12-Week Swim Workout Plan for Olympic-Distance Triathlons

If you want a basic swim plan that has you swimming 1,500 yards (or meters) in just 12 weeks, this column is for you. You can use this plan as part of a triathlon training plan or to simply boost your swimming fitness.

The plan in this column includes a minimum amount of swimming to help you complete your 1,500. If you come from a swimming background, you may want to add more warm-up or cool-down distance to each workout.

The workouts are numbered 1 through 24 and the plan assumes you will do two workouts per week. You can put the swim workouts anywhere in the week that suits your schedule, but try to separate them by at least 24 hours.

To gauge your workout intensity, let's use five zones described by your perceived exertion during the workout and your breathing rate:

  • Zone 1 — Gentle, rhythmic breathing, pace is easy and relaxed.
  • Zone 2 — Breathing rate increases slightly above Zone 1 and is slightly deeper. A conversation held after one of your intervals is still comfortable.
  • Zone 3 — Breathing rate is faster and it is more difficult to hold a conversation at the end of each swim interval.
  • Zone 4 — You are breathing harder, holding a fast pace.
  • Zone 5 — Heavy, labored breathing.

For this plan, you will be using the first three training zones. As you gain more fitness, you can increase the intensity of you workouts. Make all warm-up and cool-down segments Zone 1 intensity.

Weeks 1 Through 4

For workouts 1 through 8, make the odd-numbered workouts Zone 1 intensity and the even-numbered workouts Zone 1 to 2 intensity.

Week 1 - Workouts 1 and 2: This plan assumes you can swim down and back (50 yards or meters) in a standard pool. Although "yards" is used in each description, yards and meters are interchangeable. The first workout is simply swimming 10 x 50 yards, resting about 20 seconds between each 50. If you do not use a specific warm-up or cool-down, make the first and last couple of 50s very easy.

Week 2 - Workouts 3 and 4: Swim 12 x 50 yards; take 20 seconds of rest between each 50 yards.

Week 3 - Workout 5 and 6: Swim 14 x 50 yards; take 15 seconds of rest between each 50 yards.

Week 4 - Workout 7: Swim 5 x 100 yards; take 20 seconds of rest between each 100 yards.

Week 4 - Workout 8: Swim 500 yards straight through at a steady pace.

Weeks 4 Through 8

For workouts 9 through 16, make the odd-numbered workouts Zone 1 to 2 intensity and the even-numbered workouts Zone 1 to 3 intensity. The goal is not to maximize the highest intensity possible, rather include some intensity as you feel up to it.

Week 5 - Workout 9: Swim 16 x 50 yards; take 15 seconds of rest between each 50 yards.

Week 5 - Workout 10: Swim 6-8 x 100 yards; take 20 seconds of rest between each 100 yards.

Week 6 - Workout 11: Swim 18 x 50 yards; take 15 seconds of rest between each 50 yards.

Week 6 - Workout 12: Swim 6-8 x 100 yards, take 20 seconds of rest between each 100 yards.

Week 7 - Workout 13: Swim 10 x 50 yards; take 15 seconds of rest between each 50 yards. Take 2 minutes of recovery, then swim 10 x 50 yards, taking 15 seconds of rest between each 50 yards.

Week 7 - Workout 14: Swim 5 x 200 yards; take 20 to 30 seconds of rest between each 200 yards.

Week 8 - Workout 15: Swim 6-8 x 100 yards; take 20 seconds of rest between each 100 yards.

Week 8 - Workout 16: Swim 1,000 yards straight through at a steady pace.

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