How to Incorporate a Swim-Emphasis Phase Into Your Training

Sample Week 1

Do this type of training for two weeks, followed by a recovery week.

Monday (Recovery Day)
Drill/Technique Work — Focusing on body position and efficiency

Main Set: 2 x 400 - (25 kick on front, 25 kick on left, 25 kick on right, 25 swim) x 4; 1 minute recovery

Tuesday (Strength Day)
Use Paddles and a Pull Buoy — Pull workouts are a great way to develop swim-specific strength and should be part of every triathlon swim program. However, using paddles can be stressful on your shoulders, so if you have any concerns about using them you should consult with a coach who can evaluate your swim stroke.

Main Set: 8 x 300 pull (30 seconds recovery between each 300)

Wednesday (Aerobic Day)
Longer Reps, Moderate Effort — Focus on great technique

Main Set: 4-5 x 600-800 depending on skill and fitness level (1-minute recovery)

Thursday (Recovery Day)
Full day off

Friday (Race Pace Day)
Main Set: 20 x 100, 20 secs recovery after each 100

Swimming at race pace with shorter recoveries will teach you to focus on great stroke mechanics under pressure.

Saturday (Aerobic Effort Day)
Main Set: 8-10 x 150, 20 secs recovery after each 150

This is higher intensity swimming at 1.5-2 seconds per 100 faster than your 1,500-meter race pace (what you would hold during the first leg of an Olympic-distance race).

Sunday (Aerobic Day)
Longer continuous swim 2-2.5K (or 20-30-minute continuous swim) either in a pool or open water.

Sample Week 2

Do this type of training for two weeks, followed by a recovery week, as either a separate three-week swim-emphasis block or as the second-half of a six-week block.

Monday (Recovery Day)
Drill Workout — Keep the intensity low and focus on performing the drills perfectly and swimming with a perfect stroke.

Main Set:

  • 12 x 50 as 25 drill/25 swim (10 secs recovery)
  • 6 x 100 as 25 drill/75 swim (15 secs recovery)
  • 3 x 200 as 50 drill/150 swim (20 secs recovery)

Tuesday (Double-Workout Day)
Swim #1: Easy aerobic swim
Main Set: 3 x 500, 1-minute recovery, may be broken (e.g. each 500 is swum as 2 x 250 with 5 seconds recovery)

Swim #2: LT swim
Main Set: 10 x 150 (15 secs recovery) @ 1,500m race pace

Wednesday (Aerobic Day)
Main Set: 6-8 x 300-400, 30 secs recovery

Thursday (Recovery Day)
Full day off

Friday (Anaerobic Capacity)
Main Set: 6-8 x 200, 45 secs recovery, hard effort

Saturday (Strength Day)
Paddles and a Pull Buoy

Main Set: 2 x 500-800 pull (1:30 recovery) — More advanced swimmers may use paddles.

Sunday (Aerobic Day)
Long repeats or, if the weather is still good, steady open-water swim

In all of the above workouts, your focus as always should be to maintain great stroke technique from start to finish.

During this phase, the goal is to truly become a swimmer. Read about swimming, watch swimming technique DVDs, recruit a coach to evaluate your technique, and go to a pool and watch elite swimmers in order to get motivated to put more energy into improving your form and biomechanics in the sport.

Pick a meaningful event to end your swim phase such as a triathlon, open-water swim race, masters meet or time trial. By participating in an individual sport competition, you will be able to learn a few tricks of the trade and will stay motivated throughout this longer single-sport focus.

Also remember to build your training plan around your focus sport (swimming in this case) and plan your workouts on paper first. This will help you emphasize the focus-sport sessions, and show up rested and prepared for the key training sessions.

During this sport-specific block you can learn a lot, improve, and take your swim fitness to places you haven't been able to reach before. We have guided athletes of all abilities through this training approach, and even in the shorter, three-week swim-focus blocks I have seen many visible improvements in their overall fitness levels and technical skills.


Paul Regensburg and Alister Russell are coaches at LifeSport, the "Official Coaches of Ironman".  Paul is an Olympic, Pan Am Games, and Ironman Coach and Team Manager. Alister is a senior coach at LifeSport, and has coached athletes from beginner to world championship athletes at all distances. Visit LifeSport.ca or contact coach@lifesport.ca for more information or coaching inquiries.

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