Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts

author : Amy Kuitse
comments : 3

If you are a beginner triathlete training for your first triathlon, this article will show you three key swim workouts that you can use for your triathlon swim training.


I am preparing for my first triathlon season and have just begun swimming in the past couple of weeks. I started out with the goal of reaching a mile but I am now wondering if that is best. None of the events that I am considering has a swim longer than 750m, so do I 'need' the ability to go a mile non-stop? Would I be better off with just focusing on making my '750' as smooth/strong/fast as I can?

Answer by Amy Kuitse
D3 Multisport and BT Goldmember Coach

Welcome Aboard!  It is always good when we hear that someone is entering into their first triathlon season.  You will learn so much over this first year so ask lots of questions and take the opportunity to learn and grow throughout this year.  We have a lot of great information here on BT and folks with lots of experiences to share with you.

Let’s get your questions answered here regarding the swim.  Know that there are a number of different ways that you can approach this and that this is just one of several different ideas.  You mentioned that none of your swims are longer than 750yds.  You are wondering if it is necessary to be able to swim a mile straight without stopping or if you would be better off with focusing on the 750yds at the best pace you are able to hold.  In my opinion you will want a combination approach to prepare for your swims.  Regardless of the distance of the swim we need to complete it is important to have a combination of endurance and speedwork to prepare us for the distance.  We need a level of endurance base that allows us to maintain our effort and at the same time we need the speedwork to improve our pace.

In looking at having three swims per week you could approach them as an easy swim that includes technique work, speedwork, and a long swim workout.  The technique day could include drills to help you work on your swim stroke as well as learning mixed strokes and kicking drills.  There is value in learning mixed strokes and working on your kick.   A friend once told me the more you do things as a swimmer does, the more you will feel like a swimmer.  So invest in the time to learn backstroke, breaststroke, etc as well as working on your kick.  Yes, in triathlon we want to save our legs, but a good kick is also going to have positive effects on our position in the water, not just speed.

Below are some suggestions of swim workout examples for the above three days of swimming I have mentioned.  These can be modified for yardage and interval/rest time based on your starting point with swimming.  The idea overall is to be steady throughout your workouts and build strength/endurance from week to week so you see the interval times decreasing and the pace progressing.  Please note, these workouts are going to range from 1500-2000yds in response to your question and the information you have shared regarding your plan.

Note:  " = seconds
          ' = minutes


Warm-up:  300 yds, with every 4th length being back or breaststoke.  
MS:  8 x 50 as 25 drill, 25 free with 30” rest between (btw) sets.  Focus on good form for the free.
        6 x 50 as 25 easy, 25 hard with 30” rest btw.  Focus on good form and slow the pace down if you find your form falling apart.  Try to keep the pace of the 50’s within 2-3”  of each other.
Cool-down:  200 yds easy.
Total:  1200 yds

Comments for weekly changes over a three month period:
In your technique workout you could do several different things regarding working on mixed strokes and technique. 

  • This workout could be gradually increased to 1500-2000yds.
  • You could change the warm-up to include back and breaststroke and swim a mixed stroke every other length vs every 4th. 
  • With the drills you could change the 50’s to 75’s as 25 drill, 25 free, 25 drill.  This could then be increased to 100’s. 
  • The rest could gradually be decreased for anything you do in your main set, but you want to make sure that the focus stays on good technique. 
This workout can be used as a good active recovery day coming off a hard weekend of training.


Warm-up:  400 yds, and include a mixed stroke or drill every 3rd length.
MS:  8 x 50 yds as 25 hard, 25 easy on 30” rest btw.
        6 x 100 yds at steady pace effort so each 100 is within 3-4” of each other, with 45” rest btw
(Additional MS example :
4 x 75 yds as 25 easy, 25 moderate, 25 hard with 30” rest btw.
4 x 150 as steady pace effort so that each 150 is within 3-4”  of each other, with 45” rest between sets.)
Cool-down:  200 yds easy
Total:  1600

Comments for weekly changes over a 3 month period: 
Here your focus needs to be pacing.  If you need to adjust the interval/rest between to start you want to do this and then on a weekly basis work toward decreasing these rest periods to 5-10” while being able to maintain an even pace.  As you decrease rest you will also be working on increasing your pace so that you are working toward race pace efforts.  Continue to focus on technique and use the warm-up and cool down as opportunities to throw in some drill work. 

Remember that you are better off slowing down the pace to start to keep good technique and consistency in your efforts.  Poor technique is not efficient and only wastes energy for the bike and run.  Swimming the first three 50’s fast and then the next five 3, 4, 5” slower won’t help you in the long run. 

These workouts can also be increased to 1500-2000 yds and include 200’s as part of the main set.


Warm-up:  300 yds easy and include a mixed stroke every 3rd length
MS:  4 x (250 yds steady pace effort, followed by 25 drill, 25 easy with 45” rest btw)
(Additional MS examples:  (a) 4 x 300 on 45” rest btw
                                       (b) 3 x 400 on 60” rest btw
                                       (c) 2 x your race pace distance (750 yds) on 2’ rest btw
Cool-down:  200 yds easy. 
Total:  1700

Comments for weekly changes over 3 month period:
The long swim as with the speed workout is also aimed at pacing, but also building overall endurance.  Control the pace so that you keep efforts within 5-7” of each other and gradually work on decreasing the rest periods between.   Be attentive to your technique so you are being efficient and not wasting energy.  You could work toward having a long straight swim each week so that you are swimming 100-1500 yds straight.  This is simply a good endurance builder.

As you can see there are a number of different ways to approach your swims throughout the week and ways to build on these swims from week to week.  In all cases the keys remain the same, working on good technique, pacing and consistency to improve your overall swim.  As I mentioned earlier, the more we do like a swimmer does, the more we will feel like a swimmer.  The more efficient we are the more energy we have for the bike and swim.  It can be very helpful to get help from a swim coach or get involved with a masters swim program if you have this available to you.  This way you have someone on deck who can evaluate your swim technique and make suggestions to help you improve your stroke.

All the best to you as you continue to train and race in your first triathlon season.  Feel free to contact me should you need further explanation or details on the sample workouts above. 


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date: May 19, 2010

Amy Kuitse