Some Off-Season Swim Workouts

>> Monday, November 17, 2014

So about a month ago, I posed the following question in a forum on BeginnerTriathlete:

I don't swim much (1 or MAYBE 2 times per week), so what's a good workout to keep up my swim fitness throughout the winter? (To maintain Sprint swim speed and POSSIBLY Oly endurance.) 1500 tempo? 100 repeats? An occasional long swim of 2K+?

I had to quiet a few people who were stuck on the fact that I don't swim often. I had to comment back on the forum: "All year, I've only had 3 weeks with MORE than 2 swims, so if I maintain 2 swims all winter, that'd be stellar."

So I was given a lot of good advice and some good workouts (many of which I've since already tried). One of the first main points that people kept repeating was that I shouldn't be doing many (if any) continuous swims. Almost everyone was saying I need to be doing hard, all-out intervals.

So that's what I've been doing for the last month. Here are 5 suggestions that I've tried:


6 x 400 - Each set = 1st 100 @ 85%, 2nd @ 90%, 3rd @ 95%, 4th at puke pace. No rest between 100s, 60 second rest between sets.

You know that you are in good shape when you can do all 6 sets at equal speed....then it's time to add a 7th set!!!

What I liked about that is that usually when I do longer intervals (I do 500s a lot), the first 100 is pretty fast, the middle ones are my slowest, and then the final 100 is a BIT faster. I've never done them trying to up the effort each 100. I didn't do the final 100 of each totally at "puke pace" because I didn't want to die before the workout was finished. Oh, and I was short on time, so I started with 4x400. Here's what I did:

1:27.6, 1:35.8, 1:36.7, 1:34.9 = 6:15.22
1:31.8, 1:36.3, 1:35.5, 1:31.6 = 6:15.23
1:30.9, 1:36.8, 1:34.9, 1:32.8 = 6:15.49
1:31.6, 1:36.5, 1:34.2, 1:31.3 = 6:13.61

How's THAT for consistency! Killer workout. The 4th 400 felt horrible/awesome.


Nothing fancy with this one. I just did 15x100 with 30 rest. Usually, when I do 100s, I do 10, and they tend to get slower. So this time, I tried to keep it a bit easier from the beginning so that I could get through 15. Here were my times:

1:27.22, 1:32.15, 1:29.43, 1:28.88, 1:29.35, 1:29.42, 1:30.16, 1:29.15, 1:28.05, 1:29.53, 1:30.53, 1:30.85, 1:28.36, 1:29.09, 1:28.58

1:29.38 / 100 average

I balanced my effort well to keep the times similar, and felt like I did pretty well with that. I knew by the end of the 2nd one that I'd swam that too easy. And then after that, all 100s were within about 2.5 seconds of each other. Not bad for doing 15.


A ladder / pyramid workout. Oh dear sweet baby Jesus, I HATE ladder workouts. I think this was the first in a few years. I did a simple 100, 200, 300, 400, 300, 200, 100 with 30 seconds rest.

I tweeted about the workout, and 2x Amateur National Triathlon Champ and soon-to-be pro triathlete Heather Lendway tweeted me back:

Her workout suggestion would end up being 6500 of ladders.
So I don't think my final question was too harsh. Right?

But when I do ladders, I do them with the thought that "I hate this, so it must be good for me."


40x50 in sets of 5. 10 secs rest between 50s, 30 secs rest between sets. Sets of 5 done like this:

• #1: Easy
• #2: Breathe every 3rd stroke
• #3: 25 fast/25 easy
• #4: Breathe every 5th stroke
• #5: FAST!

I first posted about this workout a year ago, and I've done it a few times. I really like this one because it's not too mentally grinding. I could have maybe done another set (so I maybe should have). My final "all out" 50 times to end each set were 40, 39, 39, 40, 38, 39, 39, and 39.


This was the 2nd suckiest (behind the ladder workout). This was 9x200 with 30 sec rest. I averaged 3:05.24 / 200, with my slowest 200 being my 1st in 3:07, and my fastest being my last in 3:03. (It wasn't a perfect decline, but the times generally got faster.) Not a great range, but not horribly shabby either.


My first repeating workout: this was the same as my first workout above, but I planned on doing 1 more set. So it was 5x400 with the first 100 at 85%, 2nd at 90%, 3rd at 95%, final all out, with 60 secs break between 400s. These weren't NEARLY as consistent as my 4x400 workout a few weeks before. This time I swam 6:16, 6:17, 6:17, 6:22, and 6:16, which is 3 seconds slower / 400 on average than a few weeks back. Dang.

Here's another workout I have not tried yet, but sounds like something I could be interested in:

I often do a continuous fartlek type swim of 1500-2000m. Something like this (after a warmup): alternate easy/hard (or hard/easy efforts of 25, 50, 75, 100.....up to 200). That gets you 1800m. For longer, go up a bit more, or work back down to 25/25, which is 3200m total. For some reason I find these easier than stop and go repeats and my pace is usually close to my time trial pace for 1500-2000m with a lot lower perceived effort.

My biggest question for all of you is this: what DRILLS should I be doing? I'm afraid that if I just swim hard all the time, my form will start to go and I'll just be trying to "muscle" my way through the water. Any thoughts on this?

p.s. I asked a similar question in the BT forums about 3 years ago, and I posted people's comments on my blog. Click here for that post. It has similar sentiments with a few different ideas.


Keith 1:26 PM, November 17, 2014  

Holy crap Steve. I threw up in my mouth a bit reading those swim workouts. Even considering you mean yards, not meters, it's still TUIM material.

Drills. That's just TU material. Boring. I don't think they accomplish anything. I've been put through them all, and unless someone is watching you and yelling every other stroke, they're a waste of time.

I sometimes (often) think all these drills and intervals and ladders and such are because most people get bored just swimming. Which is funny to me, because I've never once been bored, and I (gasp) do mostly long continuous swims. Usually 1000 m, sometimes 1500. Then a few intervals. Cooldown. Done.

Anonymous,  4:09 PM, November 18, 2014  

Steve, any chance there's a Masters swim team by you? They're typically a great mix of people, from triathletes just looking to get the hang of it, to former NCAA champs. A good coach will help you tons with stroke technique and it's nice for someone else to have to come up with your workout. Best of all, swimmers are a pretty great bunch - our local team is known as a "drinking team with a swimming problem" - so post-practice 'dryland' makes all those sets well worth it. should have a list of places/teams in your area. Good luck!

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