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3 Swim workouts for triathletes who hate swimming

Getting to the pool is often hard, but once you're there you'll be happy you went!

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Yes, we know that there are lots of triathletes out there who absolutely love to hit the water. (While this story is not for you, though, you might actually enjoy some of these workouts when you’re either pressed for time or lacking some motivation!) Many triathletes enter the sport without much of a swimming background, so getting to the pool can be, well, let’s be honest, an effort.

There is no substitute to getting in the water to improve, though. So, even if it’s a struggle to get yourself to the pool, to improve your triathlon times, you have to swim.

So, for those days when you’re really struggling for motivation, here are a few workouts that will hopefully be a bit easier to get through.

Before we get to the workouts, though, let’s run through a few tips that will make any pool session a bit easier:

  • Hit the pool with a minimum distance in mind. It’s amazing how much your attitude can change as you get into a workout a bit. If you tell yourself that you can pull the plug on the set at 1,000 or 1,600 m, say, you’ll often find that once you hit those targets you’re happy to stick things out for a bit longer.
  • Front load your set with toys. Yes, we know you’re swim coach doesn’t want you using fins, pull buoys and paddles for too much of your swimming, but if that makes it easier to get into the workout, go with it! Once you’re well warmed up, ditch the gear and focus on some harder swim sets.
  • Arrive with a specific plan. Have a set in mind, but be flexible if you get to the pool and find a group in the lane who have their own set going.
  • Did we just say group? Finding a buddy to join you for the workout is always a great way to get yourself to the pool!
  • You’ll often find getting yourself to the pool is the biggest challenge – once you’re there, you’ll probably end up enjoying the session!
Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Workout 1: Pyramid set

These sets build up in distance, then reduce the distance over the back half of the set.

A 2,000 m pyramid set might look like this:

  • 500 m w’up – include some kick and drill with fins, along with a bit of pulling (but not too much – see what’s coming next!)
  • 6 x 50 m pull/ 20 Seconds Rest Interval (SRI)

Pyramid – all swimming freestyle:

  • 50 m/ 10SRI
  • 100 m/ 15SRI
  • 150 m/ 20SRI
  • 200 m/ 30SRI
  • 200 m/ 30SRI
  • 150 m/ 20SRI
  • 100 m/ 15SRI
  • 50 m

You can add some time to the recovery if you feel you need it, and you can shorten the length of the ladder, too. Start with 50 / 100/ 150 / 150/ 100/ 50 m, then work your way to the 200 m effort. You can do one 200 m effort, too. You can also start your ladder at 25 m, too, and build.

  • 200 m w’down

Related: Swim Training – master your breathing

Workout 2: 100/ 3x 50 set

Keeping  the “toys early” mantra, triathletes like this set because they get to pull for a lot of the workout.

  • Warm up: 200 swim / 200 kick with fins/ 200 pull
  • 4 x {100 pull/ 10SRI; 3 x 50 swim/ 5SRI} 30 SRI/ sets. The idea is to cruise the 100 pull, then work hard for the 50s.
  • 4 x 50 with fins – 25 drill, 25 swim/ 10SRI
  • W’down: 200 m

Need this set to be shorter? Start with one or two sets, then build.

lane swim COVID-19
Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Workout 3: Broken 200s/ 100s

In this set you’ll start with the longest interval first, then work at shorter intervals as the set progresses.

  • Warm up: 500 m  choice – swim, pull, kick, drill
  • 2 x {200 m swim/ 45SRI; 2 x 100 m swim/ 30SRI; 4 x 50 m swim/ 15SRI} 1 Minute Rest Interval (MRI) between sets
  • Need this to be shorter and easier? Do two sets of broken 100s – {100m swim/ 2 x 50 m swim/ 4 x 25 m swim}
  • Warm down: 300 m