How is Your Swim Pacing & Control?

Some triathletes have 1 swim pace. Many triathletes have 2 swim paces. Far fewer have at least 3 swim paces or zones. Being able to establish and hold different paces while swimming is critical to executing various swim workouts and becoming a better swimmer.

Recently, through our 1 on 1 swim sessions, we have been helping several triathletes become better at varying their speed and output in the water. While most find it challenging at first, with a little practice, athletes quickly become more in touch with their swim pacing & control.

Below we will suggest a few ways to gain more control of how you swim as it relates to pacing.


Zone Based Training for Swimming

Zone based training is commonly used among triathletes for cycling and running. At RTA Triathlon, we establish and re-establish training zones for swim, bike and run for all of the triathletes we coach on a regular basis.

Triathletes (or their coach) can establish swim zones by finding the athlete’s T-Pace. T-Pace is the swimming equivalent of a LTHR test for running or an FTP test for cycling. There are a variety of ways to test and establish an athlete’s T-Pace. Often time, it depends on the athletes experience, fitness level and distance they’re training for. We will dive into T-Pace more, including how to find yours in a separate article.

Unlike cycling and running, it’s tough to know just how fast you are moving through the water as you swim. Of course, you can see your split once you hit the wall, but at that point it may be a little late. This is why it’s very important to establish pacing control.

Whether you know your T-Pace or not it’s very important to learn how to control your swim pace. In other words (and very simply stated), learning how to swim at an EASY, MEDIUM & HARD pace.


Go By Feel

As mentioned above, because it’s very difficult to know exactly how fast you’re swimming WHEN your swimming, it’s important to learn how to swim by feel.

Learning this skill, will allow you to be able to follow the specifics of various workouts (in order to increase your swim fitness) and more importantly dial in the correct pacing for the distance (and conditions) on race day.

If you were to take your splits for your EASY, MEDIUM and HARD pace there should be a noticeable time difference between them.

Once you establish your T-Pace and subsequent swimming zones you will have an actual time target for each pace. But until then it’s important to learn how to swim at and control at least 3 distance paces.

Below you will find a few sets to help you become better at swimming as it relates to control and pacing.


Swim Sets to Practice

10 x 100 (:10)

Goal: finish within :02 of each 100 split from start to finish

  1. Teaches you to pick a pace you can sustain over this set
  2. Learn control and consistency from start to finish

* If you can’t swim the same pace and adhere to the prescribed rest from start to finish, you need to slow it down (next time) starting from rep #1.

3 x 50 Descending (:10) done as EASY, Medium, HARD


3 x 100 Descending (:10) done as EASY, Medium, HARD


  1. Have a distinct difference in split times for each
  2. Repeat the 3 x 50 / 3 x 100 above as many times as you’d like with the goal of making your EASY, Medium and HARD splits very similar.

BUILD – this means the goal is to increase your speed within the single swim distance

(i.e. start your 200 slow and finish FAST)


50 Build, 100 Build,

200 Build, 300 Build, 500 Build

Goal: pick a distance and increase your swim speed within that distance, starting slow and finishing fast.

Negative Split – Second half is swum faster than the first half

Example: 1 x 200

Goal: the second 100 should be swum faster than the first 100




  • It’s advisable to start your workout with a warm up and end with a cool down. This can be between 5-15 min or 300-1,000 yards.
  • Rest is stated in the parentheses ( )
  • Record your splits



Learn more about RTA Coaching HERE

Learn more about 1 on 1 Sessions HERE

Learn more about our Tri Club HERE

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