Mid-Triathlon Season Swimming Tips

At this point in the season you should have much of your base training completed and the first few A-level races should be looming on the horizon.  It is now time to start doing more race specific sets in your swimming workouts.  In saying this, it should be kept in mind that even at this stage of the season, 50-70% of the work you do should still be geared towards aerobic improvements. 

            So, what does race specific work mean for swimming?  It is quite simple actually.  You want to do in practice what you will be expected to do in a race.  This means working on the three critical points of the swimming stage that rarely get any attention in practice (i.e. the start, the turns, and the finish).

            Lets start at the beginning... the start.  If you are like me, you want to get out in front of the flailing limbs that can cause so much damage at the beginning of a race when things are crowded and hectic.  This requires an initial burst of speed of about 30-45 seconds before settling into your race pace.  For this I would recommend the following set. 


5 X 200 yards on 1-2 minute rest between each 200.


            Start each 200 at about 85-90 % of your fastest pace.  Swim at this intensity for the first 50 yards.  Use a lot of legs and breathe every other stroke to one side.  Keep your head down.  It is unlikely that you will need to spot a buoy during this stage of the race.  After the first 50, slow down to your race pace; about 70-80 % of your fastest pace.  During this time, make your strokes long.  Periodically lift your head to spot something on the deck (e.g. a deck chair, umbrella, or kick board).  For the last 50, slow it down to about 50% of you fastest pace.  Finish each 200 as long as possible.  Allow yourself to recover until your breathing is under control, but not slow.  You want this set to cause adaptations that will allow you to swim hard for the first 30-45 seconds and then settle into your race pace without hurting you later in the day.

            Next are the turns.  If you can find a deep end to get into, put some sort of floatation device in the water and practice swimming towards it and making a sharp turn around it.  It is best to do this drill with a few people in the water with you.  Go as a group and try to get around the buoy and each other.  Do this set ten times while trying to hold a reasonable pace; not too hard, not too slow.  Rest about 20-30 seconds between each.  I usually swim a triangle while trying to make my turns as sharp as possible.  No breaststroke!!!!

            Finally, the transition.  Amazingly, as popular as bricks are in triathlon training, few people work on the T1 transition.  If you have a trainer, this is the easiest way to go.  You will need to ask the pool management if you can set your bike up on the deck.  I usually dont have any trouble with this for myself or my clients.  I would recommend the following set:

4 x 50 on 20 seconds rest

300-400 build to race pace


            Start with the 50s, swimming long and easy as a warm-up/recovery.  Then do the 300 or 400.  Start with the same intensity you swam the 50s.  Slowly build the speed and intensity until you are swimming at your race pace for the last 100 yards.  Hop right out of the water and onto your bike.  Put on your helmet and follow all the USAT rules that you normally would in a race.  With your shoes clipped onto the pedals, get on the bike and ride for 5-10 minutes.  Start at a relatively moderate pace and slowly build up to your race pace or slightly faster.  Get off the bike and get back in the water.  Repeat this set 4-6 times. 

            Keep in mind that these are just examples of what I do for myself and my clients.  Change this up to suit your individual needs.  If you have access to open water, use it!  If you dont have a trainer, have a friend come and watch your bike while you swim.  There are creative solutions to all problems.  I hope this helps.  If you have any specific questions, I can be reached at [email protected], or you can find my web site at www.highlandertriathlon.com.


Alexander Hutchison, PhD