January is a great time to be a triathlete. Athletes are beginning to plan their seasons and ramp up their training with triathlon tips and tricks, the whole year stretches out before us with new opportunities to challenge ourselves and to take steps towards reaching our goals and realizing our full potential. For most athletes, the area in which they have the most room to improve is the swim, and this is the perfect time of year to get in the water and build the endurance that will help you to use the swim to position yourself for a strong performance on the bike and run. In triathlon, your fitness in the first half of the race directly impacts your fitness in the second half of the race, meaning that no matter how fit you are for the run, you won’t be able to use that fitness effectively until you are strong enough to attack the swim and the bike without accumulating an excessive amount of fatigue. Here are some swim sets that I’ve used over 15 years of coaching swimmers of all levels, from beginners, to age group champions, to Ironman triathletes.
1. 4×400 with a 1 minute rest interval. Swim the first 400 with paddles, the second 400 with paddles and a buoy, the third 400 with just a buoy, and the fourth 400 with no equipment. Depending on your fitness, you can alter the distance of the repeats to as short as 100 or as long as 800. Switching the equipment up provides varity and also changes up the workload on your muscles.
2. 8×100 with a 15 second rest interval. On the first 100, swim with a paddle on your right hand only, on the second 100 swim with a paddle on your left hand only, on the third 100 swim with paddles on both hands, on the forth 100 swim with no equipment. Repeat this sequence twice. For a longer swim, you can swim 200’s instead of 100’s. You can also swim this set substituting fins instead of paddles. This is a great way to improve your bio-mechanical awareness and your feel for the water.
3. 10×150 with a 20 second rest interval. For each 150, kick with a kick board for the first 50, then swim the last 100. For the kick, really go for it and kick hard! Get your legs going and get your heart rate up, then cruise the 100 swims at a comfortable pace, concentrating on long strokes and perfect technique. These swims help to simulate the feeling of triathlon swim starts, where your heart rate goes sky high and your way out of your comfort zone, and you need to settle into a steady pace while you swim.
4. 5×300 with a 45 second rest interval. Swim the first 50 as right arm pull, the second 50 is left arm pull, the third 50 is catch up drill, then build over the last 150 (think of it as 50 easy, 50 medium, 50 fast). This set was a favorite of my club coach, and I’ve been using it for years. It starts you off with some drills to get you thinking about technique, then you have to go right into a progressive 150, so you’re also building speed and endurance.
5. 8×200 with a 30 second rest interval. For each 200, swim the first 50 breathing every 2 strokes, the second 50 breathing every 3 strokes, the third 50 breathing every 4 strokes, and the forth 50 breathing every 5 strokes. This one challenges your breath control and bilateral breathing skills. Both of these are extremely important for triathletes! When you’re in the open water being able to breath off both sides is a great asset when you’ve got a swimmer to one side of you who keeps splashing you in your face. Also, having good breath control can help you to stay calm if you miss a breath when a wave hits you in the face right when you’re trying to breath. It’s no big deal when you have the confidence to take another couple of strokes and get back into your rhythm.
Give these sets a try and have some fun! Also, make sure to have the proper swimming gear when you train and race, check out my blog post on essential swim gear right here. Thanks for reading, please come back soon for more of my beginner triathlon tips!