Want to be a stronger swimmer? Train like a life depends on you.

Want to be a stronger swimmer? Train like a life depends on you. 

As a professional triathlete, Brittany Pierce works regularly on her swim skills to shave seconds off her race times. As a lifeguard at Florida’s Clearwater Beach, she also works to swim faster—because when someone is drowning, every second counts.

“We usually train 30 minutes each morning as a group, doing combinations of run-swim-runs, paddling on our rescue boards, and practicing sighting,” Pierce says. “We also get one-hour breaks throughout the day, which many of us use to train solo with strength training, soft-sand running, and sprints.”

On the opposite coast, lifeguard Dana Vanos has patrolled San Diego’s beaches for 12 years. She credits a daily regimen of swim, run, and strength training with her ability to remain calm and swim strong in even the toughest conditions. “I’ll combine swimming and soft-sand running with body-weight squats, pushups, and lunges for a full-body beach workout.”

Though not everyone is able to access a beach for daily training, it’s still possible to train like a waterman (or waterwoman). The key workouts Pierce and Vanos recommend:

Swim Skills

“Some specific swim skills that I maintain are stroke technique, kick strength, and overall endurance,” Vanos says. Her favorite workout incorporates underwater breath-holds. “It builds endurance and lung capacity, which is essential in the ocean environment.”

Warm-up:
500 yards

Main set:
2 x 200 at 75-percent effort, focusing on elongating the stroke and maintaining a steady kick

1 x 25 yards underwater breath-holds

Repeat 5 times

Cool-down:
500 yards

Run-Swim-Runs

At Clearwater Beach, lifeguards train daily to pass a required fitness test (every six months) involving a 500-meter ocean swim and 1-mile beach run. Pierce says triathletes can benefit from these aquatic brick workouts, even at the pool and on sidewalks, as switching between the disciplines also allows practice for transitions.

Warm-up:
1-mile easy run

Main set:
300-yard swim
5 x 100-meter running sprint, 100-meter jog recovery
Repeat 5 times

Cool-down:
Swim 500 yards

Open-Water Tips

“The key to staying calm in the water is knowing that you’re prepared for any situation,” Va- nos says—universal advice that applies to triathletes. “The best way to condition yourself to stay calm is to put yourself in those challenging stressful situations.” Her tips for mastering open-water: