunday. Groups can be called bunches.


This refers to when a rider is sitting right behind the rider in front, getting as close as possible to the front rider and making the most of the reduced drag.


Is the smallest gear on a bicycle.  It means the smallest chain ring on the front, and the biggest rear cog on the cassette at the back.  Small gear work can refer to high cadence (see C is for…) efforts, where you are spinning at a higher rate than normal.  The smallest gear can also be your best friend when climbing hills.


This is the number of strokes you take in a minute of swimming:  the speed of your stroke.  Similar to cadence (see C is for…) in cycling (the number of times your legs turn round in a minute).


This is the number of strokes you take for each length of the pool you swim.


This isn’t referring to the workers of your local red light district.  Strippers are volunteers in a race, who help you remove your wetsuit after the swim.  The best way for this to happen is: once you exit the water and approach the ‘stripper’ area (this could be as soon as you exit the swim or in transition (see T is for…)), unzip your wetsuit and roll it down to your waist.  Then sit on your butt on the floor, lifting your legs and allowing the strippers to pull the wetsuit off your body and legs. 

T is for…


This is the area where you change from the swim to the bike, and then bike to the run.  Transition can refer to the area where this happens, or just refer to the process.

T1 occurs from the swim to the bike, where you change from your swim kit to your cycling kit.

T2 occurs from the bike to the run, where you change from your bike kit to the run.


A TT bike is a time trial bike, which is specific to triathlon.  You DO NOT need a TT bike to complete a triathlon.  It’s quite ok to start on a road bike, mountain bike or hybrid.

(See also C is for… clip ons.)

Ventum One TT Triathlon Bike


A training level, often used in running.  Normally describes a pace that is about 7-10 seconds per 1 mile slower than 10km pace.


A tri suit is the clothing you’d likely wear in a triathlon race.  It can be an all-in-one or a two-piece.  An all-in-one is a suit that has the shorts and top all connected.  A two-piece has separate shorts and a top.  Tri suits can be sleeveless or with sleeves.  They can be like a swim suit or with shorts and a body.

Fusion Tri suit selectionU is for…


Yes, yes, we all know what underwear is, but this is to say that no, you don’t wear underwear under your cycling kit or tri suit (well apart from a crop top for the women) but no pants or knickers under your shorts.  

V is for…

VO2 / VO2 MAX:

Maximal oxygen consumption or VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilise during exercise per kilogram of body weight, per minute.  So it is measured in millileters of oxygen consumed in one minute, per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min).

When we exercise hard, oxygen is delivered to our muscles via red blood cells.  Therefore, the more oxygen we can consume then the easier exercise can feel to out body.

Since we need oxygen to exercise, the higher your VO2 max, the better and fitter you are (in theory), and the higher you can get your VO2 max the more oxygen you can get to deliver to your muscles allowing you to perform.  So it can be deemed as an indicator of fitness and aerobic fitness, however it doesn’t indicate that the better your VO2 the more likely you are to win, there are many other factors in that.

Here are some numbers below as an indication of average levels.

Inactive female (average): VO2 30-35

Inactive male (average): VO2 40-45 

Elite female: VO2 70-80+

Elite male: VO2 80-90+

Kilian Jornet – Ultra Runner, 90 VO2

Kristian Blummenfelt – Triathlete, 87 VO2

Paula Radcliff – Marathoner, 70 VO2

W is for…


Probably quite self explanatory, as something we should do prior to starting higher levels of effort in training or a race.  Warming up starts to activate the body, muscles and mind for the session coming.

Before a race, you can also warm up by peeing in your wetsuit!


Is your power to weight ration.  For example, if a 70kg rider puts out power of 280W, then they have a power to weight ration of 4 watts per kilo (4W/kg).  It can be an good indicator of fitness, strength and performance, but ultimately on a race course in triathlon, it’s not necessarily about how much power and how big your W/kg is:  it’s how you control that on the reality of the course and also, of course, running off the bike (remember triathlon is swim-bike-run and not just the bike).  Increasing your power to weight ration can occur in a few ways.

  1. Increase your power output whilst keeping your weight constant.
  2. Keep your power output constant whilst decreasing your weight.
  3. Increase your power output whilst also decreasing your weight.

Many people think that decreasing their weight is the answer, but often if not careful this also results in a reduction in power.  You should seek professional guidance around training and weight, as trying to decrease your weight can open all sorts of cans of worms!  Also, your weight and power can have huge benefits or different effects on the type of course and terrain you are riding:  Flat verses hilly.  Again I’ll stress with any weight loss please seek professional guidance.


This term refers to wetsuits being allowed to be worn in the swim.  It normally means that the water temperature is below a certain limit, meaning that a wetsuit is needed to stay warmer in the water.  The cut-off temperature to allow wetsuits or not, depends on the distance of the race and whether you are a pro or age grouper.


Another way to start a triathlon race.  'Wave start' refers to groups of athletes starting together, normally in age groups.  The group will all line up on the start line, and all start as a wave together.

Triathlon race wave start for swimX is for…


Xterra is a series of cross triathlon races. A swim, then normally a mountain bike and a trail run.

Y is for…


Going imperial with this, I guess this is meterage, if we join the new world and talk metric.  But it’s more symbolic really, as it’s referring to how people count laps in swimming.  For example, a session may say 'swim 200m', but as a beginner you may have no idea, because for a start, how long is your pool?  Is it 25yards, 25m or 50m?  It may be better to say 'swim 4 lengths', where a length is from one end of the pool to another.  4 lengths in a 25yard pool would be 100yards, in a 25m pool would be 100m, and therefore 4 lengths of a 50m pool would be 200m.

Z is for…


The world of Watopia has become familiar with some many athletes over 2020, with lockdowns restricting athletes to their homes.  Zwifting is riding on Zwift, the indoor virtual riding platform.  Using an indoor bike trainer, you connect through bluetooth to the virtual world, where you can watch your avatar ride as you pedal and put out the power in the comfort of your living room or garage, or your pain cave.

Check out this Zwifting 101 guide to get you started.


Training zones are used to give an indication of what intensity an athlete should be working at during an activity.  For example, 5 x 3mins at Z4 (zone 4).  This would be a hard, higher-intensity training session, with Z4 efforts (not something you’d be doing every day).

Zones can also be called levels.  They are good indications as to whether an athlete is pushing hard enough, or recovering at the right level too.

Zone can be based on heart rate (HR), or power, or even perceived effort.  The best way to calculate zones if to carry out a test to gain either your max HR value or FTP (see F is for…)

The links below are good examples of how to calculate your zones by HR, or power, or a good table to compare to what your zone should feel like for a rate of perceived effort.

It’s worth noting that training zones are different for running and cycling and so different tests are needed.

  1. Zone 1 is super easy, and you feel like you are hardly working.  It’s not really a training session in terms of physiological adaptation, but more considered a recovery session, or active recovery, or perhaps used between interval efforts or for socialising. Whilst many consider it’s not training, these sessions and zone is still equally important in the big scheme, with the focus on the recovery element.
  2. Zone 2 a slight step up from Zone 1, so moderately light training.  Think of it as a level where you can hold conversation comfortably.  Or perhaps (for the bike), that ‘all day’ pace that you could sustain.
  3. Zone 3 is always a tricky one and can be controversial.  Often referred to as the grey zone, or one to be avoided, as it’s often seen that you aren’t working hard enough to develop your lactate threshold (for running) but you’re working too hard to develop your aerobic base.  You still need adequate recovery from this level, but may not be getting the huge performance gains.  However, training at this zone for some sessions can be beneficial in building muscular endurance and efficiency.  It can be classed as a tempo paced ride, or spirited group ride.  It requires concentration to make sure you aren’t slipping back to zone 2.  You can only really hold short sentences in conversation.
  4. Zone 4 is a hard work zone.  It’s not going to feel comfortable, and conversation is difficult at best.  It can be mentally taxing too.  However you will be improving your lactate threshold, and improving your speed.  For the bike it’s perhaps efforts of 10-30min duration, and for running perhaps 5mins efforts.  A decent amount of recovery is needed between zone 4 sessions.  For sprint, Olympic distance events, this pace (running) could be close to race pace.  For longer triathlons, this will be faster than your race pace.
  5. Zone 5 are short sessions, and could be considered all out, a 10 out of 10 in effort.  Worth noting that by the time your HR shows this zone, your legs have probably already given up.  For the bike, this is intervals of perhaps 3-8mins, and there’s very little conversation going on because you basically can’t talk.

There’s more information about zones, in the links below. Again remember HR zones are different for running and cycling. You also have power zones to use in cycling, and then pacing for running.

There you have it, a comprehensive, but by no means exhaustive list of the lingo of triathletes. There is more we could say and add, and perhaps we will continue to build on this going forward.

Swim training explanation: one more thing!

Just a couple of other explanations to add, around swimming, which again is probably another whole article or two in itself.

For example: 'Swimming 4 x 100 on 20 seconds'.  Would mean swim 100m, then take 20seconds recovery, before you start the next set.

Alternatively:  'Swimming 4 x 100 on 2 minutes'.  This would mean you swim 100m, and you start the next rep when the clock gets to 2minutes, having started counting when you pushed off for the first 100m.  So, if you swam 100m in 1min 30seconds, you’d get 30 sec recovery before pushing off for the next 100m on the 2 minutes.  If you swam the next 100m in 1min 55seconds (a spectacular blow up as well), you’d only get 5 seconds rest before needing to push off on the 2minutes again for the next rep.  This, 2minutes, therefore refers to the time it take to do the distance and the recovery.