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by Laura Siddall
Swim training can quite literally be uncharted waters for the beginner triathlete, and sometimes even the experienced triathlete. I consulted my coach—IRONMAN Master Coach Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness—to bring you four endurance intensive swim workouts that will get you swim ready this season. Especially for those of you targeting a late-season IRONMAN race, now is a good time of year to focus on swim endurance and technical development.
For many Northern hemisphere triathletes, late winter and early spring is considered pre-season. Dixon’s focus during this period of time is endurance swimming—both cardiovascular and muscular. In conjunction with the large fitness gains from the endurance work, Dixon includes high-end speed and maximal steady state work to promote technical development. “Since many athletes are not yet accumulating massive hours of miles riding, swimming takes up the largest relative percentage of total training than any other part of the season,” Dixon says. He uses this time of year to get his athletes “swim-fit” by developing the resilience that they will rely on throughout the race season.
Dixon expects his San Francisco-based swim squad to be familiar with reading the pace clock during swim workouts and frequently sets demanding but fun workouts to keep his athletes mentally alert throughout the entire session.
Related Article: Master the Pace Clock
Below are four of Dixon’s favorite swim workouts. They include endurance-based work and speed play, which not only help build a good swim base but also test an athlete’s pace clock intelligence. Each workout starts with an easy warm up, and a more focused pre-set to warm up the body thoroughly before the main set.
The best part—all of these drills can be scaled up or down to suit your level and distance, as well as adapting the time interval to match your ability.
-10 min easy swimming, with every fourth lap non-freestyle, if possible.
-200 / 100 / 2×150 / 2×75 / 3×100 / 3 x 50 / 4 x 50 / 4 x 25 with pull buoy, using a swimmer’s snorkel, focusing on a long body and catching the water. Build speed as you progress through the set to 95 percent of maximal effort for the 25s.
→ Helpful hint: Try to remember the above set as follows:
– Odd reps decrease by 50 each time but the number of repeats increases: 1×200, then 2×150, 3×100, 4×50
– The even reps are half the distance of the previous odd set. For example, if the odd is 200, the following even is half that at 100. If the odd is 150, the following even is half 150, at 75, and so on.
-Take 5-10 sec, rest between each repetition
-33 x 100 using three separate intervals.
-The aim is to maintain a strong sustainable pace on the shorter intervals. The pace and stroke rate can and should slow on the easier ‘recovery’ intervals.
-100-100-100 on 1:50 / 1:45 / 1:40 **
-100-100-2×100 on 1:50 / 1:45 / 2 x 1:40
Total: 3300m (main set)
**Select a time interval appropriate for your swimming ability, ensuring the first swim of each set is ‘recovery’ based, as noted above, and targeting about 5 to 7 seconds rest on the tightest interval. To shorten the set, you could complete the workout after 4 or 5 rounds.
-10 min easy swimming
-200 / 2×150 / 4×100 / 6×50 – increase speed as the distance decreases. Pull buoy and swimmer’s snorkel.
-200 on 3 min, straight into…
-8 x 100 on 1:22.5 – this is a good one for reading the clock, as you have to ‘go’ when the clock isn’t on a whole number.
→ Helpful hint: It’s useful to remember that each ‘odd’ rep will always be on a 0 or 5. (e.g. first rep (odd) start on the 0, second rep (even) on the 22.5, third rep (odd) on the 45, fourth rep (even) on the 7.5 etc.)
-Take an extra 30-60 sec rest, often called a “swimmer’s minute.”
-200 on 2:55 mins
-6 x 100 on 1:20
-Take an extra 30-60 sec
-200 on 2:50
-4 x 100 on 1:17.5
-Take an extra 30-60 sec
-200 on 2:45
-2 x 100 on 1:15
Total: 2800m (main set)
-10mins – with every fourth lap non-freestyle.
-2×200 / 2×175 / 2×150 / 2×125 / 2×100 / 2×75 / 2×50 / 2×25
→ Helpful hint: odds easy / evens building pace through set, take 5-10 seconds rest
-2×100 on 1:20 fast (The interval should be tight so that you only get 3-5 seconds of rest. Adjust the interval for your swimming ability.)
-3×100 on 1:20 fast
-4×100 on 1:20 fast
-5×100 on 1.20 fast
Total: 2800m (main set)
-10 minutes easy
-16 x 50 – build pace in sets of 4 (4×50 easy, 4×50 moderate, 4×50 moderate/strong, 4×50 strong) with 10 sec rest between
-800 pull – moderate pace
-8×100 – decreasing intervals, 1:40, 1:35, 1:30, 1:25, 1:40, 1:35, 1:30, 1:25
-4×200 – build pace from easy on #1 up to race pace on #4, on 3:10 (30 sec rest when swimming easy)
-8×50 – odds fast on 45secs / evens smooth 60
-16×25 – easy / build / fast / fast x 2 all on 25 sec
Total: 4000m (main set)
Laura Siddall is a British professional triathlete based out of San Francisco. Visit her online at laurasiddall.com.