If you’ve been a swimmer your entire life, you can stop reading here! However, if you’re like the vast majority of triathletes, swimming is where you struggle the most. Let’s face it, humans are land animals. Swimming proficiently does not come easy, but rest assured there is hope. The preseason is an excellent time of the year to improve upon your weakness in the water and start swimming faster. Instead of ignoring your swim skills (or lack thereof), it’s time to face them head on with 3 simple keys towards your next swim PR.

1. Get a Swim Coach (or a friend)

Needless to say, swimming is highly technique intensive. Learning proper form and or revisiting your “swim technique” will go a long way. If your legs are dragging behind you or your breathing isn’t in sync you’ll pay the price by moving slower and feeling completely out of breath. Do yourself a huge favor and find an experienced swim coach. Better yet, find a coach who is experienced in working with triathletes and has worked with others with a similar ability to you. Your swim coach will be able to evaluate your stroke and should offer specific drills and suggestions to improve. It is recommended that you plan to see your swim coach 2 or 3 times over a few weeks so you have time to practice in between. This way you’ll be able to progress further and continue to build upon what you covered in your first session.

Many swim coaches will offer video analysis if you ask. Whether it’s done underwater or solely from the pool deck, there is nothing more valuable than seeing you on tape. Often time, when working with athletes in the water, allowing the person to see themselves enables faster progression and brings about awareness to small annoying technique flaws they didn’t realize they are doing.

Are you on a tight budget? If hiring a swim coach is not in your cards, consider asking a friend or training partner to tape you. You can do this by using a smart phone or a similar device. This way you can use the video to help identify & correct your own technique flaws. Finding drills online to improve your shortcomings is easy with a simple Google search.

Tip: You may want to consider finding a swim coach who is not necessarily a life-time swimmer or Olympic gold medalist. Sometimes athletes find it easier to relate to and learn from someone who once struggled in a similar manner.

2. Swim with a Purpose

Jumping in the pool and swimming endlessly for an hour is a waste of time. If there is no purpose to your “workout” or swim routine then how do you expect to improve? Each time you swim, it is important to always begin with a warm up and end with a cool down. This is nonnegotiable. Your warm up and cool down are also a good time to drill and work on technique. The next part of your workout is commonly referred to as the Main Set. This will vary based upon the purpose of the particular workout and the phase in your training cycle. Generally speaking, you will have easy, moderate/tempo & hard/interval days. Each serves a different purpose, but collectively all of them will put you on the fast track to your next swim PR. Below is an example for each type of swim.

EASY-“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” –Vince Lombardi

WU: 10×50 [25 swim, 25 drill] (:10 rest after each 50)

MS: Swim Easy 300 / 400 / 500 / 600 (:20 rest after each) – Focus on PERFECT form

CD: 4×75 [1 & 3 drill, 2 & 4 swim] (:10 rest after each)

TOTAL: 2,600

Forcing yourself to swim slow, will help promote good form and proper technique. Maintain focus during these set and don’t let your mind wander.

Tip: “Easy” should be at least :10 seconds slower than your “race pace.”

TEMPO–“The pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.” – Sarah Bombell (Swimmer)

WU: 2x[200 swim, 100 drill, 100 kick] (:10 rest after each)

MS: 2x[100 / 200 / 300] Swim @ Race Pace (:20 rest after each)

CD: 4×100 [50 drill, 50 swim] (:10 rest after each 100)

TOTAL: 2,400

Tip: “Race pace” can be determined by doing a 500yd or 1000yd TT and taking your average 100 yard pace. You should swim as hard as you can for the duration of the TT effort. It’s a good idea to do a swim TT every 5-7 weeks in order to adjust your target pace as you progress.

HARD “No Pain, No Gain!”

WU: 200 swim, 2x[50 drill (:15), 50 kick (:15), 50 drill (:15)], 200 swim
MS: 3×100 (*rest), 6×50 (rest), 12×25 (rest)
CD: 8×50 [25 drill, 25 EZ] (:10 rest after each 50)

TOTAL: 2,000

Tip: Hard means HARD. This should be noticeably faster than “race pace.” *Your rest time should be equal to the amount of time it takes to complete the distance you are swimming. (i.e. if you swim 50 yards in :45 seconds, rest for :45 seconds following those 50 yards)

3. Frequency is Key

Technique can be improved and proper workouts are easy to design, but unless you’re getting in the water regularly, YOU WILL NOT IMPROVE. It is impossible to get better at anything if you do not practice. If you are looking to better your swimming ability one or two times a week will not cut it. Three times a week is ok, but you’ll really start to see gains when you’re in the water four or five times each week.

It is not necessarily important to swim for 75-90 minutes each time. Although more time and more yardage in the pool will certainly lead to results, it’s important that swimming does not become a dreaded chore. So how much time should you spend in the water each time you swim? The answer to this question depends upon your time constraints for that day/week. If you only have 20 or 30 minutes, that’s fine, but 45-60 minutes is perfect. ANYTHING is better than nothing. If you have a little extra time, go for longer, but don’t overdo it either. As long as you are getting in the water frequently and you don’t go several days between each swim, you will be on the right track. It’s all about muscle memory, repetition and comfort in the water.

Here’s to Swimming Faster

Your preseason is the perfect time of year to dedicate to improving your swim. If you follow the 3 keys outlined above and remain diligent about getting in the water frequently, you will undoubtedly see results this season… and more bikes in T1.


  • lori campeau says:

    Thanks for the input. That was good advice. Is there any weight training I can do to help with my arms for the swmimming part?

    • Chris Kaplanis says:

      Thanks! 2 things for helping with swim strength.
      1. Swimming with small paddles & a pull buoy will strengthen & recruit the most swim specific muscles. This requires no extra time in the gym. Just add paddles to your swim workouts 1-2 times per week. We like the Finis Agility paddles which you can get on Amazon.
      2. For weight training in the gym, any back, shoulder and/or tricep exercise will help. Push ups and pull ups are a great place to start and required minimal equipment.

      Hope this helps!

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