6 Sets to Build Swimming Endurance

Along with swimming smooth, swimming with sustainability, or swimming endurance, is the most important skill for a triathlete to have. It does a triathlete no good to get out in front of the pack, swim strong to the first buoy, then completely come apart and struggle the rest of the way. The ability to sustain a high intensity is paramount, behind only smooth in importance. Having a pretty stroke for half the race and then watching your arms come off and float to the bottom of the ocean isn't terribly useful.

More: 4 Steps to a Smooth 1.5K Swim

As stated, a major part of sustainable work will be focused on maintaining smooth swimming. The other focus of sustainable swimming is being fit enough to allow you to get out of the water after 1.5K and blast up the beach, through T1 and out onto your bike.

These will be longer sets, much like your long, slow-distance runs and rides. Maintaining a steady pace and heart rate is the goal, not cranking it to 11.

Be sure to warm up before you go into your main sets with 200 to 500 yards nice and easy. This should shake the cobwebs out and get the blood into your muscles. You can also use active rest, 50 to 100 yards easy.

Please note that under set #2 there are many ideas for drill variation. Be creative with this. These are guidelines and ideas. They can be used on almost any of these sets. Many of the other sets also have variation possibilities.

Set #1

  • 3 x 500 - Sustainable pace, set rest
  • Total: 1500 yards

Much like the 10 x 100 strong set, this is an excellent benchmark set for swimming endurance. While swimming these 500s, you should monitor stroke deterioration, prevent yourself from dropping your hips, drive the stroke from your hips, prevent your elbows from falling below your hands, and avoid cutting your finish short. Your goal should be to finish each 500 at about the same time. You don't want to fade, you want to pace properly. This set is nearly 1.5K, and so it's a good test set.

More: Set a Training Benchmark With a Swim Time Trial

Set #2

  • 5 to 10 x 200 - Sustainable pace, set rest
  • Total: 1000 to 2000 yards

These 200s make a great bread-and-butter set for 1.5K preparation. They are long enough that you build endurance, but not so long as to be intimidating. You can't crank a 200 like it's a 100, but you don't need to worry about swimming too hard and getting exhausted like a 500.

Smooth Variations for Set #2

A) Mixing the 1, 2, 3, swim drill into the 200 set is an excellent way to get both distance and technique worked at the same time. I suggest doing the first 100 as the 1, 2, 3, Swim and the second 100 normal, while focusing on the grab.

Breathing drills are very helpful for sustainability. A good breathing drill is 5, 7, 9 drill. This is done by counting strokes and breathing on the fifth, then seventh, then ninth, then back to fifth stroke. It will hurt, but it will force you to smooth out your stroke and make it more efficient. Efficient strokes use less oxygen.

More: Proper Breathing Technique

Breathing on odd numbered strokes also means that you will be bilaterally breathing, or breathing to both sides. Bilateral breathing is important because you don't want to be breathing directly into a wave or another swimmer. Beginners should modify the 5, 7, 9 drill to 3, 5, 7. The goal is success, not failure. You will not get better through failure in these drills. You need to practice correctly. If getting all the way to seven is too hard at the beginning only do a 3, 5 repeat. Do not ego swim.

B) Incorporate the 5, 7, 9 (3, 5, 7) drill into the 200s the same way you would incorporate the 1, 2, 3, Swim drill, as 100 drill/100 swim.

c) Mix two drills into one 200. For example: 100 - 5, 7, 9/100 - Fingertip Drag.

More: Pacing Makes Perfect: 6 Ways to train for the Triathlon Swim Start

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