One-Hour Workout: Building Swim Speed

Ready to find your top-end swim fitness again? This week's workout will help.

Building swim speed is no easy feat, especially if you’ve been out of the water for a while (like most of us). However, if you’ve had access to a pool or open water for a few weeks now, this is the time to make sure your workouts have plenty of variation in effort and intensity—and this set will help you with building swim speed. One of the biggest mistakes triathletes often make when it comes to swim training is failing to mix up speeds, especially top-end speed. This session sees you progress effort through the main set from 7/10 RPE (rate of perceived exertion) to 10/10 RPE (also known as takeout speed, the pace you swim at the start of a race).

Of course, it is worth noting that if you’re still getting back into the swing of things with swimming then try this three-week return to swimming plan from tri swim coach Gerry Rodrigues of Tower 26, which helps ease you back in gently—and then come back to this session when you’re ready to rev your engine.

This workout begins with an easy 10-minute warm-up, nothing greater than 6/10 RPE, to get your body moving well and to gradually raise your heart rate and get a feel for the water. You’ll then move on to the prep set, which is two rounds of 2 x 25 fast, 1 x 50 easy, 1 x 50 fast, 2 x 25 easy. More advanced swimmers (who are used to wearing them) can wear paddles for the faster efforts. Beginners or those short on time can do one round instead of two.

The main set involves 8 x 100 as: two at 7/10 RPE, two at 8/10 RPE, two at 9/10 RPE, two at 10/10 RPE, taking 30 seconds rest between each 100. You’ll then repeat this pattern, but as 8 x 75, all with 20 seconds rest between each 75—and then 8 x 50, following the same effort pattern, but all with 10 seconds rest.

There should be a noticeable difference in effort and pace as you progress from 7/10 through to 10/10 RPE and be careful not to go out too hard early in the set so you can give it maximum effort when needed.

If short on time or a less advanced swimmer, you can scale back these to 5 or 6 reps at each distance, so 5 x 100, 5 x 75, 5 x 50.

Wrap it up with 200 easy swim cooldown.

One-Hour Workout: Building Swim Speed


10 min. easy swim

Prep Set

2 x 25 fast (optional paddles)

1 x 50 easy

1 x 50 fast (optional paddles)

2 x 25 easy

Main Set

8 x 100 as 2 @ 7/10 RPE, 2 @ 8/10 RPE, 2 @ 9/10 RPE, 2 @ 10/10 RPE – 30 sec. rest between each 100

8 x 75 as 2 @ 7/10 RPE, 2 @ 8/10 RPE, 2 @ 9/10 RPE, 2 @ 10/10 RPE – 20 sec. rest between each 75

8 x 50 as 2 @ 7/10 RPE, 2 @ 8/10 RPE, 2 @ 9/10 RPE, 2 @ 10/10 RPE – 10 sec. rest between each 50


200 easy swim