Fitness Makeover: Training for a 1,500-meter triathlon swim

Our May Fitness Makeover is a two-in-one bonus in that we have a training duo from Winnipeg, Canada. Russel Baron and Trevor Winzoski are new to the sport of swimming and are hoping to improve their endurance in a 50-meter pool in preparation for a triathlon this July that will require them to complete 1,500 meters in open water.

Both 33 years old, Trevor and Russel have supportive wives who allow them time to pursue their athletic interests away from their respective families. However, with only about six to nine hours of training time a week, they really need to maximize the yardage quantity of their workouts in order to see endurance improvements in the future.

Having already hired a personal coach to guide them in developing stroke technique and short drill sets, Russel and Trevor need to focus more on longer swims now.

Russel writes that in a 25-yard pool, neither he nor Trevor have any problem completing 800 to 1,000 meters freestyle with no breaks. However, when they hit the long-course 50-meter pool, its a different story. They fatigue easily, and find the prospect of completing 1,500 meters in open water quite daunting.

My first suggestion for them would be to train in the 50-meter pool as often as possible from now on. The more time they spend there, the easier it will be to traverse each length without getting fatigued. Even world-class athletes, if they train consistently in a 25-meter pool, tire more easily when they switch to a 50-meter facility until they adapt to long course.

You may not think so, but every flip turn or wall-turn that you do is actually a short break for your body before you resume swimming. This pause allows you a split-second chance to recover (which in the long run can amount to a huge difference in endurance capability).

Thus, a 25-yard pool, with twice as many turns required as that in a 50-meter pool, is a much easier place to cover long distances.

In addition, Russel and Trevor need to lengthen the sets (and ultimately the workouts) that they do. Initially training about 1,200 meters per workout, they should now be ready to increase their meters to at least 2000 or so. Additionally, their interval sets should be repeats of 200s, 300s, even a few 500s instead of the previously practiced 50s and 100s.

If their goal is to finish 1,500 meters in the first leg of a triathlon, then their yardage per workout should be at least 25 percent more than that, and their main set should actually be 1,500 meters whenever possible. For instance, a good workout with variations:

400 freestyle

Main set
3x500s @ 15 seconds' rest, descending effort


Ladder set (500, 400, 300, 200, 100) @10 seconds' rest between each leg


300 @ 10 seconds' rest
200 @ 5 seconds' rest
(repeat three times)

Swim down

Russel and Trevor are at a distinct advantage in that they are training partners with equivalent ability. This is a perfect scenario for building endurance! For example, they can challenge themselves with a nonstop 45-minute swim in the 50-meter pool, circle-swimming in the same lane, one behind the other.

This way, the leader is challenged by giving a free ride to the drafting swimmer behind him, until he tires and the drafter moves up front to take the lead (and offer a ride to the previous leader). This way, both swimmers are forced to swim a long distance without any breaks, but they can rest on each others heels and tag-team, pushing themselves farther than they would be able to go alone.

If you find yourself with a training partner who is of different ability, dont despair. There are still ways you can push one another. For instance, the faster swimmer can share a lane with the slower one, circle swimming. Each time the faster swimmer passes the slower one, she may slow down, allowing the swimmer she is passing to draft on her feet. Not only is she allowing herself the rest, she is challenging the slower swimmer to keep up with her until she is ready to resume her normal speed. While the slower swimmer sets goals to be passed fewer times, the faster swimmer can push herself to lap, or pass, her training partner.

Time in the water is crucial for our triathletic duo. While they can reserve their cycling for the weekends and perhaps try squeezing in a few runs in the early morning, they should really try and get to the pool five times a week in the months leading up to their race.

The only way to develop swimming endurance is to swim for increasingly longer periods of time, and preferably in a 50-meter pool. The effects of neglecting ones running or cycling are far less dramatic than neglecting swimming (most triathletes can fake cycling or running, but they fool no one if their swimming is sub-par!)

Finally, Trevor and Russel need to find time to get to an open body of water for a few practice swims before the day of their event. I hesitate to give them too many ideas in fear of angry letters from their potentially neglected wives, but perhaps a weekend family outing to a lake or ocean is in order, allowing the athletes their time in the water while their spouses and children enjoy the outdoors.

It is important to get used to swimming in open water if you are a novice, and both Trevor and Russel readily admit they are intimidated by the prospect of competing in such conditions. A few practice swims together in the great outdoors (where they can keep an eye out for one another while drafting close together) will give them plenty of confidence and sufficient experience for a decent first open-water race.

Training more and training together are the important makeover suggestions these guys need to take into consideration. They may not realize what a resource they have in each other, regardless of their ability. Aside from the mutually advantageous workout suggestions mentioned above, training with a partner provides a steady source of motivation, encouragement and (undeniably) a healthy dose of competitiveness that brings out the best in both of you!

If you are interested in being the subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and include a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.

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