Do you actually consider how to structure your swim workout? If you are like most people, you probably make up your swim workout when you are already in the pool!
Maybe you know vaguely that you need to swim 2000m today or 4 x 800m… but that’s about it.
This lack of structured workout and lack of logical progression will not give you the best swimming you are capable of. It is important to learn to structure a session that will get your improving your technique, your speed and your strength as quickly as possible so you are not wasting your precious time.
What To Do In A Swim Warm Up
Most people don’t know what to do, so they simply do nothing. Some might swim 2 laps and think that it the warm up!
Olympic swimmers actually warm up for approximately 30 minutes… so let’s see if we can get somewhere in the middle.
The aim of the warm up is to warm up the body temperature, move the joints through their full range of motion to fully lubricate them and also to switch on the neural synapses in the muscles. Ie wake up the muscle firing capacity to get them ready for some hard work.
Here are some examples:
1) 400m easy front crawl, 300m pull ( arms only with pool buoy), 300 kick (kick board), 100m drill ( your choice)
2) 3 x 200m (150m front crawl, then 50m non “front crawl”)
3) 500m front crawl
During the warm up, also focus on lengthening the body, and lengthening your stroke. Focus on bilateral breathing and improving your head and body position. When considering how to structure your swim workout, pay attention to the warm up and do not skip it.
Structuring Drills Into Your Swim Session
After you have completed your warm up, it is time to do some drills. It is important to do these while you are fresh, not wait until your form has completely dropped off because you are so tired at the end of your workout.
8 x 75m kick drill, swim 25m ( Click here to read more detailed kick drills)
6 x 100m pull, 50 m swim
4 x 100m other drill ( zipper drill, catch up drill, closed fist drill), 50m swim
4 x 100m sighting drill
How To Structure Your Swim Workout: The Main Set
Have a 60 second break plus a sip of water. Then focus on what the goal of your swim workout is.
It will depend at what stage of your yearly training you are at when you structure your swim workout.
Are you in the base training phase? speed phase, strength phase or peaking phase?
Here are some example speed sessions:
10 x 100m sprint at lactate threshold effort. Concentrate on breathing well and maintain good form for each lap until the end. (Do not become a thrashing injured seal towards the end). Have 15 seconds rest between each one. If you are unable to maintain your form- you need to finish the set. Do NOT reinforce bad form.
10 x 100m Descending effort level. Have 10 seconds rest between each one
10 x 50m 90% effort with 10 seconds rest in between each one.
Here are some example endurance workouts. Aim to keep your speed constant throughout the session- working at 65% max, rather than sprint at the start then struggle at the end. Hold yourself back at the beginning and try to finish slightly stronger. You are practicing and learning pacing. And as always, maintain good form. Keep scanning the body to maximise the power of each stroke with good technique.
4 x 400m with 25 seconds rest between each one
6 x 200m with 25 seconds rest between each one
4 x 600m with 25 seconds rest between each one
To improve strength, you need to increase resistance. ONLY add resistance once you have developed a good baseline aerobic fitness and once you have good technique. If you add resistance when your technique is poor, you will get injured very quickly.
Try these sessions, focus on technique, breathing, and adapt them depending on the distance your “A” race is.
4 x 100m pull, 50m one-arm drill, 250m pull)
4 x 50m training with hand paddles with 10 seconds rest
4 x 100m with fins with 10 seconds rest
4 x 50m normal swim, try to replicate feeling
Do Not Skip The Cool Down, Post Workout
I know many of you choose not to do the cool down, thinking it is a waste of time. I know because I used to think this too. While others were cooling down, I had hopped out, showered, changed and was smugly in the car and on my way before the cool down had finished.
However, as every elite performance knows, the cool down is important to allow resolution of lactate post session and allow the body temperature to return to normal slowly.
It will help prevent injury and will allow for faster recovery so you can train just as hard the next day with reduced muscle soreness.
A cool down can be short, no longer than 200-300m.
Swim easy freestyle or some easy drills.
Take the time to do your cool down!
General Tips For Structuring Your Swim Workout
The above is simply a guide and you will need to adapt it to the specific distance your swim race is, your current ability and how close your race is.
Even though some people find swimming boring, if you have a structured workout, it is much more interesting especially when you identify what the purpose of the session is.
For best result make sure you write down the sessions, how you felt, your overall times and splits, so you can track your progress in your triathlon training journal.
Over time you will be able to identify which workouts give you the best results and replicate those. Remember though, to practice your weaknesses most.
Aim to swim 4-5 sessions a week. Those who train fewer than 3 sessions a week struggle to ever improve. If you simply cannot get to the pool enough, do extra swimming specific strength work like lat pull downs, chin ups, seated row, plank and press ups.
Never make the mistake of thinking “just swimming” will improve your swim. It wont! You need to be working on drills, technique and specific skills to get improvements.
Add in strength, speed and endurance at separate intervals.
All these strategies together will produce impressive results in you triathlon swimming. It is crucially important to structure your swim workout ahead of time in a logical manner and in line with your overall training phase.
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