6 Sets to Build Swimming Endurance

Set #3

  • 4/5 x 300/400- Sustainable pace, set rest
  • Total: Varies

Repeating heavier distances will be beneficial. Different distances and different numbers of reps allow for different intensities. The goal for all of these, like the goal in the 3 x 500 set, is for there to be very little fade between each swim. You want to be swimming hard enough to feel it, pushing it, but not so hard that things are going wrong.

Smooth Variation: Odd/Even - Easy/Hard swim. On the odd numbered laps, swim easy. On the even numbered laps, swim hard. So you are repeating 300s, but only swimming half of it hard. Mentally, this makes the set much easier. Hard laps need to be done with a strong intensity. A variation on this variation is to alternate by 50s rather than 25s, so Easy 50/Hard 50.

More: 6 Workouts for a Stronger Swim

Set #4

  • Giant Ladder
    • 1 x 100- sustainable pace/set rest
    • 1 x 200
    • 1 x 300
    • 1 x 400
    • 1 x 500
  • Total: 1500yards

Giant ladders are great. You need to be looking forward to that 500 at the end, so you need to pace the "easier" 100 and 200 so you still have energy for the 500, but you don't want to dog the early swim either. Nothing makes it harder to swim hard than to start out too easy. You get lazy and complacent.

The most difficult part of the longer sets is staying within your body the whole time. It is very easy to drift and lose focus. When you drift your body begins to betray you and you lose intensity and smoothness. Stay focused. Monitor what your hands, hips, core, head, elbows and shoulders are doing. Do what you need to do to remain present.

Higher-difficulty variation: Climb back down the ladder. After the 500 do a 400, 300, 200 and 100. Blast the 100.

More: Climb the Ladder With Janet Evans

Set #6

  • 1 x 1650
  • Total: 1650 yards

This should not be a regular set. It's a good test to do every once in a while. The key is staying within yourself and pushing the whole time. Focus on nothing but the lap count and fill your mind with positive self-talk. Don't think, "Ugh, 40 more laps!" Break it into smaller chunks and think, "That was a good 200; Let's do another one."

Triathlon-Specific Sustainability Notes

For many triathletes the swim is that awful thing between the gun and the bike. Smooth swimming and swimming endurance are how you go from hating the swim to tolerating or even loving it. It's a chance to warm up, find your groove, and get your head right. Few things feel better than getting into T1 and seeing a ton of bikes.

But in order to be sustainable you must work hard and, counter-intuitively, slow. Strokes fall to pieces when they are done too fast. Speed will come, but it takes a lot of work and even more patience.

You are looking for a lower stroke count (less strokes = more energy later, remember?) in all of these sets. This will translate well into your open water swims. Long,smooth strokes. The sustainable sets are more important than the strong sets.

Try and keep this simple tenant in your head when working on swimming endurance: A stroke that looks as good at the swim exit as it did at the start is a good stroke. If you can do that, then your swim will be good, and it will get fast.

More: Adding Speed and Efficiency to Technique

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