20 Week Olympic - Swim Focused

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Program details of the 20 week olympic triathlon training plan including details on the swim, bike and run routines.


  • 0.93mile Swim | 24.8mile Bike | 6.2mile Run
  • 1,500meter Swim | 40km Bike | 10km Run
  • By using this program, you accept the RESTRICTIONS AND TERMS OF USE
  • Use this program if swimming is your worst event OR if you love swimming and will have no problems with the bike and run.

Program Details

  • 3-Swim, 2-Bike and 2-Run per week (7 sessions)
  • You have between 5 and 9 hours per week to train.
  • An extra month - month 4 - (compared to 16 week program) to maintain your max over 2 weeks should you need some extra time and want to be extra prepared.
  • You will most likely train over the mileage necessary for the triathlon.  This will ensure that you can do all three events together. 
  • This program is based on finishing times of 'back-of-packers'  If you are new and somewhat slower, that is Ok.  If you do the times, you will finish the mileage.  Faster people with previous athletic backgrounds will do just as well or better on this program as you will be exceeding the distances which will make you better prepared for a good race.
  • Start this program if you can do Week 1's minutes fairly consistently with no problems or extreme fatigue.  If not and you need a running/biking program to start before this program, go to 'Couch to Olympic.'
  • Re-organize the program around to suit your schedule.  JUST REMEMBER to keep the short sessions and Off days around the Long sessions.  This will allow plenty of rest before and after the long sessions.  You don't have to do 'two-a-days' if your schedule doesn't permit.  Just reorganize this and train on 6 days instead of 5.  Although you will have to do two-a-days if doing the 3x program.  You will have better success if your two-a-days are split up in the morning and night sessions.
  • ALWAYS leave minimum 1-2 days of NO TRAINING each week.  Your body will thank you and will prevent injuries.
  • This program IS JUST a volume-builder.  If your new to endurance, its recommended to focus on only volume for your first year, the following years you can start adding intensity-specific workouts as you will have a good base.  BUT the following program is easily modified for intensity training.

Program training details and information following this schedule.


Month 1   

124-SwimOff32-Swim40-Swim80-BikeOff40-Run4h 48m 
226-SwimOff35-Swim44-Swim88-BikeOff44-Run5h 16m+10%
329-SwimOff38-Swim48-Swim97-BikeOff48-Run5h 47m+10%
417-SwimOff23-Swim29-Swim58-BikeOff29-Run3h 28m-40%
NotesShort SwimOffMed SwimLong SwimLong BikeOffLong Run  
Short BikeShort Run

Grand total:       19h 19m           


Month 2   

129-SwimOff38-Swim48-Swim97-BikeOff48-Run5h 47m 
232-SwimOff42-Swim53-Swim107-BikeOff53-Run6h 23m+10%
335-SwimOff46-Swim58-Swim117-BikeOff58-Run6h 59m+10%
421-SwimOff28-Swim35-Swim70-BikeOff35-Run4h 12m-40%
NotesShort SwimOffMed SwimLong SwimLong BikeOffLong Run  
Short BikeShort Run

Grand total:       23h 21m           


Month 3  

135-SwimOff46-Swim58-Swim117-BikeOff58-Run6h 159m 
238-SwimOff51-Swim64-Swim128-BikeOff64-Run7h 40m+10%
342-SwimOff56-Swim70-Swim141-BikeOff70-Run8h 26m+10%
425-SwimOff34-Swim42-Swim85-BikeOff42-Run5h 04m-40%
NotesShort SwimOffMed SwimLong SwimLong BikeOffLong Run  
Short BikeShort Run

Grand total:       28h 9m           


Month 4  

142-SwimOff56-Swim70-Swim141-BikeOff70-Run8h 26m 
246-SwimOff62-Swim77-Swim155-BikeOff77-Run9h 16m+10%
346-SwimOff62-Swim77-Swim155-BikeOff77-Run9h 16m+0%
428-SwimOff37-Swim46-Swim93-BikeOff46-Run5h 04m-40%
NotesShort SwimOffMed SwimLong SwimLong BikeOffLong Run  
Short BikeShort Run

Grand total:       32h 02m           


Month 5  

142-SwimOff56-Swim70-Swim141-BikeOff70-Run8h 26m 
246-SwimOff62-Swim77-Swim155-BikeOff77-Run9h 16m+10%
337-SwimOff50-Swim62-Swim124-BikeOff62-Run7h 26m-20%
423-SwimOff78-Bike39-SwimOffRaceRace3h 30m-30%
NotesShort SwimOffMed SwimLong SwimLong BikeOffLong Run  
Short BikeShort Run

Grand total:       28h 38m + Race        


Program Structure
  • Each Discipline has a short and long session per week.  Swim will have a Medium swim for extra focus.
  • The short session will be 60% of the long session, the medium 80% of the long.
  • Week 4 of Month 1, 2, 3 and 4 is a 40% reduction in duration to facilitate rest and healing. 
  • You only increase your duration on week 2 and 3 by 10% a week.  A golden rule.
  • Week 1 starts off at the prior months week 3 so we don't automatically start increasing duration after a rest week.
  • The last month incorporates your peak duration followed by 2 weeks of tapering so your body can appropriately rest and heal to get ready for your race day.  YOU WILL NOT LOSE PERFORMANCE!  So don't worry.  This tapering is very necessary.
  • If you find you can't make a day of training, don't fret...relax, your body will welcome the opportunity for rest.  Move it back a day, double up or just let it go.


  • Speed workouts - Do these workouts on the 'short swims.'  These workouts should include shorter swims with recovery in between but focusing on swimming fast (ex. 5 x 100s, then 10 x 50s)
  • Endurance - swim a straight 500, mixing whatever strokes in with your freestyle to finish, get your time, this will be your base for long workouts, as you build endurance this time should decrease (ex. 3 x 500 matching your base time each swim) Strength - these workouts include 'medium' distance swims (ex.4 x 200s with little recovery time in between), also mix in some other strokes and kicking. Try to include some stroke drill work in every workout.  Do the strength workouts for 'medium' swims on the 'swimming emphasized' program if your swimming needs most improvement.
  • If new to swimming, lessons or a master program will be incredibly beneficial to your swim.


  • I would follow the same method of warm-up from the run for your bike:  Start with a 5min walk, 3-5minute light, slow jog, 5min walk, LIGHT, gentle stretching, 5min walk THEN start your biking.  OR start out at an easy pace at a higher cadence of 90+ rpms for 10minutes (higher revolutions per minute) to get the blood flowing to your muscles.  Then spin for a few minutes at normal cadence at about 75% of your pace  Stretch.  Transition to your regular cadence and workout. 
  • On spinning, work on a high cadence 90 to 100 rpms (revolutions per minute),  this builds efficiency, try to keep your pedal stroke even and circular. A cycling computer will aid you greatly so your spinning is consistent.  A flat ride or just spinning on a trainer or in a spin class keeping the tension low will work.  For strength, ride with hills, spinerval tape, spin class, all will work for a good workout.
  • For cool-downs, slow your pace and increase your cadence for the last 5-10minutes.  Get off your bike and walk for 10-20minutes.  Follow with some light, gentle stretching, walk a little more.  Have a more intensive stretch later that day/night.  Cool-downs eliminates lactic acid, brings your heart-rate to normal and prevents muscle cramps.


  • Get fitted for a proper running shoe  at a dedicated running store FIRST!!!  A lot of injuries can be avoided this way...just ask us.
  • Avoid running on asphalt or concrete....find a good, smooth trail.
  • A good warm-up is imperative to a safe run.  A recommendation is to start with a 5min walk, 3-5minute light, slow jog, 5min walk, LIGHT, gentle stetching, 5min walk THEN start your run.  Doing this will get some blood flowing to your muscles before stretching.  NEVER stretch a cold muscle.
  • If you find that you start getting tired midway through your run, add some walking intervals BEFORE getting tired.  Example:  On your 30 minute long run, you get tired at the 15minute mark.  Try this: warm-up, run 10min, walk 2min, run 10min, walk 2min, run 10min, cool down.  Break your long runs up into 1/3rds or 1/2's with 2minute walking intervals before you get tired.  Trying to push yourself through a tiring last part of your run is a recipe for injury.
  • Cool-down.  Very important.  Cool-downs eliminates lactic acid, brings your heart-rate to normal and prevents muscle cramps.  Walk for at least 5-10minutes.  The more the better.  Do a LIGHT, gentle stretch session after your walk, walk some more.  Later that day/night, do a more intensive stretching.

Heart-Rate Training - Is it for you?

  • If you are new to endurance sports or maybe have been out of it for at least a year, then I would recommend the following:
  • Don't worry about it if you have no problems restraining yourself from going fast.  If you can maintain an easy conversation pace, not sweating or sweating a little, then there is a good chance that you are training appropriately and not pushing to hard.
  • WORRY about it if you find yourself always pushing too fast, inconsistent pace, you tend to 'die' near the end, sweating buckets or exhausted after your workout.  Check out the articles at 'Heart Rate.'  There are several other common methods, lactate threshold being another.  Typically for your first year, for the Karvonen formula, stay in zone I.  Long Slow  =  50-70%MHR (% of max heart-rate) and II.  Endurance =  70-75%.  Mainly in the second zone though.  This could be an RPE of 3-4 in the modified RPE (Real Perceived Exertion) chart.
  • Of course, if you have a years worth of base under you, then HR training will make you more competitive by training your body through the different zones throughout the week.  Essentially cycling volume with intensity.  This will increase your average pace as you will be doing tempo/threshold and interval HR training...HR rates above the endurance and recovery zones.  Typically you would train in zones above your endurance zone on your short and medium sessions while saving your long session for the lower endurance zone...an easy pace.  This method is called periodization training and lots of info can be found.

Bricks - Race Specific Training

  • See the cells with the 'grey' background in the final 2 weeks of your training plan?  These are 'brick' workouts.  As your volume starts decreasing 2 weeks leading up to your race, you will want to mimic the swim-to-bike and the bike-to-run transition back-to-back.  This is your race specific training.  Bike-to-run will be the most difficult. 
  • These sessions should be done at your zone 1-2 pace or 2-3 modified RPE.  We want these EASY.
  • Also what helps others for the bike-to-run is to tack on about 5-10minutes of running at the end of your bike rides using the Karvonen zone 1 or zone 2-3 modified RPE...a light pace. 


Strength Training

  • Weights are very important and most often overlooked for triathlon training.  We need to keep our bones, tendons and joints strong!  Strength training 2 times per week is a great injury prevention.
  • For your schedule, fit 2 days of strength anywhere in the program...just leave a day of 'no strength training' between them.  Just make sure you still keep at least 1-2 days of 'total rest' per week.

Other Notes

  • If doing any speed work or training at a higher heart-rate zone, do them on the short sessions.  Always keep your long sessions easy-going.
  • You will note that the minutes are not rounded to zeros and fives like most other programs, example: 32, 34 NOT 30, 35.  I do not round up or down as, in doing so, I would be violating my personal 10% week per session rule on many occasions for specific sports.  Plus its a more consistent program in my opinion.
  • OTHER QUESTIONS?  Go to the forum.  That is where we all hang-out.  We would love to help you succeed
  • Have program suggestions?  Would love hear them.  I recognize certain techniques will work for certain people.



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date: August 30, 2004