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Sara’s Slam: Can You Get Enough From A 30-Minute Session?

Typical Masters workouts are an hour long, but busy triathletes don’t always have time for a full session.

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Typical Masters workouts are an hour long, but busy triathletes don’t always have time for a full session. To debate whether 30 minutes is enough, we put Debi Bernardes, owner of UCanDoIt coaching in King George, Va., up against coach
and pro Sara McLarty.

Sara: In a typical 60-minute Masters workout, most athletes can complete a good warm-up, a technique-improvement set, an aerobic or anaerobic set and finish with a cool-down. Those are the four components of any successful trip to the pool.

Debi: When most triathletes start out, they don’t have the skill set in place to perform the normal 60-minute workout. If a coach could give small, bite-size swim sets to work on technique for two 20–30-minute sessions, and then a third 20–30-minute session with a focus on distance and comfort, it would enable the athlete to feel like he or she is accomplishing something without being overwhelmed.

Sara: The typical age-group triathlete is training for an open-water swim between 0.9 and 1.2 miles. To make that distance feel comfortable on race day, he or she should train slightly longer in time and distance. By lengthening your swim workout, you are preparing your body for the energy that you will be expending after you have exited the water.

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Debi: Swimmers can prepare for their race by covering the full distance as one workout, easing into the first 100–300 to warm up, then picking up the pace. They can repeat this until they feel comfortable with the distance.

Sara: For high-intensity sets, short workouts can’t provide enough time for a sufficient warm-up. If all your workouts are short, you will be missing out on some critical training.

Debi: Most swimmers are ready to work out harder after a good 15-minute session of easy swimming, drills and kicking, leaving 15 or more minutes where they can dedicate themselves to high-intensity short-interval sessions. We’re looking for the minimum effective dose of training that will result in efficient and fast swimming. In general, most athletes should spend five minutes on one aspect of their stroke to help create new neural pathways to develop muscle memory needed to be an efficient swimmer. If done slowly and with thought, the athlete has a greater chance of cementing this new movement pattern versus just spending lots of time doing laps and cementing poor motor skills.

Sara: If it took just five minutes to correct strokes, I would be out of a job! Making changes to improve swim strokes should be mixed with non-drill swimming to put the new skills into practice. It’s a whole different story trying to swim with high elbows during a finger-tip-drag drill versus putting that into practice while swimming at regular speed. The time spent doing laps correctly is important.

Triathlete final thoughts:  If you’re pinched for time or not ready to tackle a 60-minute swim, don’t worry—you can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. But if you want to become the best swimmer you can be, more than 30 minutes of pool time is necessary to significantly improve.

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