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Do swim, swim and swim some more. Escape the cold temperatures outside and stay warm in the pool. Frequency of swimming is the best way to improve your “feel” for the water. Increase your trips to the pool 1–2 times per week for just 30–45 minutes per session.
Don’t ignore the water or combine all your sessions into one big day at the pool. Tired swimming leads to poor technique and decreased performance.
Do try to swim smarter. Focus on drills and technique during the off-season to break old habits and build new muscle memory. Make changes to your technique that will save energy and help with faster swimming in the future.
Do swim slow. A lot can be learned by how you swim easy, relaxed and slowly through the water. This is the speed where observations can be made and changes can happen.
Do emphasize quality in your training. Make sure every practice, lap and stroke has a purpose or a goal. Stay in tune with your body throughout the session, and listen to the internal feedback.
Don’t stress about the quantity of your swimming. Distance covered, time spent, and miles completed are not important in this training phase.
Do play in the water and find the fun again. Training can seem like a chore in the middle of a season when a challenging set awaits you at the pool. Use the off-season to recall what it was like to be a kid in the pool: all smiles, laughter, splashing and goofing off.
Don’t take advice from a swimmer in the lane next to you. Being able to swim fast does not automatically equal knowledge of how to swim fast. An understanding of how the human body moves efficiently, powerfully and injury-free through the water takes years of experience and education.
Do swim by yourself if you never do. Training with a group promotes conscious and unconscious racing and head-to-head challenges with the swimmers in the other lanes. Take a break from the intensity and swim on your own to focus on the details.
Don’t swim meaningless and boring laps in the pool. If you dread going to the pool, find a way to cross-train. Stretch cords, rowing machines, kayaking or paddle boarding are great examples.
Do increase the number of times you go to the gym each week. Plan at least 2–3 one-hour sessions each week. Early sunsets can discourage outdoor training, but the gym is a bright and safe place to work out.
Don’t skip the gym in winter. This is the best time to follow a periodized strength program to build power for next season and prevent injuries when returning to intense training blocks.
Do train in your wetsuit. Most early races are in March and April, when water temperatures are likely wetsuit-legal. Get a head start on your competition by training in a wetsuit or neoprene shorts to develop the right technique for the added buoyancy and constriction. If you swim in a chlorinated pool, be sure to rinse out the suit with fresh water afterward.
Don’t just swim harder. If you try to fight the water, it will win every time. Find a way to relax in the water and use it to your advantage.
Do hire a coach for private sessions to learn how you can improve your technique and efficiency in the water. Find a knowledgeable and experienced coach in your area or make plans to visit one during holiday travels. Just 1–2 hours of private stroke analysis can result in significant time gains next season.
Don’t wear a Garmin in the pool. Take a break from analyzing your stroke count, laps, speed, pace, time, rate or any other metric when you get home. Bring your attention to how your body feels in the water and not the feedback from an abstract device.
Do assess all of your training and racing equipment. Check for wear and tear, and order replacements of anything that shows age. Get new products during the winter to break them in long before race season arrives.
Try this Off-Season Workout
400 choice warm-up
8-16 x 25 on :30 (descend stroke count 1–4)
400 with small paddles (50 scull/50 swim)
5-10 x 100 with 20 sec rest (25 kick/75 build)
400 swim (climb out of pool and jump back in every 50)
4-8 x 75 with 15 sec rest (25 non-free/25 feet first/25 swim)
400 pull (3/5 breathing pattern by 50)
3-6 x 50 with 10 sec rest (your choice drill)