2 Top Swim Workouts for Triathletes by Gale Bernhardt

Workout of the week this Wednesday features two swimming workout specific for triathletes.
Every Wednesday we are featuring a key workout to help triathletes improve their performance.  These workouts will range from improving speed, strength, flexibility, or endurance.  This week’s workout is swimming specific to help you improve on swim technique, speed, and stamina.  Check back each week for more swimming, biking, and running workouts.  Check out KONA Multisport for all of your triathlon equipment, gear, and supplies to keep you improving in your sport. 

Some Masters swim programs don’t include workouts geared specifically for triathletes, instead focusing training toward Masters swim meets. I’m sad for those triathletes because a good coach and Masters group can make swimming more enjoyable. In addition to the fun-factor, a good coach can help your swim efficiency and improve your pace.

If you use a coach and the workouts in the column look fun, take a copy to your next swim practice. If you don’t swim with a Masters group–no worries–you can still do a couple of my favorite workouts on your own or with your swim buddies.

Aerobic Swim

First, read through the workout and notice that there is no designation for yards or meters. Use the measurement system associated with your pool.

For this entire workout, keep your perceived exertion at easy to moderate.

Looking at the first swim of the main set, the 900 is more fun if you swim it with three to six other people that swim roughly the same speed as you. You will rotate the lead position in a single lane. When the leader completes 75, they’ll stay on the right side of the lane wall to allow everyone else to swim past. They’ll then join the group as the new last person.

Rotating the lead position makes the time go by faster, helps you practice drafting and usually creates a higher average pace than if you swim 900 by yourself (given the same effort level).

After the 900 is complete, take a one to two-minute rest interval (RI) (but no more than two minutes) before beginning the 600. You can continue rotating the lead during the 600 or select one leader for it and each of the remaining sets. During the 600, do three repeats of: 100 closed-fist swimming then 100 regular swimming.

Don’t cheat on the fist swims. Folding your fingers down and keeping an open palm does not count as a fist. Closed-fist swimming done correctly forces you to use your entire arm to catch water and can help increase cadence. When you open your hands after swimming with closed fists, it feels like you’re wearing paddles.

After the 600 is a 400 pull with a buoy and paddles. The 400 is followed by a 200 pull with a buoy and no paddles.

For the main set grand finale I like to work a few different muscles by adding backstroke.

Workout #1


300 to 500 freestyle, 200 to 400 kick, 200 freestyle (alternating drill 25/swim 25)

Main set:

  • 900 steady swim, change who leads the lane each 75
    One but no more than two-minute rest interval (RI)
  • 600 steady consisting of 3 x 100 fist/100 swim
    One but no more than two-minute RI
  • 400 pull (paddles and buoy)
    One but no more than two-minute RI
  • 200 pull (buoy, no paddles)
    One but no more than two-minute RI
  • 6 x 50 backstroke on 1:10

Goal of the main set: 2400 yards or meters of steady swimming at an aerobic pace.

Cool down:

Swim an easy 100 to 200 yards, choice of stroke

Total distance: 3200 to 3700

Negative-split Threshold Swim

I just love negative-split workouts. These workouts help athletes learn to meter their energy and not go too fast at the beginning of the workout.

Before beginning this workout, first determine the highest average pace per 100 you can hold for a set of three repeats of 300, with only 30 seconds rest between each swim (3 x 300 w/ 30 second RI). Call this your T-Pace.

Next, add 15 seconds to your 100 T-Pace–this is your swim interval or send-off for the entire main set. For example, if your T-Pace is 1:30, your swim interval is 1:45. You will push off the wall every time the clock ticks off one minute and 45 seconds.

The speed or pace that you need to be swimming during each swim interval is listed in parenthesis.

Workout #2


300 choice of stroke swim, 300 kick, 200 freestyle catch-up drill

Main set:

  • 6 x 100 (T-Pace minus 1 to 2 seconds)
    100 very easy recovery swim followed by less than a minute rest
  • 4 x 100 (T-Pace minus 3 seconds)
    100 very easy recovery swim followed by less than a minute rest
  • 4 x 100 (T-Pace minus 5 seconds)
    100 very easy

Cool down:

1-2 x 300 consisting of (50 catch-up, 25 right arm only, 25 left arm only, 50 “perfect stroke”, 150 swim)

Total distance: 2800-3100

Cool Down Thoughts

For some variation, you can increase the intensity of Workout #1 by having only the leader swim their 75 as fast as possible during the 900.

For those of you who aren’t strong swimmers, cut everything in half.

As your season progresses, you can keep the same send-off, but try to further improve the pace you swim during Workout #2. A second option is to retest your T-Pace to see if you can decrease your send-off time for Workout #2.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s