Training for the Swim in Triathlon

 

Swimming is the shortest segment of the triathlon and typically the weakest for most triathletes. Many athletes only want to survive the swim so they can move on to the bike and run; however, if they spend a little more time on the swim in training, they can greatly improve their overall time and maybe even make it on the podium for their age group.

A structured workout is key every time you enter the pool and even for open water. Whatever workout you choose to do, it’s important to remember to train like a distance swimmer. As a triathlete, you are a distance swimmer. Got it? Good. By that I don’t mean to hop in the pool and swim 2000-3000 yards continuously because that will only make you good at swimming long and slow.

Distance swimmers train the all of the body’s systems by doing different workouts and sets within the workouts: endurance (aerobic), speed (mostly aerobic, but some faster paces), form (aerobic with a focus on drills), force (pulling or using paddles with the buoy), muscular endurance (lactate threshold), distance (half IM or IM race pace), and anaerobic endurance (very fast swimming or all out swimming). Source: Swim Workouts for Triathletes by Gale Bernhardt and Nick Hansen.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that each swim workout has multiple moving parts. Here’s an example of a good distance swimmer’s workout for triathletes:

Warm Up: 400 easy, 200 pull, 200 kick, 8x25s 1/2 FAST 1/2 EASY on 30s

This warm up gets the muscles moving and focuses on form with the kick and 25s. The pull is the force part of the workout. 

Main Set:

12x100s descending

#1-4 are on 2 min or less, and for each set of 4x100s, drop 5 seconds from the time you will leave on. So if you start at 2 min, the next set of 4 will be on 1:55… Rest for 30 seconds after these 4x100s.

#5-8 are on 1:55 or 1:50. Rest for 30 seconds after all 4x100s.

#9-12 are on 1:50 or 1:45. Rest for 30s.

This set is all about muscular endurance to anaerobic threshold near the end. Be sure to use the clock to keep track of when you are supposed to leave for the next 100.  

2x300s at IM pace. Rest for 20s in between. This is the distance part of the workout.

Cool Down:

200 stroke, your choice, but NO FREESTYLE

Total Distance: 3000 yards

Each workout should include a warm up of 500-1000 yards of slower swimming, drills, kicks, and pulls, a main set of 1500-2000 yards to focus on speed, endurance, etc., and a cool down of a few hundred yards. Make sure to mix it up and challenge yourself, and you’ll find that you’ll be swimming faster in a few months.

For open water swimming, it’s important to warm up for about 400 yards, sighting every 6-9 strokes. After the warm up, swim the distance you planned, whether it’s 800 or 5000 yards, but vary your stroke like this:

Open Water Swim (OWS) Workout:

5 minutes warm up

10 minutes at T pace (IM or Half IM pace)

5 minutes easy stroke with strong kick

10 minutes increase speed and build

5 minutes easy stroke with strong kick

10 minutes build

5 minutes easy swimming

This is approximately 50 minutes of open water swimming, so increase it as needed. 

 

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