Ed. Note—even though it seems ages away, in-person events appear poised to return at some point in 2021. Lauren Brandon, always at the front of the swim pack in any race, will join us over the next few months to guide you through your return to regular swimming, both in pools and out, as you get ready for a triumphant return to competition. This article originally appeared on Witsup.com, and you can see it here.

Swimming is something that we as triathletes need to do, want to get better at, but don’t always put in the required work to get faster. Most triathletes start swimming later in life, making them "adult-onset swimmers." Athletes in our sport tend to be motivated high achievers, and set out to master the techniques, drills, sets, and different tools to help them improve. The hardest part of figuring out this new world of swimming is navigating all of the articles and videos online, then choosing what information will actually help you get faster in the pool. One way to get faster is to make sure that you are setting up your swim week correctly by having a plan that features the specific types of workouts that will help YOU.

Workout Types and Examples

How a triathlete’s swim week is set up will depend on how many times they swim per week and how much they typically swim within each workout. I will go with the assumption that most triathletes swim three times per week for 2-3000 yards or meters each session. Once you have this plan mapped out, you can then put in place which type of workouts you should be doing each week. There are speed, threshold, strength and easy workouts that you can choose from. If you’re swimming three times per week, then it would be best to have a speed day, threshold day, and then finally a strength day day that has some easy elements in it. How about order? Generally, you'll want to put the faster/harder sessions earlier in the week, when you're fresh, and do your aerobic/strength sets later in the week, when you're tired from the intensity of midweek.

Image courtesy of Dylan Haskin

Speed

Your speed day will consist of sets with shorter distances such as 25’s or 50’s swum fast with more rest than on an aerobic day. You will want to go all out/max effort on these sets and really push yourself in order to get faster.

Example Speed Main Set:
3 x (4x25 max effort with at least 30-40 seconds rest) with 200 easy in between each round

Threshold

Threshold workouts will consist of a bit longer sets with 100’s, 200’s, or longer, with a shorter amount of rest. You want to hold a strong pace on these types of swim sets and they will help you improve keeping up a faster pace throughout your entire race. Threshold is probably around the pace you can hold for an Olympic-distance or 70.3-distance swim leg.

Example Threshold Main Set:
10-20 x (100 at a strong pace and an interval where you get 15 seconds rest after each 100)

Image courtesy of Professional Triathletes' Organization/Tommy Zaferes

Strength/Technique Days

Strength/technique day workouts will consist of some easy aerobic swimming with an addition of some buoy/band work in order to specifically work on gaining some strength in your swim muscles. What's the "band" mentioned here? Loved by coaches and feared by swimmers, a band is a cheap but effective too for swim improvement. Cut a 24-inch length from a busted bike tube and tie it in a loop. When the set calls for "band" work, simply slip the band around your ankles so you cannot kick. You'll love it!

Example Strength/Easy Main Set:
4x (4x50 with a buoy and band around your ankles with 10 seconds rest) and 200 easy swim in between each set of 50’s working on your stroke technique

Aerobic Days

If you have the time for a fourth day, adding in a basic aerobic day can really make a difference in your swimming. What makes a swim "aerobic?" Well, the term aerobic is a bit of a misnomer, but it's usually intended to mean "moderate effort." These main sets will look something like your threshold sets, but not as fast. Rest remains low to stress your endurance system. You will know you're doing these right if you're breathing is heavier than normal (but not gasping) throughout the whole session.

Example Aerobic Set:
5-10 x (200 moderate effort with only 10 to 20 seconds rest in between intervals; this is a fine time to include buoy and paddles if you feel your form falling apart as you tire)

Photo courtesy of Dylan Haskin

The Takeaway

Make sure you get to the pool at least three times a week, focusing on the types of sessions you feel like you'll need to address your specific limiters. Run out of gas during races? Practice aerobic sets and make sure you include strength each week. Plenty of endurance but no zip? Toss in some speed sessions. Want to make the leap to that next group in the swim? Threshold will be your ticket there. Enjoy these sessions and let us know how they go!