Triathlon Terms: The Ultimate Glossary to Over 60 Phrases

glossary of triathlon terms

This sport definitely has its own unique triathlon terms & terminology. Make sure you are familiar with the key terms that define this sport.

We have come up with a list to help you appear well-versed in the lingo of swim-bike-run.

Triathlon Terms

Aero Bars

Handlebar extensions that allow a triathlete to assume a more aerodynamic position on the bike.

Aero Helmet

A specialized helmet designed to reduce wind resistance and improve aerodynamics during the cycling leg.

aero helmet and aero position on triathlon bike
Aero helmet and aero position

Aero Position

A low, streamlined position on the bike that minimizes wind resistance and enhances speed.

Aerobic Threshold

See Lactate Threshold

Age Group

This is a category in which participants are grouped based on their age for the purpose of competition. Age group categories are a way to ensure fair competition by grouping athletes of similar ages together. This allows participants to compete against others within their age range. The most common age group categories include:

18-24 years
25-29 years
30-34 years
35-39 years
40-44 years
45-49 years
50-54 years
55-59 years
60-64 years
65-69 years
70-74 years
75-79 years
80+ years

Aid Station

A designated area on the racecourse where athletes can grab water, sports drinks, and food to stay fueled. This is provided by the race organizers.

Aquabike

A multisport event combining swimming and cycling, omitting the running portion of a traditional triathlon.

Aquathlon

A multisport event combining swimming and running, omitting the cycling leg. Not to be confused with a Swimrun event.

Bib Number

A bib number that is worn during the run leg for identification and timing purposes.

Bike Leg

The cycling portion of a triathlon.

Body Marking

The process of marking athletes with race numbers and age group identifiers, often done with waterproof markers. This is done on the morning of the race.

Bonking

A severe energy depletion during a race, often due to inadequate nutrition or hydration. An athlete is often reduced to stopping when they bonk due to zero energy.

Brick Workout

A training session that combines two disciplines, typically a bike ride immediately followed by a run, to simulate the feeling of transitioning in a race.

Cadence

In swimming, this is the athlete’s stroke rate per minute. In cycling, this is the revolutions per minute of the cranks. In running, this is the athlete’s steps per minute.

Chafing

Skin irritation or abrasions caused by friction between clothing and the body, common in long-distance events.

Chain Suck

A mechanical issue on the bike where the chain becomes jammed or stuck, often due to poor shifting or a misaligned chainring.

Chamois

The padded part of cycling shorts that is designed to reduce friction and provide comfort during long rides.

Chip Timing

The use of electronic chips to accurately record an athlete’s time at various points during a race.

ankle chip timer
Chip timing

Chute or Finishing Chute

A narrow pathway leading from the swim exit to the transition area, often lined with fencing to guide athletes.

Clipless Pedals

Bike pedals that attach (clip in) to special cycling shoes, allowing for more efficient power transfer.

Clip-On Aerobars

Removable aero bars that can be added to a road bike to achieve a more aerodynamic position.

Course Marshals

Volunteers or officials stationed along the racecourse to enforce rules and assist athletes.

Cycling Cadence Sensor

A device that measures a cyclist’s pedal cadence and can be used for training and performance analysis. Typically put on the crank arm.

DNS (Did Not Start)

A result designation for athletes who registered for a race but did not participate.

DNF (Did Not Finish)

A result designation for athletes who started a race but did not complete the race.

DQ (Disqualified)

A result designation for athletes who are invalidated due to rule violations.

Drafting

In swimming, drafting refers to swimming at the feet of or at the hip level of another swimmer in order to save energy. In the cycling leg, drafting refers to riding closely behind or beside another cyclist to reduce wind resistance and save energy.

A racing format in which drafting on the bike is allowed, common in some sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons. Not allowed in Ironman races.

Duathlon

A multisport race consisting of a “run – bike – run” format.

Fartlek

“speed play” in Swedish. It’s a running workout where you vary your running pace between harder and easier sections in the same workout without stopping.

FTP (Functional Threshold Power)

The power you can average on the bike for one hour.

GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)

See Jan Frodeno.

Half Ironman or 70.3

A half Ironman is a triathlon that is the following distances – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run. Also referred to as a 70.3, which is the total distance in miles of the race. It’s half the distance of a full Ironman triathlon. See triathlon distances.

Half Marathon

A long-distance running race with a total distance of 13.1 miles or 21.0975 kilometers.

Heart Rate Monitor (HRM)

Sensor on either a chest strap or wrist strap / watch that measures your heart rate during exercise. See our list of the best triathlon watches that provide this functionality.

HYROX

HYROX racing is a relatively new sport that started in 2017 and combines many different workout “stations” with a 1km run between each exercise. Many triathletes have begun competing in these events since they mimic the multi-sport atmosphere like triathlons.

Ironman Triathlon or 140.6

This is a brand name owned by World Triathlon Corporation. It is often used to describe a race with distances measuring a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. See triathlon distances.

Kickboard

A flotation device used in swim training to isolate leg movements and improve kicking technique.

speedo kickboard
Kickboard

Lactate Threshold

Also referred to as aerobic threshold. Do you know the burn that you feel when you work out your muscles? That’s lactic acid. When your heart rate is unable to clear it quickly enough, you get the burn. Your threshold is the point where more lactic acid is building up faster than it can be cleared away. This is generally a heart rate “beats per minute” number. So if your LT is 170 BPM, working out at this pace cannot be maintained for very long. But at 169 BPM, you can go for much longer.

Long Course Triathlon

This refers to the Ironman distance – Swim: 2.4 miles (3.86 kilometers), Bike: 112 miles (180.25 kilometers), Run: 26.2 miles (42.20 kilometers)

Mass Start

Less common method of starting a triathlon. The opposite of a wave start. In a mass start, all athletes begin at once. Prepare for contact in the water because there will be plenty!

Mount/Dismount Line

A marked line indicating the point where athletes must mount their bikes at the beginning of the bike leg after leaving transition and dismounting at the end before re-entering transition.

Negative Split

This is when the second half of your workout or race was faster than your first half.

Off Road Triathlon

See XTERRA. This is a triathlon where the bike is typically completed on a mountain bike trail and the run is a trail run.

Olympic Distance Triathlon

The standard distance triathlon that is used in the Olympics, is defined by the ITU (International Triathlon Union). Generally 1500 meter swim, 40 km bike, 10km run. See triathlon distances.

Open Water Swim

Swimming in natural bodies of water, such as lakes or oceans, as opposed to a pool.

Pace Line

A group of cyclists riding in a single file line to reduce wind resistance, common in drafting-legal races.

Power Meter

Bike computer that measures (in watts) the amount of effort being made. This is measured through strain gauges typically found in the cranks, pedals, or wheel hub.

PR (Personal Record)

The best time an athlete has achieved in a particular distance or event.

Race Belt

A belt worn by triathletes to easily attach and display their bib number during the run. This has an easy clasp that allows the athlete to put it on quickly in transition.

Race Briefing

A pre-race meeting where organizers provide essential information to participants about course details, rules, and safety guidelines.

Race Course

The route or path that participants follow during the event.

Racking

The process of placing and securing your bike in the transition area before the race begins.

Road Bike

This is the type of racing bike you see in the Tour de France. They are ridden on the road and are very light.

Rolling Start

A swim start format where athletes continuously enter the water one by one, reducing the chaos of mass swim starts and improving safety. Slightly different than a wave start.

Sighting

A technique in open water swimming where athletes periodically lift their heads to check their direction and make sure they are staying on course.

Strava

Online application where you can share and track your training and race activity.

Swim Buoy

Also known as a swim safety buoy, a swim buoy is a brightly colored inflatable device that swimmers can tow behind them while swimming in open water. It is typically attached to the swimmer by a waist belt or a leash. The buoy floats on the surface of the water and is designed to increase the swimmer’s visibility to other water users, such as boats and jet skis, thereby enhancing safety.

Swim Cap

A brightly colored cap worn by swimmers in triathlons to improve visibility in the water.

Swimskin

A one-piece suit that is worn over a tri-suit in the swim portion of the race to reduce water friction and increase hydrodynamic gains. It is a specific, high-performance garment not meant to be worn alone. See the best swimskins.

Swimrun

A relatively new sport where athletes run and swim multiple times in order to cover a pre-defined course. See What is Swimrun.

Taper

The period of reduced training and increased rest leading up to a race to allow the body to recover and perform at its best. This is typically the last week or two prior to the race.

Time Trial Bike

A time trial bike, often referred to as a TT bike, is a specialized type of bicycle designed for time trial events and triathlons. These events involve racing against the clock, and aerodynamics play a crucial role in achieving optimal performance. Time trial bikes are built with features that prioritize aerodynamic efficiency and speed.

A true Time Trial bike can be used in a UCI cycling race. This excludes some triathlon bikes, since they may have aerodynamic features that are not allowed by the UCI.

Trail Run

A run that is not on paved roads. There are trail races that might be self-supported forcing the athletes to carry their own trail running gear, including hydration.

Transition / Transition Area

The area in a triathlon where athletes switch from one discipline to another, including T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run). This is also the designated area where athletes store their gear.

triathlon terms - transition area
Transition area

Transition Bag

A bag used to store and transport gear into the transition area before and after the race.

Transition Mat / Towel

A marked area in the transition zone where an athlete can place their gear and shoes for easy identification. This is typically a small towel placed in the transition area to wipe off water, sand, or dirt and aid in quick footwear changes. It’s placed right under or behind where the athlete’s bike is racked.

Transition Practice

Simulating transitions in training to improve efficiency and minimize time spent in the transition area.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are lightweight, adjustable sticks or poles designed to assist runners, hikers, walkers, and trekkers during various outdoor activities. They are very common sights in ultramarathon races.

Triathlon

A multisport race consisting of three continuous and sequential disciplines: swimming, cycling, and running.

Triathlon License

A membership or license required by some governing bodies to participate in sanctioned races. In the United States, this is done by USA Triathlon.

Tri Bars

Tri bars, short for “triathlon bars” or “aero bars,” are a type of handlebar extension commonly used in triathlon and time trial cycling. These bars are designed to allow cyclists to adopt a more aerodynamic and streamlined position, reducing air resistance and improving overall speed.

Tri bars are particularly popular in events where maintaining high speeds and minimizing wind resistance are crucial, such as time trials and triathlons.

Tri Bike

Short for triathlon bikes. This is a specially made bike designed with features tailored to the needs of triathletes, such as aero frames and integrated hydration systems. These tri bike customizations may make it illegal to use in a race outside of a triathlon (i.e. – a UCI cycling race).

Tri Kit

A one-piece triathlon suit or two-piece triathlon-specific racing outfit designed for comfort and aerodynamics.

VO2 max

VO2 max, or maximal oxygen consumption, is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. It is often used as an indicator of aerobic fitness and endurance capacity. Read How to Improve Your VO2 Max.

Wave Start

Dividing athletes into groups based on age, gender, or skill level and releasing them in intervals to avoid overcrowding in the water and on the course.

Wetsuit

A neoprene suit worn by triathletes during the swim leg to provide buoyancy, warmth, and reduced water resistance. See our list of the best triathlon wetsuits.

Winter Triathlon

A winter triathlon is a variation of the traditional triathlon, but it takes place in a winter setting, incorporating winter sports instead of the usual swim, bike, and run disciplines. In a winter triathlon, the three segments may include Running or Snowshoeing, Mountain Biking or Cross-Country Skiing, and Cross-Country Skiing or even Ice Skating.

XTERRA

Multisport brand that puts on off-road triathlons and train running competitions.

Zwift

One of the best indoor cycling apps that allows you to cycle and run in a virtual world. Your avatar can compete against other people’s avatars in real time. Hooks up to your smart trainer or smart treadmill.

Conclusion

Whether you’re preparing for your first triathlon or want to appear like you have been competing for years, these terms are the building blocks of your triathlon knowledge.

Let us know if there are any we missed!

Disclosure

We review products based on a multi-point health-focused methodology. Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to us if you decide to purchase the product at no cost to you.

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