How much do I have to swim?

How much do I have to swim? Why isn’t my swim getting faster? What kind of swim workouts should I be doing? These are some of the questions that age group triathletes seem to ask, time and time again. I see them repeatedly on social media sites. Most triathletes do not come from a swimming background, and they find bike and run training to be easier and less frustrating.

The answers are not cut and dry, which isn’t what you want to hear when you are struggling with your swim. Every athlete is different in terms of training and/or ability. When I started, I could not swim more than 100 meters without stopping. My goal at that point was to be able to swim a longer distance without stopping. I would see other swimmers who could swim all day without stopping, and their goals were bringing their pace per 100 meter down.

How much do you have to swim? That debate can go on for hours. Most age groupers don’t swim enough. The key for me is to see where I am at the beginning of my training, and slowly increase speed and distance each week. An important point that many athletes fail to think about is that the more you swim, the less tired you are when you get out of the water and on to the bike. This alone can give you an advantage because with solid swim training you will be less tired than many of the other athletes coming out of the water. Good swim endurance leads to a good bike leg, which allows you to have stronger legs and lungs for the run.

A problem many triathletes have is that they just do long, slow swims. They have no variation in their swim workouts. Varying the workouts causes adaptation, which results in a faster, stronger swim leg, and better swim endurance. You or your coach should be writing swim plans that have different main sets. Some swims should be long and slow and some should be short sprint swims mixed with slower recovery laps. Lastly, some swims should be somewhere between long and slow and short sprints.

If you are getting the same results year after year during races, while doing the same training year after year, perhaps it’s time to change things up. Have you thought about changing your swim training to improve your overall performance? What are you waiting for?

Those are my thoughts on swim training, what are yours?

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12 thoughts on “How much do I have to swim?

  1. I know very little about triathlon, and used to volunteer for them so they always impressed me, but I never thought about strategy! Like what you said about how swimming more will make you less tired when you get on the bike. That’s so interesting :))

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  2. How I see swimming: keep your chin down but don’t forget to practice lifting your head for sighting. Use a high elbow while keeping your shoulder low in the water. Hips up. Don’t worry about kicking. Improve your kicking. ETC.

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  3. Seems like you were reading my mind with this post. I loathe swim training, but can find some moments of enjoying it occasionally. I followed the Be Iron Fit plan for both of my Ironman races and quickly came to the conclusion that it was too much swimming for me. I too, went from barely making it 100 yards to being able to swim for an hour easily. I did much less swim training for my 2016 race than I did for my 2013 IM and improved by 12 minutes. Although I would rather do a just swim workout, I believe you are right about making sure the workouts have purpose. The drills certainly made my technique better and the better technique and the faster swim workouts improved my swim cardio and times. After reading the above, it’s nice to have validation that I am at least trying to do it right.

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    1. You are doing it right, I worked with a youth summer program as the assistant swim coach and the head coach had them doing drill after the drill. The swimmers were not happy they said “I have been swimming for seven years why am I doing drills”. They did it over and over morning for 6 weeks, the end results was with drills and swimming their overalls time dropped at the Championship meet.

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  4. Swimming training. A topic that is near and dear to my heart. I think you are on point with your article and great job on the progress you have made with your own swimming. Interval training is always great and I recommend doing kicking sets to both mix it up and build endurance. If kicking with a kickboard is at first challenging I recommend throwing on a pair of fins because it strengthens the ankles and helps your legs to stay in the proper position. Start with 4 x 50 with 30 seconds rest then build up to 10 x 50s. You can always increase the yardage and the distance.

    When it comes down to the actual triathlon you don’t want to kick very much because you are saving your legs for the bike and run so it is good to practice training with a pull buoy which takes away the aid of your legs.

    I could go on and on… Sorry if this all seems basic, but let me know if you ever need any more swimming pointers or training ideas!

    ❤ Alana

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  5. A great post again Wayne.
    Mixing up swim training will certainly bring some speed gains to those of us that have been producing the same swim splits in races.
    For athletes wishing for longer swim without feeling exhausted, I’d strongly recommend reducing the volume of ‘swim’ and increasing the ratio of drills in their pool time.
    For longer distance swimming, stroke efficiency trumps strength and fitness every time!
    Look particularly for breathing, balance, catch and pull drills.
    Paul

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