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

  1. Aero Bars: Handlebar extensions that allow a triathlete to assume a more aerodynamic position on the bike.
  2. 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
  1. Aero Position: A low, streamlined position on the bike that minimizes wind resistance and enhances speed.
  2. 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.
  3. Aquabike: A multisport event combining swimming and cycling, omitting the running portion of a traditional triathlon.
  4. Aquathlon: A multisport event combining swimming and running, omitting the cycling leg. Not to be confused with a Swimrun event.
  5. Bib Number: A bib number that is worn during the run leg for identification and timing purposes.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Chafing: Skin irritation or abrasions caused by friction between clothing and the body, common in long-distance events.
  11. Chain Suck: A mechanical issue on the bike where the chain becomes jammed or stuck, often due to poor shifting or a misaligned chainring.
  12. Chamois: The padded part of cycling shorts that is designed to reduce friction and provide comfort during long rides.
  13. 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
  1. Chute: A narrow pathway leading from the swim exit to the transition area, often lined with fencing to guide athletes. Also “finishing chute”.
  2. Clipless Pedals: Bike pedals that attach (clip in) to special cycling shoes, allowing for more efficient power transfer.
  3. Clip-On Aerobars: Removable aero bars that can be added to a road bike to achieve a more aerodynamic position.
  4. Course Marshals: Volunteers or officials stationed along the racecourse to enforce rules and assist athletes.
  5. 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.
  6. DNS (Did Not Start): A result designation for athletes who registered for a race but did not participate.
  7. DNF (Did Not Finish): A result designation for athletes who started a race but did not complete the race.
  8. DQ (Disqualified): A result designation for athletes who are invalidated due to rule violations.
  9. 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.
  10. Draft-legal: A racing format in which drafting on the bike is allowed, common in some sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons. Not allowed in Ironman races.
  11. Duathlon: A multisport race consisting of a “run – bike – run” format.
  12. 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.
  13. FTP (Functional Threshold Power): The power you can average on the bike for one hour.
  14. GOAT (Greatest Of All Time): See Jan Frodeno.
  15. Half Ironman: 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.
  16. Heart Rate Monitor (HRM): Sensor on either a chest strap or wrist strap / watch that measures your heart rate during exercise.
  17. Ironman Triathlon: 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.
  18. Kickboard: A flotation device used in swim training to isolate leg movements and improve kicking technique.
speedo kickboard
  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. Negative Split: This is when the second half of your workout or race was faster than your first half.
  5. Olympic Distance Triathlon: The standard distance triathlon that is used in the Olympics, as defined by the ITU (International Triathlon Union). Generally 1500 meter swim, 40 km bike, 10km run. See triathlon distances.
  6. Open Water Swim: Swimming in natural bodies of water, such as lakes or oceans, as opposed to a pool.
  7. Pace Line: A group of cyclists riding in a single file line to reduce wind resistance, common in drafting-legal races.
  8. 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.
  9. PR (Personal Record): The best time an athlete has achieved in a particular distance or event.
  10. 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.
  11. Race Briefing: A pre-race meeting where organizers provide essential information to participants about course details, rules, and safety guidelines.
  12. Racking: The process of placing and securing your bike in the transition area before the race begins.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Strava: Online application where you can share and track your training and race activity.
  17. Swim Cap: A brightly colored cap worn by swimmers in triathlons to improve visibility in the water.
  18. Swimrun: A relatively new sport where athletes run and swim multiple times in order to cover a pre-defined course. See What is Swimrun.
  19. 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.
  20. 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
  1. Transition Bag: A bag used to store and transport gear into the transition area before and after the race.
  2. 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.
  3. Transition Practice: Simulating transitions in training to improve efficiency and minimize time spent in the transition area.
  4. Transition Bag: A bag used in the transition area for the bike-to-run transition, containing running gear and nutrition.
  5. Triathlon: A multisport race consisting of three continuous and sequential disciplines: swimming, cycling, and running.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 customizations may make it illegal to use in a race outside of a triathlon (i.e. – a UCI cycling race).
  8. Tri Kit: A one-piece or two-piece triathlon-specific racing outfit designed for comfort and aerodynamics.
  9. 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.
  10. Wetsuit: A neoprene suit worn by triathletes during the swim leg to provide buoyancy, warmth, and reduced water resistance. See open-water swimming gear.
  11. XTERRA: Multisport brand that puts on off-road triathlons and train running competitions.
  12. Zwift: Training app 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.

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!


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