Swim Foundations

I’ve been thinking a lot about how triathletes approach swim. I hear often that people will go out and swim 1,000 meters and then be done with their workout. There’s no variation in what they’re doing and certainly no purpose behind it. Before you go any further you need to understand the swim foundations that make up a good workout.

Once in a while is it ok to grind out a 1,000 meters for time? Hell yeah! When triathlon races are anywhere from 500 meters to over 3,000 meters you bet it’s a good idea to get in some workouts that last the same amount time and distance.

When you consider running a marathon race do you train by running a marathon everyday? I hope not, because you’re not going to be very effective. Does it prove you can finish? Yeah, but I think everyone can finish a marathon if they want to bad enough. You often hear runners on the weekend say they’re “going for my long run today” because it doesn’t make sense to run a lot of long distances everyday. A lot of short intense runs throughout the week help build your strength.

So, here are few tips for becoming a better a swimmer.

Focus On Technique First

Before anything else, you need to have quality technique. I suggest hiring a coach to help you analyze and correct a few things that might be causing you to work harder than you have to. Once your technique is solid you can move on to the next thing, finding your base interval.

Find Your Base Interval

What is your base interval? To make this simple, I usually say your base interval should be whatever interval you can hold at a comfortable pace for 10 x 100s. For me, when I can hold 10 x 100s @ 1:30 with 5-10 seconds of rest, I know I’m in okay shape. When I can hold 10 x 100 @ 1:20 with 5-10 seconds rest, I’m in great shape!

Here’s a small chart to see where you fit in. There is absolutely nothing scientific about this chart. It’s based on over 15 years experience dealing with different levels of swimmers.

Set Length Novice Beginner Intermediate Advanced
5 x 100 freestyle 2:00 1:45
10 x 100 freestyle 2:00 1:45 1:30 1:20

When you look at this, see where you fit in. That’s how I would categorize you and where I would say you need to set your goals. If you can do 10 x 100 @ 1:20 I’d say you’re doing pretty damn well! If you’re struggling to finish 5 x 100 on 2:00 then you’ve got some work to do.

Build Speed and Strength

To build speed and strength in swimming you should consider breaking your workouts into smaller chunks. We call these chunks, “sets”. In running they’re often called intervals. Within each set is a variety of distances and intervals that challenge you aerobically and anaerobically. One of my favorite sets is below

1 x 500 Free @ 1:30 base (7:30 interval)
1 x 100 Free @ 1:20

1 x 400 Free @ 1:30 base (6:00 interval)
2 x 100 Free @ 1:20

1 x 300 Free @ 1:30 base (4:30 interval)
3 x 100 Free @ 1:20

1 x 200 Free @ 1:30 base (3:00 interval)
4 x 100 Free @ 1:20

1 x 100 Free @ 1:30 base (1:30 interval)
5 x 100 Free @ 1:20

Total yards: 3,000

This set is great for someone in the intermediate to advanced range. It challenges you aerobically and pushes your heart rate up a bit near the end. If you can do this set on these intervals I’d say you’re well on your way to being an outstanding triathlon swimmer.

If you’re looking at this set and think “holy shit, there’s no way”, then just knock a couple off the top. This set is essentially 5 x 600 but it’s broken up to be a little more challenging.

To conclude, hiring a good swim coach is extremely helpful. Not all triathlon coaches are good swim coaches, so be aware. I am not as good of a cycling coach as I am swim coach. I’ll tell you that from the start. I am learning and gaining a lot of experience every day. Hopefully your coach is honest with you and if you need a swim focused triathlon coach, we have two excellent coaches here with Victory Tri.

If you tried this set, let us know in the comments how it went for you!

Published by Bryan Monzon

USAT Certified and Swim Specialist.

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