Swim Workouts For Triathletes

The swim portion of a triathlon is the shortest leg, which leads many triathletes to undermine the importance of their swim training. However, swim training is a crucial part of a triathlete’s training program because it lays the groundwork for a successful bike and run. Using structured swim workouts for Triathletes can help you focus on proper mechanics, ward off boredom in the pool, and develop efficiency to conserve energy for later in the race. Training well in the pool or open water can also provide confidence for a beginner, improve breathing issues, decrease race finish times, and be the difference between podium spots for a competitive athlete.

It is a good idea to find a swim coach or triathlon coach. However, if that’s not an option, you can structure your own swim workouts and work on form for a successful season of swimming! We’re including swim workout ideas for a Sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and 140.6 distance racing, as well as drills for improving and maintaining form, and open water swim training advice. It is also important to include swim focused exercises in your strength training routines. Happy training!

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Warm Up and Cool Down – Swim Workouts For Triathletes

best swim workouts for triathletes

Every triathlete’s swim session should include a warm-up and a cool-down.

Warm-ups are important because they increase body temperature, blood flow to working muscles, and delivery of oxygen throughout the body. Your warm-up should start at a very easy effort, and the effort can be slowly increased until the start of the main set. A comprehensive and effective warm-up should include drills. Keep reading to see the best swimming drills for triathletes.

A cool down set helps your heart rate gradually drop, decreases the chance of dizziness and muscle soreness, and restores the body to it’s normal resting state. The cool down should include very easy swimming, stretching out in the water, and drills. Drills are important in a cool down because they help the swimmer finish the workout with good form.

Sprint Distance – Swim Workouts For Triathletes

The sprint triathlon swim distance in a race is almost always 400 yards (approximately 365 meters). If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to build up your endurance with easy to moderate efforts, slowly increasing the distance you swim for your workouts. If you’re training to race competitively, sprint Distance swim training should really focus on maximum speed in the early stages of training, and race pace practice for the last 6-8 weeks leading up to the race. For maximum speed, the most effective distances for intervals are between 25 – 100 yards with rest between each, and with each one being at an extremely hard effort.

Intermediate* Sprint Distance Swim Workouts For Triathletes Example: 

*This can be adapted for to beginner or advanced athletes! Simply remove or add intervals to the main set, or double a portion of the main set.

WARM UP

2×100 easy warm-up.

4×50 as (25 drill, 25 easy swim) — See below for drill ideas.

4×50 building effort from easy to max within each 50 – 20″ rest.

100 easy.

MAIN SET

4×100 at sprint triathlon race pace. 30″ rest.

16 x 25 at MAX effort with good, strong form. 20″ rest.

COOL DOWN

4×25 drill — See below for drill ideas.

100 easy freestyle swim.

TOTAL: 2100 yards.

Olympic Distance – Swim Workouts For Triathletes

Olympic triathlon swim distance is most often 1.5 kilometers (or 0.9 miles). This race is a swimmer’s race! Considering the bike and run distances, the swim in an Olympic distance race is a high percentage of the race compared to that of the sprint, 70.3, or 140.6 races. Again, if you’re a beginner, the best plan is to build up your endurance with easy to moderate efforts, slowly increasing the distance you swim for each workout. If you want to race competitively and get faster, focus on max speed, then speed/endurance in the early to middle stages of training, and race pace practice for the last 6-8 weeks leading up to the race. For this distance, it’s a good idea to do a brick workout several times – getting out of the water, getting through your transition quickly, and getting on the bike right after the swim.

Intermediate* Olympic Distance Swim Workouts For Triathletes Example: 

*This can be adapted for to beginner or advanced athletes! Simply remove or add intervals to the main set, or double a portion of the main set.

WARM UP

2×200 easy warm-up.

4×25 drill — See below for drill ideas.

2×100 build each 25 from easy to moderate. 15″ rest.

MAIN SET

3×100 swim – very hard effort. 30″ rest.

300 swim – moderate effort with good form. Pick up the pace for the last 50 yards.

3×100 swim – very hard effort. Match first set pace. 30″ rest.

300 swim – moderate effort with good form. Pick up the pace for the last 50 yards.

COOL DOWN

4×25 drill

Easy 200 freestyle swim.

TOTAL: 2300 yards.

best swim workouts for triathletes

70.3 Distance – Swim Workouts For Triathletes

The difference between an Olympic distance and 70.3 distance triathlon swim is only 0.3 miles! A 70.3 swim is almost always 1.2 miles. The training for the two distances is similar, although you should slightly bump up the endurance swim training for a 70.3, and your race pace efforts will be a slightly slower pace.

Intermediate* 70.3 Distance Swim Workouts For Triathletes Example: 

*This can be adapted for to beginner or advanced athletes! Simply remove or add intervals to the main set, or double a portion of the main set.

WARM UP

200 easy swim

4×50 as (25 drill, 25 swim) — See below for drill ideas.

4×100 build with each 25 – 15″ rest

MAIN SET

2×400 moderate effort or race pace – 10″ rest

4×100 fast/hard effort – 30″ rest

COOL DOWN

4×25 drill

200 easy freestyle

TOTAL: 2200 yards

140.6 Distance – Swim Workouts For Triathletes

If you’re going to compete in a 140.6 mile event, you’re going to swim 2.4 miles. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned athlete, don’t be intimidated by the distance! You can train well for this swim without taking away too much time or energy from your bike and run, and get out of the water on race day feeling good. This is where your swim training should be focused on endurance and strength.

Intermediate* 140.6 Distance Swim Workouts For Triathletes Example: 

*This can be adapted for to beginner or advanced athletes! Simply remove or add intervals to the main set, or double a portion of the main set.

WARM UP

400 easy effort

4×25 build effort with each 25 – 10″ rest

4×25 drill — See below for drill ideas.

100 easy effort

MAIN SET

All on 5-10″ rest:

400 – Ironman race effort

600 as (75 easy, 25 strong)

800 – Ironman race effort

600 as (75 easy, 25 strong)

400 – Ironman race effort

200 as (25 easy, 75 strong)

COOL DOWN

4×25 drill

200 easy freestyle

Open Water Swim Workouts

Depending on the weather, availability of open water, and safety, it is always a good idea to do a portion of your triathlon swim training in open water. If you are open water swimming for the first time, simply getting comfortable with open water swimming, or trying out a wetsuit for the first time, just swim for time or distance. Work on good form and especially breathing techniques. Focus on sighting – looking ahead every 3-5 strokes at a specifically chosen focal point in the distance will help you swim in a straight line.

Once you are comfortable with open water swimming and you are looking to improve your speed, you can incorporate interval training. Since it is inefficient to look at a watch for time or distance while swimming in open water, and you don’t have a clock on the wall to check, you can either develop your workouts around stroke counts or certain landmarks on the shore. After your warm, up, try doing 10 x (30 strokes hard, 15 strokes easy) or 5 x (60 strokes moderate/hard, 20 strokes easy).

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Best Drills For Triathlete Swim Workouts

Why should triathletes include freestyle swimming drills in their workouts?

  • To teach your body proper swimming form. The best time to teach proper form is from the beginning, but anyone can re-learn and improve their swimming form!
  • To correct any problem areas, limiters, or bad form habits. Bad habits can be caused by starting to swim as a beginner without the proper knowledge, swimming after an injury, They can be developed because of compensating for a weak area of the body, or they can be developed over years and years of swim training using the incorrect form.
  • To FIND a problem area. For example, if you struggle with a certain drill, that is probably an area of your stroke that needs to be fixed, developed, or strengthened.

The best Swim Workouts For Triathletes are:

#1. THE DRILLFingertip. 

This drill will help you find the correct position for your arm during the recovery phase of the stroke. It also teaches body control and awareness in the water during the recovery phase, especially with the core and arm muscles.

HOW TO

At the end of the stroke, leave your fingertips in the water, then drag them across the top of the water with your hand close to your body and your elbow up high. Make sure your arm does not swing out too wide, your elbow stays high, and your arm stays controlled. Drop your hand in at the top of your stroke in front of your body, and start the next arm’s recovery phase, repeating the drill for the other side. Breath calmly to each side as needed. Keep your kick controlled and easy, or you can use a pull buoy to help you completely focus on the drill.

#2. THE DRILL – Catch Up. 

Catch up drill is an important drill for triathletes because it works on several things. First and foremost, it slows down the swimmer to work on control. The goal of the drill is to improve the distance per stroke, which is directly related to the efficiency and strength of the arm as it moves through the water. Catch up drill will help you make the most of each stroke as it pulls you through the water.

HOW TO

To do catch up drill, swim with a normal stroke. However, when your arm hits the top of the water at the beginning of the stroke (before you pull), hesitate and hold it there for 2-4 seconds while you wait for your other arm to complete it’s stroke. When the arms meet up on the top of the water, start the drill over with the opposite arm. As you should with most drills, keep your kick controlled and easy, or you can use a pull buoy to help you completely focus on your arms and core during the drill.  Breath calmly to each side as needed.  Catch-up drill can also be combined with fingertip drill after you master each of them separately.

#3. THE DRILL – Single Arm Swimming.

This drill is exactly what it sounds like – swimming with one arm at a time. For this drill, your kick needs to be consistent. Try not to kick too wide as you rotate to your side. Focus on rotating enough. Fully extend your stroke, taking long and efficient pulls through the water. The tendency can be to take short, inefficient strokes when the swimmer feels off balance. The goals are to improve your arm position in the water, develop better balance while you rotate, and isolate each side to work on proportionate strength and efficiency.

HOW TO –

For beginners, place your right arm straight in front of you on top of the water. Take a normal stroke with your left arm, breathing to the left side only with each stroke. After a few strokes, switch arms, or do 25 yards with one arm and alternate arms for the next 25 yards. To modify this for an intermediate level, do the drill with your resting arm straight down next to your body at your side. This takes away some of the balance and helps you focus on using your core and hips to rotate. To make this advanced, try breathing to each side, alternating with every other stroke.

For this drill, your kick needs to be consistent. Try not to kick too wide as you rotate to your side. Focus on rotating enough. Fully extend your stroke, taking long and efficient pulls through the water. The tendency can be to take short, inefficient strokes when the swimmer feels off balance.

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