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Workout Wednesday: Transitioning into tempo

A less-than-one-hour swim workout that has you working at anaerobic threshold rate, perfect for when you're starting to add some intensity back into your pool sessions during base phase.

In the water, anaerobic threshold (AT, 80 to 90 percent of your max HR) is approximately the pace most people should swim in an Olympic distance triathlon (1,500 m). Sub-20 minute swimmers are probably working closer to VO2 max (90 to 95 percent of max HR) but most swimmers are closer to AT. For this reason, it makes sense to do your tempo work in the pool at close to 1,500 m race pace because it makes training more specific to your goals, assuming you intent to race some Olympic-distance triathlons.

This is a great workout to bridge the base and tempo phases of your training. This workout breaks down 1,500 at your 1,500 goal pace. It’s divided into three sets of 500 m, with each set broken down to 100 m reps at your 1,500 m goal pace with as much recovery as you need to maintain this pace.

Initially, take as much recovery time between the 100s as you need to achieve this, which will probably be 15 to 20% of the 100 m time. Every week, reduce this recovery slightly so that after a month or two you are doing a simple session of three 500 m reps at your 1,500 m pace with 1 to 2 minutes between reps.

Determining your 1,500 m pace

If you’re new to triathlon, how to determine this pace is a good question. Most rookies swim somewhere between 25 min and 35 min for 1,500 after they have basic swim fitness, so the easiest way is to start with a conservative goal pace and see what happens. For example, a 35-min pace is 2:20 per 100, so do the 100 m reps at that pace. If you can’t complete the session by then you need to either slow down the reps a bit or do some more base training. If you find that pace manageable, then either speed up the reps (if you have a good base in) or shorten the recovery time between them (if you haven’t been doing much pool work). Finally, it’s important to note that we’re talking about 1,500 m goal pace — that is, the pace you would like to be swimming for 1,500 m at peak fitness.

The workout:

  • 15 min easy warmup in different strokes
  • 3 x 500 — swim each set as 5 x 100 at 1,500 goal pace. Recovery interval is 15 to 20% of the swimming interval (1oo m). For example: if each 100 takes 75 seconds (1:15), the recovery would be 15 seconds
  • 1 to 2 minutes rest between each set
  • 5 minutes easy swimming cool down