Triathlon Training Plan PART 1 | The Swimming Programme

It gave the framework, but now it is time to look into more detail about the different sessions outlined for each discipline.

Let’s start where it makes sense: the swim!

The Swim

As a beginner it is a good idea to split your swimming training into three sessions a week, with each one at a different pace.

You want to have a sprint session, a race-pace session and an endurance session per week.

? The day you want to do these is entirely up to you, but you can use the example schedule from the last post to begin with. Let’s get the first week going with a strong sprint session.

Sprint Session

The sprint session will be your shortest time in the pool, but it will certainly leave you most out of breath! It will last between 20 and 30 minutes including warm-up. Warm-up at a leisurely pace, focusing on technique.


Swim Warm-up Exercise Distance
Freestyle 200m
Breast Stroke 100m
Back Crawl 100m
Kick Buoy 50m
Leg Buoy 50m

The Session

For the sprint session you will need a good waterproof stopwatch or have the pool’s clock in sight. Stick to freestyle since this is the stroke you will most likely use in the event. Swim 50 metres as fast as you can, and check how long it took you to swim that distance.

Take a break of the same time. So, for example, if you swam 50 metres in 35 seconds, take a 35 second breather at the end of the pool. When the clock hits the 1 minute 10 second mark, sprint another 50 metres, trying to maintain your 35 second time, or indeed improving it.

After each 50 metres, stop for 35 seconds, regardless of the time it now takes you to sprint the 50 metres. Repeat this for at least 10 reps of 50 metres. If you feel you can continue while still maintaining your 35 second time, then add on some more reps. Eventually you will want to be doing about 12-15 reps of 50 metres at your desired time.

Race-pace session

This session is designed to help you get the right feel of the speed you want to be swimming at on race day.

A regular Olympic-distance triathlon includes a 1.5 km swim, which in a 50 metre pool is 30 laps, or 60 laps in a 25 metre pool.

For your first week, you might simply want to swim that distance and see how it feels. Time yourself, take your pulse (hold two fingers to the pulse at your neck, count the number of beats in 10 seconds, and multiply by 6 to get a rough beats per minute, bpm) and see if there is room for improvement.

Other than the odd check of your expected race time, over the 10 week schedule you will want to add a lot more than simply swimming up and down into the mix. There is no need to swim a full 1.5 km at race pace every time you have a race pace session. The point is simply to swim at that speed for a particular time and get the right feel for it. So on weeks when you do not do the full 1.5 km, simply cover 0.5 – 1.0 km and fill in the rest of your time with drills to help improve your technique and strength.

The following drills and equipment are invaluable to improving your swimming technique and you can chop and change between them to get the greatest variety and interest out of your sessions:

? The Leg Buoy

This is the solid figure-of-eight shaped float which you hold between your thighs, allowing you to focus on your stroke with only your arms as propulsion. The benefits of this include simulating a similar sensation to a wetsuit, to giving your legs a break after a long morning run! You will also feel the benefits in the strength it brings to your shoulders.

? The Kick Buoy

Used from your very first swimming lessons, you hold this float out in front of you, while you kick yourself through the water. Triathletes often struggle with this exercise, so it is worth your while putting in the metres for it.

? Single-Arm Strokes

Swim one length using only one arm, with the other held straight out in front. This drill will help you stabilise your tilt when you come up for air. Alternate between arms per lap.

? Fish with Fists

Rather than swim with your hands shaped like paddles, ball them up into a fist. The sensation will be very peculiar to begin with, but this drill will allow you to get a better feel of the way your arm propels you through the water without paddle-like hands, and will teach you to position them more efficiently.

? Paddles

The opposite of the fists – strap up and put a lot more power into your hands. The paddles will help you locate the best angle for the pull-back part of the stroke and also the angle at which your hands enter the water. They require a lot more power on your part, and can even be incorporated into the spring session if you wish.

With a mixture of the above drills you should be well on your way to improving your swimming technique.

The Endurance Swim

This session could be anywhere between 1.5 km and 5 km, depending on your current level of fitness. The point is to stretch your lung capacity at a slower pace than you want during the race, over a longer distance.

A very effective way to do this used at swimming pools the world over is to first swim 100 metres at a comfortable endurance pace, check the time, and then take a 5 second breather. If, for example, your time to swim 100 metres is 1 minute 35 seconds, stop for 5 seconds and take off again at 1 minute 40 seconds. Each 100 metres you cover should take within 1 minute and 40 seconds before you start off again.

So if, as you begin to slow, you are only able to cover 100 metres in 1 minute and 39 seconds, you will only get 1 second of rest! Calculate the distance you cover before you exceed the 1 minute 40 second mark and try to beat it the next time you do this session.

Take-home message

Your three weekly swim sessions should give you as much variety as possible to engage you and stimulate you. Keep your routine fresh by using different drills and by going to both ends of the speed spectrum, as well as in between.

If you are relatively new to swimming, you might also want to add another moderate session into your schedule, focusing primarily on drills and using the different strokes.



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