3 Swimming Workouts for Triathletes

Michael Butler
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Workout #1: The Pace and Ladder Set

The first swimming workout will help you develop the ability to hold a steady pace for long distances. Essentially, the workout consists of continuous laps between 1,000 meters and 3,000 meters, using your top distance as your goal. Three to five minutes of rest between laps should allow you to maintain a solid pace for the duration of the workout.

For this workout, you will swim between 500m and 1,000m at your goal pace. To start, you might want to use the rest of the pool to help you increase and then maintain your pace. As you improve, you can swim the full interval without needing the help of the rest of the pool. Using a kickboard will help you maintain your goal pace more easily at the start of your training.

The second part of this workout is the ladder set. To complete this workout, you will start at the beginning of the ladder and swim down to the end. This process will continue for the duration of the workout.

To determine the distance of the intervals, you want to cut the number of swims by half. For example, if you choose a ladder set from 1,000 meters to 2,000 meters, cut the number of swims by half to reach a distance of 500 meters. Then, you’ll swim 500 meters, rest for two minutes and repeat an additional five times.

When training for a triathlon or even just your first or second open water swim, you will want to be able to do more than just paddle. You’ll want to maintain a rhythm throughout the workout and increase speed.

This workout focuses on improving your swimming stroke as opposed to burning as many calories as possible. It uses the alternating or side stroke to improve your stroke rather than crawl when fatigued.

Your goal is to swim 25 repeats at your top speed. This should be something that you could hold for around 40-50 seconds per lap. Don’t go faster than this, or you’ll be swimming tired around the pool.

Think of this workout as a means to an end. You need to have your strokes down to swim fast and efficiently. Don’t push through the workout and swim two laps of crawl or teach yourself how to do a breast stroke crunch. This is what your coach should be helping you with.

Workout #2: The Threshold Set

This set is an effective and easy way to jump start your racing fitness.

The goal is to swim progressively faster with perfect stroke mechanics at each interval. You have to work hard enough so that the time on each interval is close to the previous one. You’ll notice that your stroke will start to improve as soon as you have to work harder.

Take a pace judgement rest anytime you need one (a pace judgement rest allows you to get a feel for the speed you’re swimming at).

Start at 2 minutes. Swim at a steady, consistent pace. Don’t count your strokes yet. Don’t look at the pool wall. Swim at a pace that keeps you relaxed and feeling comfortable.

At the beginning of the workout, you’re using an aerobic energy system. This is the slow twitch muscle fibers. As the workout progresses, you’ll start using the anaerobic energy system (ATP system) which will give you a kick in the butt.

Every swim workout you should push a bit more as you build up to your 5K goal.

Workout #3: Race Pace Power

The purpose of this workout is to help develop efficient and effective stroke mechanics, better oxygen exchange capabilities, and a stronger aerobic base.

Begin the workout with 5 minutes of easy warmup swimming to get your muscles and joints ready for exercise. Then add in your normal Race Pace Workout. The difference is that you will now be swimming at a lower heart rate. Start slowly by maintaining a faster pace for the first 15 minutes.

Once you have been swimming for 30 minutes, switch to the Power Zone technique. This technique focuses on bringing the heart rate up and keeping it there. It is a similar method to the Cruise Workouts.

While maintaining the same strokes per minute and speed of your cruise, now increase your heart rate to the upper end of the aerobic training zone interval of 116 – 122 bpm. When you lower your heart rate back down, adjust your pace to maintain Race Pace Workout. Try to hold this speed throughout the length of the workout time.

This workout may be challenging, but it will definitely help you become faster and stronger for your next triathlon. When you have completed the workout, don’t forget to stretch your muscles for 5-10 minutes in an effort to relax your body and prevent soreness or injury.

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