Swimming Workouts for Triathlon Preparation

Whether you're planning to do your first triathlon or your 20th, preparation is key to achieve peak performance. Getting into the routine of regular swimming workouts to prepare for your next triathlon is a must to get your mind and body ready for your event.

The swimming portion of your triathlon may be as short as 500 yards (for a Super Sprint triathlon) or 2.4 miles if you are competing in an Ironman distance triathlon. When training, focus on improving your form and increasing your endurance.

Triathlete running with their bike

In this post, we're reviewing how to incorporate some key swimming workouts into your triathlon training schedule and share some easy-to-follow sessions.

Let's start with the basics, swimming workouts for triathlon training:

How long do you need to swim to get a good workout?

If you include swimming as part of your workout routine (whether you are planning for a triathlon or not), a 20-30 min session will give you a good workout. For most swimmers, this is at least 20-30 laps of a 25m pool.

Swimming puts less of a strain on your body than other forms of exercise training you may be doing to train for your triathlon. However, it still gives you an excellent full-body workout! It's a great cardiovascular exercise because it activates all muscle groups at the same time. Also, because it's low impact, it's good to do when your body is sore from higher impact training like running and cycling.

How often should you swim to train for a triathlon?

To get the most cardio benefit from swimming workouts for triathlon training, try to swim as consistently as possible. First, we recommend swimming for a minimum of 20 minutes per session, 3-5 times a week when training for a triathlon. This means 20 minutes of actual swimming time. If you take longer breaks between laps, increase that to about 30 minutes, so you hit that 20-minute goal.

Swimmer training with the FORM Smart Swim Goggles

Your aim should be to increase your swim sessions to 45-60 minutes each. These sessions will become a mix of swim and drills.

Swimming workouts for triathlon training

Working with a coach when you're preparing for a triathlon is excellent. A coach can recommend specific routines based on the skills and practice you need. But for those of us who are forging our training path without a dedicated expert, there are some tried-and-true workouts to help give you an edge.

Whether you prefer to be in the pool or training in the open water, practice and build your triathlon endurance with these swim workouts:

Beginner triathlon swim workout

Here is a basic 1,000-yard swim workout to help you get used to being in the pool. Make sure you push yourself, but take breaks as needed.

  • Warm Up: 300
  • 3x100 Moderate
  • Pre Mainset: 200
  • 2x50 Drill
  • 2x50 Kick
  • Mainset: 400
  • 4x100 as (75 Hard, 25 Easy)
  • Cool Down: 100
  • 100 Easy

Olympic triathlon swim workout

From beginner to pro, surges tend to happen at every level of Olympic distance racing. This workout will help you understand what your ideal pace should feel like and help you get used to changing pace comfortably.

When preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon, try this 1,900-yard swim workout to help practice pace variation:

  • Warm Up: 400
  • 200 Choice
  • 100 Pull with Paddles & Buoy
  • 100 Kick
  • Pre Mainset: 400
  • 8x50 as (50 Drill, 50 Kick)
  • Mainset: 900
  • 6x150 as (100 Strong, 50 Fast)
  • Cool Down: 200
  • 200 Easy

Olympic athlete Richard Murray preparing for an open water swim

Half Ironman swim workout

Your half Ironman may only be 400m longer than a standard Olympic triathlon. Still, this endurance workout will help you manage your pace over that longer duration. Throughout this 2,100-yard workout, focus on keeping your pace consistent, resting only 5-10 seconds between intervals in your mainset.

  • Warm Up: 400
  • 2x100 Smooth
  • 4x50 Choice Build
  • Pre Mainset: 200
  • 8x25 Sighting Drill
  • Mainset: 1200
  • 6x200 as (150 Moderate, 50 Strong)
  • Cool Down: 300
  • 2x50 Kick
  • 200 Choice

Ironman swim workout

Have you ever broken the 1-hour Ironman swim?

Completing an Ironman calls for some serious training. Ladder sets are a great way to make longer workouts more engaging while still maintaining focus on endurance for a longer event. Here's a 2,500-yard endurance ladder workout to help you keep focus and keep progressing:

  1. Warm Up: 300
  2. 100 Choice
  3. 100 Kick
  4. 100 Free
  5. Pre Mainset: 100
  6. 4x25 Build
  7. Mainset: 1,800
  8. 50 Moderate
  9. 100 Moderate
  10. 150 Moderate
  11. 200 Moderate
  12. 250 Moderate
  13. 300 Moderate
  14. 250 Strong
  15. 200 Strong
  16. 150 Strong
  17. 100 Strong
  18. 50 Strong
  19. Cool Down: 300
  20. 4x50 Kick
  21. 100 Choice

HIIT swimming workout or USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training)

High-intensity interval training is a great workout to burn fat, increase cardiac capacity, and train fast-twitch muscle fibers, and it's a great training tool to prepare for your triathlon:

  • Swim as fast as you can for 30 seconds
  • Rest for 15-30 seconds
  • Repeat as long as you need

Swimming drills for triathlon preparation

Building endurance is only part of swim training. By perfecting your technique and form, you can swim faster and longer. Drills are a chance to focus on improving or correcting your form.

Here are some drills and workouts you can do in the pool as part of your triathlon training:

Sighting drill

On race day, you want to swim as efficiently as possible, hugging the course markers/buoys. This means you need to practice sighting so you can swim and be mindful of what's around you. Here are three drills to practice sighting in the pool:

  • Swim the entire length of the pool with your head above the water. Focus on arching your back and kicking extra hard while maintaining proper swimming form.
  • If you have an empty pool lane, swim down the lane with your eyes closed and pay attention to which side lane line you bump into most. You can use this during your race to know which side to compensate for in an open water swim.
  • Practice lifting your head slightly out of the water to sight every 5-10 strokes.
Athlete doing a sighting drill

Stroke rate drill

There are several drills and exercises you can use to increase or decrease your stroke rate to optimize your form and speed. To start, know your average stroke rate per lap by swimming several lengths, counting your strokes, and calculating your average strokes per lap.

Then try these exercises to hone your stroke counts:

  • To decrease your stroke rate, try swimming laps with fins to swim faster and with less effort.
  • To increase your freestyle stroke rate, raise your head out of the water for a full lap. This will shorten your stroke.
  • Once you have consistent stroke rates, practice maintaining that stroke rate over increasingly longer distances.

Negative Split Pacing Strategy

A negative split strategy is where you swim the latter portions of your distance faster than the earlier portion.

To practice this, try the 10x 100 with 10 seconds rest:

  1. 1. Start at about 85% effort and hold that pace for the first five sets of 100.
  2. 2. For set #6, increase your effort to 90%. The goal here is to see if you can drop your time by a second or two.
  3. 3. For sets 7-10, increase your effort slightly for every set.

If your times are not decreasing, next time, try starting at a faster first set and working to increase your endurance.

Best triathlon training tip: Track your workouts

One of the best ways to improve your swimming workouts for triathlon prep is to track and analyze the data from your swim workouts. Using our FORM Smart Swim Goggles, you can get real-time performance updates displayed in real-time that also integrate with compatible heart rate monitors and smartwatches.

Triathlete analyzing their swim after they finish

FORM goggles display your real-time stats, so you can monitor your distance, heart rate, time, and much more without leaving the water. This information is automatically uploaded to the cloud to access later through the FORM Swim App to see your progress and connect with other swimmers.

We're sure your FORM goggles will become an essential piece of kit for your triathlon training routine! Get your goggles here

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