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Triathlon Swimming Intervals and Sets

To get the most from your triathlon swim training, break your swim workouts into sets of swims repeated on fixed intervals. That is, instead of swimming straight for 60 laps for a workout, for example, break it up into sets of swims to enjoy your swim workouts more and get better results.

Swims, the smallest component of a workout, are described by distance, stroke and focus.

Sets are groups of swims within a workout. Swimming 100 yards (4 laps of 25 yards) ten times is a set of ten 100's, (or, 10 x 100).

Intervals are the times you start each swim in a set. For an interval of 2:00, you would start each of swim of 100 yards each time the clock hits 2:00 minutes. (As in, 10 x 100 @ 2:00).

Choose your intervals within a set to give enough rest so you can hold your "repeat time" (the time it takes you to finish the swim) throughout the set. Adjust your intervals according to your conditioning, where you are in your training season, and with an eye to pushing yourself, while allowing you to maintain proper swim technique.

Give yourself extra rest during your warm up sets, and less rest during your main sets. For example, one day a set of 3 x 200's may be your warm up set on an interval of 4:30, while another day a set of 8 x 200's may be your main set on a interval of 3:30 or 3:45.

Swim Quality, Not Quantity
Remember in planning your training that the swim leg is the shortest leg of all three legs. So, keep in mind that your goal is to get the most out of your swim workouts without taking too much time away from your cycling and running workouts. Work up to swimming 2,000-3,000 yards per workout, three times per week to get you ready for a 1.5km triathlon swim leg.

Pick Your Triathlon Swim Sets
In planning your workout, pick one or two main sets to be the focus of the workout. Place them after your warm up set(s). And remember to mix in different sets to your workouts, so you never swim the same set twice during the same week. This will help keep your workouts interesting and minimize boredom.

Here are some common swim sets you can use in your triathlon workouts:

Mid-Distance or Power Triathlon Swim Sets
Sets of 200's to 400's (200 yards - 400 yards) are great mid-distance sets that can help you develop strength and endurance. These power sets will allow you to swim your triathlon swim leg at a pace close to your 100 repeat times. Use these sets often as your main set. Pick a repeat interval based on your 100 interval. For example, if your interval for a set of 100's is 2:00, then try your 200's on 4:00, your 300's on 6:00, and 400's on 8:00.

Examples of power sets are: (1) 8 x 200 @ 4:00; (2) 5 x 200 @ 6:00; (3) 4 x 400 @ 8:00; (4) 2 x 400 @ 8:00, 2 x 300 # 6:00, 2 x 200 @ 4:00.

Sprint Triathlon Swim Sets
Sprint sets of shorter swims, such as 25's (25 yards), 50's and 100's, are great to help you develop speed, strength and anaerobic capacity for your triathlon swim.

Pick your intervals for your sprint sets to allow you :05 - :25 seconds of rest between swims. For example, if you swim a 50 in :45 seconds, try your repeat interval at :55 seconds, or 1:00. If you swim your 100's in 1:35, then try your interval at 1:45, 1:50, or 2:00. Put your swim sets toward the end of your workout, so you'll be fully warmed up. Do 4 to 12 swims per sprint set.

Examples of sprint sets are: (1) 10 x 25 @ :30; (2) 8 x 50 @ 1:00; (3) 10 x 100 @ 2:00; (4) 4 50 @ 1:00, 4 x 50 @ :55, 4 x 50 @ :50.

Pyramid Triathlon Swim Sets
Pyramid sets are a great way to add variety and difficulty into your workouts. To create a Pyramid set: (1) Start with a short swim (like a 25 or 50); (2) Build in increments to a longer swim (like a 300 or 400); (3) Decrease in the same increments back to your starting swim distance.

An example of a Pyramid set is: 1 x 50 @ 1:00, 1 x 100 @ 2:00, 1 x 300 @ 6:00, 1 x 400 @ 8:00, 1 x 300 @ 6:00, 1 x 200 @ 4:00, 1 x 100 @ 2:00 and finally, 1 x 50 @ 1:00. This Pyramid totals 1,700 yards.

Kickboard, Paddles, Pull Buoy and Fins Sets
Kickboards, Paddles and other accessories can help you strengthen specific parts of your triathlon swim stroke. Use Hand Paddles and Pull Buoys occasionally in mind-distance sets to give you improve arm stroke strength, provide workout variety, and give you a better feel for pulling through the water.

Use Kick Boards to do sets of kicking to increase leg kick strength, and provide rest for your arms between swim sets. A couple of 100-200 yard kicking sets should be plenty per workout.

Use swim fins occasionally in kicking sets and in sprint sets to work on your anaerobic capacity, leg strength, add variety to your workout, and feel what if feels like to swim really, really fast. Shorten your intervals accordingly when you use fins.

One final swimming tip: to get the greatest results from your swim training, work out with a masters' swim club, or with a coach to improve your stroke technique and be pushed harder.

Sample Triathlon Swim Workouts
Here are a few samples of how to put together your workouts:

Triathlon Swim Workout #1
1 x 300Warm up
2 x 50 @ :45 - 1:00Warm up, increase speed through set
1 x 100Kick
5 x 200 @ 3:00 - 4:00Main set; feel strong setay pace
1 x 100Warm down; Workout total: 2,200 yards

Triathlon Swim Workout #2
1 x 500Warm up
1 x 200Kick
1 x 1,700Main Set; Pyramid (see example)
1 x 100Kick
4 x 50 @ 1:00 - 1:15Work hard, set interval to give plenty of rest
1 x 50Warm down. Workout total: 2,750 yards

Triathlon Swim Workout #3
1 x 400Reverse IM (Individual Medley) as warm up
6 x 50 @ :45 - 1:15More warm up; increase speed through set
5 x 300 @ 4:30 - 6:00Main set; get stronger through set
1 x 250Kick
5 x 100 @ 1:30-2:15Hold repeat times consistent
1 x 50Warm down. Workout total: 3,000 yards

For more triathlon training tips and for a great training log to keep your training on track, add TriLog to your program!

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