Glossary of triathlon terms

Glossary of Triathlon Terms

Triathlon vocabulary can be confusing and intimidating if you’re new to the sport.

Brick sessions, FTP and T1… what do these multisport words mean? Check out the definitions of these key triathlon terms to help understand the jargon you hear all the time.

Aerobars: Bike handlebars that allow athletes to ride in a tucked position.

Age Grouper: The term age grouper refers to triathletes in the racing community who do not hold professional or elite status. In race events, age groupers will compete among racers in their age groups, which are typically divided up into five year ranges.

Bibshorts: tight-fitting shorts that extend upwards on the torso and two straps that pass over the shoulders (no waistband elastic required, which can be too tight or cause chaffing) designed to improve comfort and efficiency while cycling. Some key features include: reducing wind resistance, increase aerodynamic efficiency, protect the skin against the repetitive friction of the legs against the bicycle seat or frame, draw sweat away from the skin to prevent chafing and rashes, cool the rider down through the process of evaporation; compress the legs, which can help combat muscular fatigue.

Big gear: It's using the bigger gear on your front chainring on your bike, making the workout harder at the same cadence. It is alos used to create more power and speed on flatter roads.

Bonk: When you suddenly lose energy and fatigue sets in, usually caused when glycogen stores in the liver and muscles are depleted, resulting in a major performance drop. Also "hitting the wall".

Brick Session: A workout that includes two different types of exercises back to back (within less than 10 minutes of each other), usually in the context of a bike ride followed by a run.

Cassette:  The set of cogs at the rear wheel hub. Used for gearing.

Cooldown: Physical activity done after a workout or competition to loosen muscles.

Chainrings: The two cogs that transfer the power from your pedalling via the chain to the back wheel. Used for gearing.

Chainsuck: The chain fails to disengage from the bottom teeth of a front chain ring; instead the teeth snag the chain and carry it up and around the rear circumference of the ring, winding it back onto itself, and jamming it between the chain-rings and chain-stay.

Chamois cream / butter: A clean, non-greasy lubricant between you and your cycling shorts. In addition to making biking more comfortable, it reduces the chances of saddle sores, and restores dried-out chamois & short liners.

Cleats: Attached to the bottom of your bike shoes, allowing them to lock into clipless pedals.

Clincher wheels: Regular bike wheels. Compare to tubular wheels. 

Cross-train: Participating in various sports or exercises to work on different skills. 

Derailleurs: Component that moves your chain from one chainring to the other or from one sprocket on the cassette to another.

Disc wheels: Solid wheels designed to be aero. Often used as race wheels. 

DNF: Stands for did not finish.

DNS: Stands for did not start.

Drafting: When two or more cyclists ride close together to help reduce wind resistance and save energy. In most triathlons drafting is illegal on the bike, but it is never illegal during the swim. All world cup triathlon events and the Olympics are draft legal.

Duathlon: A run, bike, run combination race.

FTP: Functional threshold power. The highest average power you can hold for one hour. Usually approximated based on shorter test protocols, such as 20- or 30-minute tests.

Gels: A source of energy (mostly simple sugars) that are fast absorbed and thus optimal for workouts. Squishy texture and come in all sorts of flavours.

Interval training:  Any cardiovascular workout (e.g. biking, running, swimming, etc.) that involves brief bouts at near-maximum exertion interspersed with periods of lower-intensity activity.

Kickboard: Swim training tool made of styrofoam held out in front of you for kick practise.

LBS: Local bike shop

Long course: Although no official definition exists, usually seen as race distances longer than Olympic distance (or half distance and longer)

Lube: Short for lubricant. Used both for bike maintenance and on the body for preventing chafing.

Mdot: Ironman trademark.

Negative split: Finish the second half of a workout/race faster than the first half.

Off-road triathlon: An open water swim, mountain bike ride, trail run combination race. 

Offseason: The time after competition season and before preseason. Can be used as a time to recover or work on new skills

Olympic distance: roughly double that of a sprint distance triathlon – 1,5 km swim, a 40km bike and a 10km run.

Paddles: Training aid for swimming. Plastic paddles attached to your hands that increase water resistance so they help build strength and can also increase awareness of technical errors.

Peloton: The large main group of riders (usually in a road bicycle race).

Penalty: Drafting in non-draft races and other rule violations are penalized with added time, or with being stopped for a certain time before being allowed to continue.

Power: Measured in watts (W) and calculated as force times velocity. Used mostly in biking where it is measurable (force applied to pedals or crank arms times the angular velocity of pedaling). In contrast to heart rate, power is a direct measure of output.

Pull buoy: Floating swim training tool placed between legs to keep your legs up so you can concentrate on your stroke.

PR or PB: A personal record or your best time in a race of a specific distance. 

Racing age: The athlete’s age on Dec. 31 of the competition year.

Race belt: Elastic belt used to keep your race number in place without having to pin it to your clothes.

Racing flats: Lighter and “faster” running shoes saved for races and speedwork.

Race pack: The pack each athlete receives before a race that usually includes race rules and guideline, your race number, swim cap and timing chip. Sometimes includes some promotional items from sponsors. 

RPM: Stands for revolutions per minute, which is the number of turns a bike wheel makes in a minute.

Short course: Although no official definition exists, usually seen as race distances up to Olympic distance.

Split: Your time for a portion of your race or workout. Can be a split for each discipline (swim/bike/run) or a portion of each discipline (each km of a run or each 90km of bike leg)

Sprint triathlon: Short distance triathlon. Usually 600 / 750m swim, 20km bike, 5 km run.

T1: Transition 1 is the period between the swim and bike legs of a triathlon. During this stage, triathletes switch from their swim gear into their cycling gear.

T2: Transition 2 is the period between the bike and run legs of a triathlon. During this stage, triathletes switch from their cycling gear into their running gear.

Taper: Short period before the race where training volume is decreased so accumulated fatigue disappears just in time for the race without losing too much fitness due to decreased training volume. Can easily lead to madness.

Timing chip: Chip attached around ankle that times you in races when you cross timing mats at start, finish and splits.

Tire lever: Small tool used to remove the tire from your wheel to replace or repair the inner tube.

Transition: area marked area where athletes keep their equipment needed for a race. After each leg of the race, athletes return to transition to swap equipment before heading back onto the race course.

Triathlon: A swim, bike, run combination race. 

Tri-bike: A triathlon-specific bicycle designed for riding in the aerodynamic position. This bike features aero bars, a steep seat tube angle to put you farther over the cranks and allow for a comfortable aerodynamic position, and a very light weight.

Tubular tires: Lighter than common clincher tires. Tubular tires are stitched around the inner tube and then glued to the wheel rim. This can make mid-ride repairs tricky, but tubulars are quite puncture resistant.

VO2Max: The maximum rate of oxygen uptake and utilization in the body. Very common fitness measure.

Warm-up: Light exercise before a race or workout to warm up your muscles.

Waves: When a race does not start in a mass, the race director will break athletes into groups called waves, often separated by gender, age groups or by self-seeding, based on ability.

Wetsuit: A close-fitting suit made of a rubber-like material and worn by swimmers when they are in cold water to keep their bodies warm.

Wetsuit compulsory: Where the race director determines that the use of a wetsuit during the swim leg of the race is compulsory, because of the low water temperature.

Non-wetsuit swim: Where the race director determines that the use of a wetsuit during the swim leg of the race is not permitted, because the water temperature is too high.

70.3 / half: Half Ironman distance (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run) (1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, 13.1mi run)

140.6 / full: Full Ironman distance (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run)(2.4mi swim, 112mi bike, 26.2mi run)