Planning is a prerequisite to success. When you properly plan and execute your workouts then your chances of success are higher. When preparing for a triathlon you need to train for all 3 parts of the competition. A triathlon is an endurance race consisting of 3 parts – running, cycling, and swimming. The most challenging of these 3 courses is usually the swimming. The triathlon swim distance is usually 1.5 kilometers but can be as long as 3.9 kilometers for an Iron-man. So, what exactly goes into preparing for a swimming triathlon? We dive into the swim workout for triathlon athletes and a few tips to help you maximize your training workouts.
How Do You Train For A Triathlon Swim
The triathlon races are categorized as novice, sprint, half Iron-man, and full Iron-man. Triathletes may focus on running and riding during training as they come more naturally. Some may also develop the tendency to only work their upper body so that they save their legs for the cycle and run.
Since triathlons consist of 3 different courses, it is essential to adequately train for each section.
You need to train your kicks when training as this gives you an advantage over the other competitors. Efficient kicks make you faster and help reduce the amount of energy you use in water. It is important to note that any swim style is allowed but freestyle is considered to be the most effective.
During training, it’s a good idea to mix up your workouts and use different swimming styles so that you train most muscles in your body. Swimming twice or three times a week should be enough. If you are completely new to swimming, you might benefit from swimming up to 5 times weekly.
As you train, recall the basics – Proper breathing, technique, forward reach catch, and extension. Then as you progress, work on improving your strength, endurance, and speed. Just keep in mind to train as you want to swim during your race.
Below are 8 swim workouts for triathlon, each with a specific goal:
Workout 1: Endurance/Technique
The main aim of this workout is to build your endurance in the water. Much as there are a few harder sections, most of it should feel easy or steady.
It is important to be patient with yourself. So, if you feel you didn’t quite get it the first time, try again. The key is to start slow but remain consistent. Interval training might also help as it builds strength while improving your cardiovascular fitness.
Distance: 1800 yards
- 100 pull at steady pace + 100 Drill at a steady pace with 5 secs rest
- 100 Drill in at steady pace + 100 Pull at a steady pace with a 5 secs rest period
- 2 x 100 pull at steady pace + 100 drill at a steady pace with 5 seconds rest
- 50 kick at a steady pace, 50 kick at effort level 7 to 8 out of 10 at 10 seconds rest interval
- 2 x 200 drill at steady pace + 100 pull at a steady pace with 5 seconds rest
- 50 kick at steady pace + 50 kick at effort level 7 to 8 out of 10 with a 10 seconds rest interval.
- 50 breast at steady pace + 50 freestyle at a steady pace
- 50 back at a steady pace + 50 freestyle at a steady pace.
Workout 2: Breathing Patterns
Proper breathing is important in swimming. Complete each breath properly by inhaling out of the water and exhaling underwater. This workout helps you harmonize your kicking and breathing while keeping fatigue to a minimum. If you learn how to properly time your breath and kick then you can conserve your energy while building speed.
To do a knuckle drill, bring your fingertips to the base of your fingers.
Distance: 2400 yards
- 300 freestyle knuckle drill on 30 seconds rest
- 200 freestyle
- 200 freestyle, 50 breathe every three strokes, 100 breathe every five strokes, 50 breathe every three strokes, on 1-minute rest
- 200 freestyle, breathe every 5 strokes, on 1-minute rest
- 200 drill, three strokes with your right arm (left arm should remain at your side), three strokes with your left arm (right arm should remain at your side)
- 10 x 50s freestyle, sprint with fins, with 1-minute rest between each 100 choice, backstroke or breaststroke
- 300 swim.
Workout 3: Pace Control
At first, pacing may feel a bit off. This is normal. But after you do a few sets it will feel more natural so don’t give up as soon as you start.
Distance: 2100 yards
- 300 freestyle, fingertip drag for the odd 50s, swim the even 50s with 30 seconds rest intervals
- 200 kick
- 5 x 50s freestyle, at a moderate pace each 50, with 10 seconds rest intervals
- 5 x 50s freestyle sprint, with 10 seconds rest periods in between
- 5 x 50s kick in a streamlined position, with 10 seconds rest periods
- 5 x 50s freestyle, perfect technique, with 15 seconds rest durations
- 300 freestyle, build each 25 with the last being an all-out sprint
- 300 swim. As you start focus on technique then increase your speed as you maintain that perfect technique.
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Workout 4: Kick To Tri
Kicks to tri help you advance your kicking technique and leg strength. To do a catch-up drill, leave one arm extended in front of your shoulder as the other arm goes through a full stroke cycle. For a superman kick, your face should be in the water and your hands apart, just outside your shoulders.
Distance: 2300 yards
- 200 free, 25 catch-up drill/25 free, with 30 seconds rest intervals
- 8 x 25s superman kick, with 10 seconds rest intervals
- 8 x 25s fingertip drill
- 25s six-beat kick, with 10 seconds rest intervals
- 4 x 50s freestyle with 10 seconds rest intervals
- 4 x 25s kick, odds on the left side, evens on the right side, with 10 seconds rest interval
- 4 x 50s free, on 10 seconds rest
- 4 x 25s drill, glide for a count of two when your arm enters the water, on 10 seconds rest
- 4 x 50s freestyle, on 10 seconds rest
- 4 x 25s drill, catch-up drill, with a 10 seconds rest period in between
- 4 x 50s freestyle
- 300 swim, with a 20 seconds rest period
- 200 kick.
Workout 5: Tri To Speed
This workout helps you train your sprints, which are at a faster pace than the normal race pace. If you master how to maintain your technique while sprinting then your pace training is almost ideal.
Distance: 2350 yards
- 200 freestyle, with a 20 seconds rest interval
- 200 pull, on 20 seconds rest
- 200 kick
- 50 freestyle with 10 seconds rest interval. Focus on good technique
- 10 x 50s freestyle, with 20 seconds rest intervals. Maintain a fast pace.
- 100 fingertip drill, on 20 seconds rest
- 12 x 25s freestyle, first six on 1 minute, second six on 45 seconds
- 100 freestyle recovery
- 8 x 25s, kick on your right side on the odds/kick on your left side on the evens, with a 10 seconds rest interval
- 100 kick
- 400 easy swim.
Workout 6: Threshold Workout
Threshold swimming is the fastest pace a simmer can maintain over a minimum of half an hour with no breaks while still being able to tolerate the buildup of lactic acid. The threshold pace is usually faster than the pace required to build an aerobic base.
Distance: 2000 yards
- 200 easy swim
- 200 x 50 shark (kickboard between your legs) or 50 kick
- 2 x 50 as 25 fast and 25 easy with 10 seconds rest intervals.
- 4 x 100 best average at 15 seconds rest interval
- 100 pull
- 4 x 50 hold 100 paces at 10 seconds rest interval
- 100 pull at 10 seconds rest interval
- 2 x 100 best average with a15 seconds rest duration
- 100 pull
- 2 x 50 hold 100 paces at 10 seconds rest intervals
- 100 pull at 10 seconds rest interval
- 100 kick steady
- 100 easy cool-down.
Workout 7: Aerobic Endurance
This 45-minute workout helps you focus on technique and improve your aerobic fitness. Building aerobic endurance entails swimming at lower intensities.
Distance: 2200 yards
- 100 easy swim
- 100 kick
- 100 drill
- 800 swim, at a steady pace with 30 seconds rest interval
- 400 pull/paddle, at a moderately hard pace with 30 seconds rest interval
- 400 fins/paddle, at effort level 7 to 8 out of 10 with a 20 seconds rest interval
- 200 kick
- 100 easy swim.
Workout 8: Critical Swim Speed Test
It is important to do a speed test so that you measure your fitness and test your speed. The critical swim speed test is considered the gold standard when it comes to measuring swimming endurance.
Distance: 1500 yards
- 4 x 50 freestyle at an easy pace, with a 20 seconds rest interval
- 2 x 25 freestyle at effort level 7 to 8 out of 10
- 1 x 400 freestyle maximal effort time trial. Ensure you record your time.
- 5 minutes easy recovery
- 1 x 200 freestyle maximal effort time trial. Record your time.
- 60 seconds rest
- 100 easy swim at a steady pace.
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Tips To Get You Started
Here are a few swim tips to help you get the most out of your training:
Drink plenty of water before and after your training sessions. This ensures proper recovery of muscles and removal of wastes such as lactic acid (4). Stay hydrated by drinking fruit and vegetable juices, chocolate milk, and electrolyte sports drinks.
Practice Proper Breathing
With swimming it is necessary to increase the oxygen supply when you are underwater.
While cycling and running, breathing comes naturally. You don’t need to seek permission from your environment to breathe. That said, it’s most important in swimming to have breathing that is well timed and rhythmic.
First, you need to be able to keep your face in water, then figure out when and how to breathe in and out. You should breathe in while your head is above water and exhale while your face is underwater. Don’t hold your breath and don’t inhale too quickly. Exhale completely while in the water then turn your head and inhale a fresh breath of air.
Focus On Technique
Proper form ensures your body moves smoothly through the water. Good technique ensures you move faster as there is less resistance. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you move through water:
- Don’t lift your head or look up. Keeping your head up causes the rest of your body to drop thus increasing drag.
- Avoid wasting breath by gasping for air every chance you get, as it means your head will frequently be close to the surface. Instead, exhale all the air from your lungs before inhaling again.
- Keep your muscles in your core, lower back, and abs tight as you move through the water and stretch your leading as far forward as possible.
- Keep your legs streamlined near your axis to move through the water faster.
It would make no sense to train three times a week but have pizza, fries, or burgers for your dinner every night. You need to fuel your body with the right foods – complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits. A proper diet provides your body with the energy you need, helps you build muscle, and aids in recovery.
Eat complex carbs to replenish the glycogen stores used up during exercising (2). Eat lean protein such as salmon, tuna, chicken, and beef to help build lean muscle mass and reduce the loss of exercise-induced muscle loss (1).
Get The Right Swim Gear
You want to dress right so that you are comfortable during your swims. Tight and unbreathable swim clothes can make you uncomfortable and less efficient. Invest in a good pair of swim goggles, swim caps, and training suits. You can always consult a salesperson or a swimming trainer about which swimwear best fits your needs.
Get Enough Rest
Much as you want to be ready by the time your competition arrives it is important to get plenty of quality rest. Training too much without getting enough rest wears you out and interferes with the muscle recovery process. This increases the chances of getting injured (3). Therefore, ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep every night,
Also, don’t stress or pressure yourself. Even if you don’t reach your target times, don’t get frustrated. Just try again till you improve your race times. Appreciate the progress you make every time even though it is small.
The Bottom Line
When done for fun, swimming is an easy and fun sport. However, competitive swimming requires more than just moving through water. It requires speed, endurance, and power. For a triathlon, swimming poses the greatest challenge. Training, however, sets you up for success. It requires effort, patience, commitment, and consistency. So, while it may be difficult, it is worth it in the long run.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit (2019, mdpi.com)
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing (2008, jissn.biomedcentral.com)
- Overtraining Syndrome (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports (2019, mdpi.com)