by Tim Floyd | Active.com

The debate within the swimming world between high intensity, low volume training and lower intensity, high volume training started in the early 1980s. But within the triathlon community, the predominant approach is toward a lower intensity and higher volume program.

This belief is apparent in the classic 10×400-meter set for long distance training and long, straight swims regularly prescribed by triathlon coaches. These sets focus on training and athlete’s aerobic capacity and to build enough endurance to swim 3,800 meters in open water.

Obviously, a volume approach to training requires a lot of hours in the pool every week. But completing 15,000 to 25,000 meters at a slow pace is not a volume approach and is an inefficient way to improve your swim leg. In the swimming world, high volume swim programs start at 75,000 meters a week.

For triathletes, big gains in the swim will come from improving stroke mechanics at the speed at which the athlete wants to race. Swimming 4,000 meters at a slow pace with sloppy technique engrains poor habits in the swimmer. Lastly, as coaches we strive to get the most out of the athlete with the least amount of training. The more efficient way to train for a faster triathlon swim is through a high-intensity approach.

You should structure your high-intensity program around specificity and building an efficient kinetic chain. Swimming faster with intensity and focus will naturally correct many swim stroke deficiencies.

As a triathlete, the fatigue generated from the bike and run and consistency in the water are two major challenges. If the athlete is too fatigued to hold focus and swim fast, then athletes will find it difficult to improve in the swim. Additionally, if the athlete is out of the water for too many days at a time, their feel for the water will diminish.

Athletes should swim at least four days a week to see improvement in their fitness and form, and less experienced athletes will need to swim more frequently. We’ve included a sample of a weekly swimming training plan for experienced triathletes below. For a less experienced athlete, cut the volume of the main sets by 15 to 25 percent.

Workout 1

Warm-up

Fins are a great way to warm up. They take pressure off fatigued shoulders, which helps prevent injury. The extra speed puts the swimmer in the right body position at the start of practice and encourages proper stroke mechanics. Lastly, for those with stiff ankles, fins can help loosen them up.

400 swim with fins
400 kick with fins
400 pull no paddles (Triathletes overuse paddles, and usually use paddles that are too big for their ability and lessen the “feel” for the water.)
4×100 descend 1-4 @ x:xx (Each 100 should get faster, and speed should improve from 70%-90%+ 1-4; Interval used should give swimmer 10 to 15 seconds rest)

1600

Lead-up Set

This set will get the swimmer better coordination between the kick and pull in preparation for the main set.

8×50 kick/swim (Alternate 25 kick / 25 swim & 25 swim / 25 kick) @ (Interval used should give swimmer 10 to 15 seconds rest)

1900

Main Set

Hold pace set. Swimmer should swim as fast as they can for 40×25 at a selected hold pace that will be difficult to achieve. For example, the majority of age group triathletes I work with would have a hold pace between 16 and 20 seconds per 25 meters and the interval would be set at between 35 and 40 seconds for a 25-yard repeat. If the swimmer misses a hold pace, the athlete should sit out the next two repeats and then resume the set. If a second hold pace is missed, then the athlete should swim the remainder of the 25 meters easy.

40×25 swim @ :xx (hold pace :xx)

2900

Warm-down

6×50 swim easy @ 15 seconds rest

Workout 2

Warm-up

400 swim with fins
400 kick with fins
400 pull no paddles

4×75 descend 1-4 @ x:xx

1500

Lead-up Set

12×25 kick/swim (Alternate 2×25 kick @ x:xx & 2×25 swim @ x:xx + 1 fast / 1 easy)

1800

Main Set

Same rules apply. If the swimmer misses a hold pace the swimmer should sit out one 50. If the swimmer misses two, they should swim the remainder easy.

24×50 swim @ :xx (hold pace :xx; the hold pace should be set at roughly double what the swimmer went on the 25s +4 seconds. If they are not able to hold double their 25 pace +4 seconds then that is an indication of inefficient stroke mechanics and/or a fitness issue. (The interval should be set at the hold pace plus 20 seconds)

3000

Warm Down

12×25 swim @ 15 seconds rest

Workout 3

Warm-up

400 swim with fins
400 kick with fins
400 drill choice with fins
400 pull no paddles

Lead-up Set

8×50 choice (swimmer choice of drill, kick, kick/swim or a combination) @ 15 seconds rest

Main Set

4×100 descend 1-4 @ x:xx

2000

Workout 4

Warm-up

400 swim with fins
400 kick with fins
400 pull no paddles

8×50 descend 1-4; 5-8 @ x:xx

1600

Lead-up Set

4×75 kick/swim (25 kick / 50 swim) @ x:xx

1900

Main Set

15×100 swim @ x:xx (hold pace should be double the 50 pace +4 seconds)

3400

Warm Down

12×25 swim easy @ 15 seconds rest


Tim Floyd, swim coach and former NCAA Div I swimmer, founded Magnolia Masters in 2010 to specifically help triathletes improve in pool competitions and open water swimming. Magnolia Masters is committed to providing the best training and swim technique analysis to help each athlete achieve their best results in the swim. You can find more information about Magnolia Masters here.