Instead of suffering through the swim to get to the bike and run, learn to embrace this first crucial leg and set yourself up for a successful triathlon.

Instead of suffering through the swim to get to the bike and run, learn to embrace this first crucial leg and set yourself up for a successful triathlon.

Having confidence and speed in the swim kicks off your race in a positive direction. Instead of playing catch-up once you get out of the water, this six-week program will help you supercharge your freestyle stroke so you can ride and run with the best of them.

This plan should work as a complement to your bike and run training. Identify the key swim workouts and plan your other training to not leave you excessively fatigued for the key swim days.

Swim as your first workout of the day whenever possible so you are fresh and get the most out of the session.

About the program

Swims listed are 2000–3000 in length. Before beginning this program, you should already be comfortable swimming three times per week, 2000–3000 per practice.

During most weeks, there are five workouts listed. If you need to swim less or more, increase or decrease the main set up to 30 percent. It is important that you plan for the proper warm-up and cool-down—don’t cut corners there. If you need one fewer swimming day, take Monday off. Also, if you have shoulder issues, avoid using paddles.

Weeks 3 and 6 are lower volume to allow for some recovery. You should coordinate these weeks with your bike and run recovery week as well.

Pacing goals for the swim sets are based on your goal 1500 pace (to approximate an Olympic-distance triathlon swim). If you are unsure of your goal pace, swim a 1500 for time, pacing it out at your very best effort. Set a training goal to swim 30 seconds to 1 minute faster than this. Calculate what your average pace per 100 would be to achieve your 1500 goal (i.e., if you swim 31:00, set a goal of 30:00, or 2:00/100 yards). In week 3, when you swim an 800 time trial, you may reassess that goal if you have improved significantly.

This program emphasizes six kinds of swims:

1. Technique/recovery
On Monday, which is a classic recovery day, the focus is on technique and easy, efficient swimming.

2. Pace work
This swim works primarily on achieving your goal 1500 time. You gradually work toward more volume at goal pace. This is useful for learning even pacing.

3. DPS/technique
DPS is “distance per stroke.” Reducing the number of strokes per length means you are pulling more water and gliding more efficiently.

4. Aerobic power
These are sustained sets of aerobic swimming that build endurance. Swimming is slightly slower than goal 1500 pace, but still at a firm, steady rhythm and challenging effort level.

5. Strength and open-water swim skills
This can be done in open water or in the pool, ideally with training partners. Incorporate wetsuit swimming, open-water skills and pull buoy and paddle swimming.

6. Time trial Practice
Your “race warm-up”and then swim time trials to build fitness, learn pacing and gauge progress. There are some 400 time trials associated with the aerobic power days, and longer time trials on your lower volume weeks to take advantage of a rested body.

Pool drills listed in the program:

» 6 Kick*
Without a kickboard, kick on your side with your lead hand forward in a glide position, and opposite hand at your side by your thigh. After six kicks, take a stroke and switch sides. Repeat. This drill works on body rotation, alignment and balance. Keep your body in line and the palm of your hand, lat muscle and hip toward the bottom of the pool. Try not to turn your head more than necessary when breathing.

» Corkscrew
Alternating freestyle and backstroke for the indicated number of strokes—for instance, “free 6/backstroke 5.” Feel the stretch and strong arm pull as you propel yourself from your front (freestyle) onto your back (into backstroke) and when you go from back to front again. Try to be tall and aligned as you rotate from front to back to front.

» Single Arm*
Swim freestyle with only one arm. There are two options here: The non-swimming arm is either at your hip (advanced), or stays extended at the front in a glide position (beginner). Alternate 25 left arm, 25 right arm.

» Closed Fist
Swim regular freestyle but close both hands into a fist. This forces you to use your forearm and inside bicep as a paddle rather than relying only on your hands.

» Pause 1, Pause 3, Pause 5
With these drills you pause at the finish or push phase of your stroke for approximately 1⁄2- 3⁄4 second with your hand by your upper thigh. This makes sure you are fully finishing the push phase of your stroke and gives you time to rotate into a proper extended glide position, which you can then try to emulate within your regular freestyle. Pause 1 has a split-second pause every stroke, while Pause 3 is every third stroke, and Pause 5 is every fifth.

» Pause 1 with Closed Fist
This combines Closed Fist Drill with Pause 1.

*Some less experienced athletes may need fins for these drills.

Build Open-water Skills

Sighting: Do some “head-up freestyle” in the pool, lifting your goggles, nose and then chin for up to a 50. Increase your kick slightly as you sight.

Starts: In the pool, try timed 50s with a deep-water, or floating, start with no push off the wall. Position your body horizontally with your feet near the surface while floating on your stomach; this will help to give you maximum acceleration. When practicing a beach start, lift your feet and knees above the water as you run. Think about how the trailing leg of a hurdler clears a hurdle. When you dive into the water, create a streamlined position and break the surface with 10–15 strokes of a quick sprint, keeping your head low.

Exits: Swim until you can touch the bottom, or if possible, utilize dolphin dives until the water is just above your knees then run to exit the water. Initially, try this alone at 80 percent of maximum speed, then work up to doing it at 100 percent.

Drafting: Drafting in open water will eliminate drag by 20–30 percent. In the pool, experiment with swimming on someone’s hip or feet (just be sure to ask them first!). Try to have a couple of simple tech- nical reminders that bring your focus back to key elements of your stroke.

Your Race Warm-up

If possible, get in the water for 10–15 minutes before your race. Start out with a nice, easy 3–4 minutes of swimming. Do two or three sets of 20 to 30 strokes of drills followed by some pick-ups to engage your muscles in a race-specific range of motion, and to get your blood pumping. You should also use this time to familiarize yourself with the course. What are you going to be looking for toward the water exit? Is there a large buoy that is easy to see, or a tall building or tree that would be better for sighting purposes? Finish your warm-up with a few good exhales and some confidence-building thoughts.

Coaching Abbreviations/Terminology

WU = warm-up | MS = main set | CD = cool-down | OW = open-water | D = drill | k = kick | Free = freestyle | Non-free = backstroke, breast stroke or butterfly. | P = pull | Ppdl = pull with paddles | DPS = distance per stroke | X’ = X minutes, i.e. 3’ | X” = X seconds, i.e. 30” | (brackets) = time indication for rest in between intervals or tasks, i.e. 4 x 3’ (2’) | F = Fast | eZ = easy | TT= time trial | Alt = alternate | HR = heart rate

Week 1

Monday
Swim: Technique/recovery, 2000. WU: 200 free. MS: 8×100 alt drill and free. 4×50 K. 6×100 alt drill and free. Keep it aerobic and take as much rest as needed. CD: 200 non-free. Drills: 6 Kick, Closed Fist, Corkscrew (free 6/backstroke 5).

Tuesday
Swim: Pace work, 3000. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K), 4×50 surge as 20 F/30 EZ. MS: 20×100 (15”) at goal 1500 pace + :02/100. CD: 200 choice. Drills: Single Arm, Pause 1.
*Performance Pointer* Tuesday and Friday are your most intense and impactful swim sessions of the week. Plan your bike and run training to make sure you are rested for these swim workouts.

Wednesday
Day off

Thursday
Swim: DPS and technique, 3000. WU: 2x(100 free, 4×50 D/free). MS: 3 x [4×50 D (15”) 8×50 (15”) DPS. Count strokes and time.]. 6×50 K (20”) descend 1-3. CD: 100 free, 100 non-free, 100 free. Drills: Pause 1, Pause 3.
*Performance Pointer* DPS swimming isn’t easy swimming. The idea is to go as fast as possible with a low stroke count. This means slowing your stroke down, and pulling the water hard. It should feel quite muscular. Elite age-group swimmers will take less than 15 strokes per 25yd doing DPS.

Friday
Swim: Aerobic power, 3000. WU: Race warm-up ~600. MS: 400 TT. Record 100 splits to assess pacing, and finishing HR for TT. 200 EZ. 10×150 (15”). 1500 pace + :03-:05/100. CD: 200 non-free, 2×50 K.

Saturday
Day off

Sunday
Swim: Strength and open-water skills, 3000. WU: 200 free. 2×50 D, 200 free, 2×50 D, 100 free, 2×50 D. MS: 1000 wetsuit swim, build pace by 200 from easy to fast. Wetsuit off. 3×200 Ppdl (20”). 4×100 P (20”) (no paddles). All steady aerobic. CD: 4×50 alt non-free/ free. Drills: Head-up freestyle, sighting every 5 strokes.

Week 2

Monday
Swim: Technique/recovery, 2000. WU: 200 free, 100 non-free, 100 K. MS: 8×100 as 50 D, 50 free. 5×100 easy with great technique. Take as much rest as needed. CD: 6×50 alt non-free and free. Drills: 6 Kick, Closed Fist, Corkscrew (free 6/backstroke 5).

Tuesday
Swim: Pace work, 3000. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K), 4×50 as 25 F/25 EZ. MS: 4×200 (30”) at goal 1500 pace + :03/100. 8×100 (20”) at goal 1500 pace + :01/100. 8×50 (15”) at goal 1500 pace. CD: 200 choice. Drills: Single Arm, Pause 1.
*Performance Pointer* A well-executed pace work set often feels like a building effort. Start the set strong, but in control. Don’t be afraid to work really hard for the last few intervals, as this is where you make your fitness gains.

Wednesday
Day off

Thursday
Swim: DPS/technique, 3000. WU: 200 free, 2×100 K, 200 free, 6×50 descend 1-3. MS: 2x[4×50 D (15”) 12×50 DPS (15”). Count stroke and time. 6×50 K (20”) descend 1-3. CD: 200 non-free. Drills: Pause 1, Pause 3.
*Performance Pointer* While Monday and Thursday swims are lower intensity, make sure you are mentally engaged. These are your days to improve your technique and set up your stroke for better performances on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Friday
Swim: Aerobic power, 3000. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100D, 100 K). MS: 10×200 (15”). 1500 pace +:03-:05/100. CD: 2x(100 non-free, 2×50 K).

Saturday
Day off

Sunday
Swim: Strength and open-water skills, 3000. WU: 200 free. MS: 1500 wetsuit swim at 1500 non-wetsuit pace – :02-:03/100. 5×200 OW skills: Sighting, drafting, starts, turns. CD: 100 free, 100 K, 100 free.

Week 3: Lower-Volume Week

Monday
Day off

Tuesday
Swim: Pace work, 2500. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K), 4×50 surge as 30 F/20 EZ. MS: 10×100 (20”), 10×50 (15”) all at goal 1500 pace. CD: 200 non-free. Drills: Single Arm, Pause 1.

Wednesday
Day off

Thursday
Swim: DPS/technique, 3000. WU: 200 free, 8×50 as 25 D, 25 K, 2×100 as 25 F/25 EZ. MS: 5x(200 DPS, 100 non-free, 2×50 D). Count strokes and time. CD: 100 free, 100 non-free. Drills: Pause 1, Pause 5.

Friday
Swim: Time trial, 2500. WU: Race warm-up protocol ~600. MS: 800 TT, 200 EZ, 200 TT, 200 EZ, 50 TT for time. Record 100 splits to assess pacing, and finishing HR for all TTs. CD: 9×50 alt free, kick and non-free.
*Performance Pointer* A well-paced TT starts out vigorous but in control for the first quarter, feels like good work in the second quarter, and is sheer guts in the fourth quarter. It is in the third quarter that athletes usually attain their personal best, by staying determined and taking some risk when it feels hardest. Get excited about doing a great job in the third quarter!

Saturday
Day off

Sunday
Swim: Strength and open-water skills, 2000. WU: 300 free. MS: 5×200 (20”) wetsuit swimming. Build pace from #1 to #5 from easy to fast. 5×100 OW skills: Sighting, drafting, starts, turns. CD: 100 non-free, 100 K.

Week 4

Monday
Swim: Technique/recovery, 2000. WU: 200 free. MS: 8×100 alt drill and free. 4×50 K, 6×100 alt drill and free. Keep it aerobic and take as much rest as needed. CD: 200 non-free. Drills: 6 Kick, Closed Fist, Corkscrew (free 6/backstroke 5).

Tuesday
Swim: Pace work, 3000. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K), 4 x 50 as 20 F/30 EZ. MS: 4×200 (30”) 8×100 (20”) 8×50 (15”) all at goal 1500 pace. CD: 200 choice. Drills: Single Arm, Pause 5.
*Performance Pointer* As you fatigue, continue to pay attention to technique. you want to train efficient biomechanics, not sloppy swimming.

Wednesday
Day off

Thursday
Swim: DPS/technique, 3000. WU: 2x(100 non-free, 100 free, 4×50 as 25 drill/25 free). MS: 2x[6×50 D(15”) 5×100 DPS (15”). Count strokes and time. 4×50 K (30”) descend 1-4. CD: 100 free, 100 K, 100 D, 100 free. Drills: Pause 3, Pause 1 with Closed Fist.

Friday
Swim: Aerobic power, 3000. WU: Race warm-up protocol ~600. MS: 400 TT. Record 100 splits to assess pacing, and finishing HR for TT. 8×200 (15”). Short rest, steady aerobic. 1500 pace + :03-:05/100. CD: 200 choice, 4×50 K.

Saturday
Day off

Sunday
Swim: Strength and open-water skills, 3000. WU: 200 free. 2×50 D, 200 free, 2×50 D, 100 free, 2×50 D. MS: 1000 wetsuit swim, build pace by 200 from easy to fast. Wetsuit off. 2×300 Ppdl (25”). 8×50 P (15”) (no paddles). All steady aerobic. CD: 4×50 alt non-free/free. Drills: Head-up freestyle, sighting every 5 strokes.

Week 5

Monday
Swim: Technique/recovery, 2000. WU: 200 free, 100 non-free, 100 K. MS: 8×100 as 50 D, 50 free. 5×100 easy with great technique. Keep it aerobic. CD: 6×50 alt non-free and free. Drills: 6 Kick, Closed Fist, Corkscrew (free 6/backstroke 5).

Tuesday
Swim: Pace work, 3000. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K), 4×50 as 25 F/25 EZ. MS: 4×300 (20”) at goal 1500 pace + :02/100m. 100 EZ. 14×50 (10”) at goal 1500 pace. CD: 200 choice. Drills: Single Arm, Pause 5.

Wednesday
Day off

Thursday
Swim: DPS/technique, 3000. WU: 200 free, 100 K, 100 non-free, 6×50 D as 25 D/25 DPS, 6×50 descend 1-3. MS: 1200 DPS (Countstroke for 1×50 every 200). 4×100 K as 50 F/50 EZ. CD: 200 free, 100 D, 100 non-free. Drills: Pause 3, Pause 1 with Closed Fist.

Friday
Swim: Aerobic power, 3000. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K). MS: 5×400 (20”). Short rest, steady aerobic. 1500 pace + :03- :05/100. CD: 2x(100 non-free, 2×50 K).

Saturday
Day off

Sunday
Swim: Strength and open-water skills, 3000. WU: 200 free. MS: 2000 wetsuit swim at 1500 non-wetsuit pace. 5×100 OW skills: Sighting, drafting, starts, turns. CD: 100 free, 100 K, 100 free.
*Performance Pointer* You have practiced your open-water skills for a few weeks. Continue to challenge your comfort zone by trying different drafts, navigating through people and experiencing more contact. Doing this in a safe, friendly environment will broaden your skill set and increase your comfort level on race day.

Week 6: Lower-Volume Week

Monday
Day off

Tuesday
Swim: Pace work, 2500. WU: 2×300 (100 free, 100 D, 100 K), 4×50 as 30 F/25 EZ. MS: 10×100 (20”), 10×50 (15”) all at goal 1500 pace. CD: 200 choice. Drills: Single Arm, Pause 1.

Wednesday
Day off

Thursday
Swim: DPS/technique, 2000. WU: 200 free, 2×50 D, 2×50 K, 2×100 as 50 EZ/50 F. MS: 2x(200 DPS, 50 non-free, 4×50 D). Count strokes and time. CD: 200 non-free. Drills: Pause 3, Pause 1 with Closed Fist.

Friday
Swim: Time trial, 2500. WU: Race warm-up protocol ~600. MS: 1500 TT. Record 100 splits to assess pacing, and finishing HR for TT. CD: 2x (2×50 free, 50 K, 50 non-free).
*Performance Pointer* Visualize a great performance here. Embrace the effort. you have worked hard through this program and deserve a good result!

Saturday
Day off

Sunday
Swim: Strength and open-water skills, 2000. WU: 300 free. MS: 4×300 (30”) wetsuit swimming. Build pace from #1 to #4 from easy to fast. 300 OW skills: Sighting, drafting, starts, turns. CD: 100 non-free, 100 K.

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to tackle your first Ironman or to perform at a higher level. For more training tips, visit LifeSport Coaching on Facebook or on Twitter at @LifeSportCoach.