My Swim Workout- Building Swim Endurance for a Race

author : econway
comments : 1

The goal of this section is to give others ideas on workouts for specific purposes.

Try to structure all of your swim workouts around a framework, perhaps like the one below. The actual sets and drills that you do in each portion of the workout will change from day to day, and the distances and rest intervals will change as you improve, but the general plan will help with beginning to advanced elite swimmers.

Beginning and novice swimmers should spend more of their time in the Drills portion of a workout, focusing on form and technique, before they start to rack up the yardage in long distance/endurance sets. Power and speed sets should only be used when your technique and form have advance considerably. Swimming is the one sport where you do not gain much benefit from going long unless you really have mastered the form and technique.

That being said, we all have upcoming races and need to build up our endurance in the water so we can actually swim in those races. So I would recommend you start with a total workout distance you are comfortable with and structure a workout around that target distance. As you build toward your primary race, you can gradually increase the distance of your workout. Avoid the temptation to eliminate the technique and form drills from the workout in favor of long distances.

Here's how I like to structure a workout:

Warm-up - easy swimming, stretching, getting comfortable in the water
Drills - focusing on technique, swimming at a low intensity concentrating on form
Focus Sets - sets designed to improve your key limiter in swimming (e.g. endurance, power, speed)
Cool-down - similar to warm-up, stretch out following tough sets

As an example, let's assume you are doing a sprint triathlon with a 1/2 mile OW swim. You currently feel confident that you can swim a 1000 yard workout (not a continuous 1000 yard swim). Your goal is to improve your technique and endurance so that you can swim 800 yards nonstop.

Workout 1: Endurance focus, total yards=1100 (early in the training cycle)
Warm-up - swim 200 yards easy swimming
Drills - 50 yards side kick drill
50 yards side-to-side free
50 yards catch-up free
50 yards backstroke
Focus Set - 3 x 200 yards, resting 30 seconds between. effort steady, but not hard.
Cool-down - 2 x 50 yards, rest 15 sec between. odd lengths swim catch-up freestyle. even lengths swim backstroke.

As your workouts progress and your technique and endurance improve you can increase the distances in the focus sets. To keep things fun and interesting play around with the focus sets and use a variety of sets to mix things up. Keep the race goal in mind and tailor the distances and intervals to closely align with your race distance (e.g. for the 1/2 mile OW swim you want endurance focus sets to be at least 800-1000 yards in length by race day).

ladder sets - swim a series of swims in which the distance gradually increases toward a final goal. For example a quick way to knock off 1000 yards of endurance swimming is a ladder like the following set. Note that this method is good for setting a pace early and holding it. Swimmers might time the first 100 yard swim, then concentrate on holding that pace through the remainder of the set.

swim 100, rest 10 sec
swim 200, rest 20 sec
swim 300, rest 30 sec
swim 400, finally you're done!

Note that you can reverse a ladder, which can be psychologically easier since you get the 'hardest' part out of the way first. Often swimmers will increase the intensity on a reverse ladder until the final 100 is a hard effort sprint. This trains your body to finish strong.

swim 400, rest 40 sec
swim 300, rest 30 sec
swim 200, rest 20 sec
swim 100, finally you're done!

Pyramid sets can combine these two sets, going up then back down:

swim 100
swim 200
swim 300
swim 200
swim 100

Then of course are the straight interval sets in which you swim the same distance a number of times. You can do them on a time interval, or you can set a rest interval. With a rest interval you simply state ahead of time how much time you will rest between each interval. Rest long enough to catch your breath and stabilize your heart rate, then move on. This type of set is good for beginner swimmers who haven't yet learned what time intervals and splits they can do.

swim 10 x 100 yards, rest 20 seconds between.

Time intervals (in my opinion) are a better way to do a straight interval set when you want to start working on pacing, since there is a stricter constraint placed on your swim time. In a time interval, you decide ahead of time how much time you will allow yourself to complete each interval, including rest, and you stick to it. For example:

swim 10 x 100 yards on the 2:00 - this means you leave every 2 minutes to swim 100 yards. If you finish in 1:45 you get 15 sec rest. If you finish in 1:55 you get 5, and so on.

So, later on in your training cycle your focus sets might look like the following:

Workout 2: Endurance/pacing focus, total yards=2100 ( peak in the training cycle)
Warm-up - swim 200 yards easy swimming
Drills - 200 yard swim, each 50 do a different technique drill
Focus Set -
set 1: 4-3-2-1 descending ladder: 400 yds rest 40, 300 yds rest 30, 200 yds rest 20, 100 yds
set 2: 5 x 100 yards on a time interval (e.g. 2:15)
Cool-down - 200 yards choice easy swim

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date: September 11, 2004


Triathlon and marathon training, skiing, swimming, my kids and family


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