One-Hour Workout: Tri-Specific Speed/Threshold Swim Set

This mixture of speed and threshold swimming perfectly simulates the stress of a short-course swim.

This week’s threshold swim workout is courtesy of Olympian and coach Ryan Bolton, a former collegiate runner-turned-pro triathlete who now coaches athletes, from beginner to elite. Excerpted from The Triathlete Guide to Sprint and Olympic Triathlon Racing, out now from Velopress, this swim session is meant to adapt one’s body to the unique pacing of a tri swim.

After a brief warmup (that would even work for race day), the swim’s main set does a great job of simulating the fast start, the “settling in,” and the little pace spikes that inevitably occur during any tri swim. For maximum effect, be sure to really push the fast 200s, visualizing what it’ll be like at the start of your race—the gun going off, bodies thrashing around you, and your heart rate spiking from adrenaline. While regular steady swim sets have a place in one’s training program, unless you practice like you’ll race, it’s hard to adjust to that high heart rate appropriately, before settling down into your steady and manageable race pace.

Similarly, be sure to push the second 200—imagining going around an early buoy or pushing yourself to stay on a pair of feet as they go by. There are so many variables and pace changes in a tri swim—completely unlike pool competition—that it’s important to manage those “bursts” and then know how to settle back in again.

This swim workout is best done in the third phase of your training program with enough space the day before and the day after to prepare and recover properly. Ideally this threshold swim would be a key session for the week, with no hard bikes or runs on the same day.

For more workouts like this, 16-week training plans for short-course athletes from beginner to advanced, and more in-depth swim technique work, be sure to check out The Triathlete Guide to Sprint and Olympic Triathlon Racing, out now from Velopress.

Tri-Specific Speed/Threshold Swim


400 choice, 1 min. rest
6 × 50 drill, 15 sec. rest

Main set

200 fast, 10 sec. rest
8 × 100 at threshold pace, 10 sec. rest
200 fast, 2 min. rest
3 × 300 pull, 20 sec. rest


200 easy

Total: 3,000

Need more workouts to try? See our complete collection of one-hour workouts.