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4 Race-Specific Swim Workouts for Triathletes

Race-Specific Swim Workouts for Triathlon

In the triathlon space, we are in the thick of the racing season, which means swim, bike, and run workouts should become increasingly more specific to race day demands. Race-specific sessions can be based on Training Stress Score (TSS) and include race intensity and/or duration to help the body adapt to the stress it will face on race day. 

No matter what distance an athlete’s A-race is, race-specific workouts are an important part of an athlete’s tool kit. Race-specific swim workouts are the focus of this article and below are examples of four different swim workouts for each triathlon distance

Sprint-Specific Swim Workout

The main set of this workout includes 1,200 yards of hard intensity (sprint triathlon effort), as well as some pace changes through the main set which is a good simulation for the sprint triathlon swim which can require pace changes to get position at the start, and for getting around buoys or other swimmers. 

Warm-up:

  • 500 warm-up, building from easy to steady
  • 6×50 drill choice/swim by 25, rest :10
  • 4×50 build to hard by the last 50, rest :10

Main Set (1,200 yards):

  • 200 hard, rest :15
  • 4×100 at goal race pace, rest :10
  • 2×50 hard, rest :15
  • 4×100 at goal race pace, rest :10
  • 4×25 very hard, rest :15

Cool Down:

  • 300 easy choice cool down

Olympic-Specific Swim Workout

The main set of this workout includes 1,500 yards, the distance of an Olympic distance triathlon, at race intensity. 

Warm-up:

  • 300 choice
  • 300 kick/drill/swim by 25
  • 4 x 50 build to hard by the 4th 50, rest :10

Main Set (1,500 yards):

  • 15 x 100 on an interval that allows 15 seconds rest, hard (but sustainable across the set), faster on the last few if you can. 

Cool Down:

  • 200 choice cool down

70.3/Half-Ironman Swim Workout

The main set of this swim workout includes 2,400 yards at race intensity, as well as some sighting practice which is good to include in pool swims to settle into the rhythm of it and improve efficiency at it. 

Warm-up:

300 choice. 200 kick. 200 drill/swim by 25.

Main Set (2,400 yards): 

  • 6 x 400’s at 70.3 effort/pace on interval that allows :15 rest. Practice sighting your water bottle 2-3 times each time you swim toward your equipment on the pool deck.

Cool Down:

  • 200 choice cool down.

Full Ironman Swim Workout

​​This isn’t a very exciting set, but it’s great for controlled pacing, seeing if you can descend each set of 5, and it’s also good practice for holding focus during the Ironman swim. Use the first few 200s to warm up, keeping effort easy, before settling into Ironman effort and harder than Ironman effort by the last round.

Main Set: Build by Round (4,000 yards/4 main sets):

  • 4 x (5×200 rest :15)

Cool Down:

  • 200 choice cool down

Open Water Prep in a Pool

Race-Specific Triathlon Swim Workouts in Pool

This workout includes some drills to help get you prepared for the challenges of open water. “No walls” means flip or turn before you reach the wall so you don’t get the momentum of wall push-offs like in open water. 

  • 500 warm-up (including 100 kick)
  • 1 x 300 swim with no walls (sighting 3 times on each 25)
  • 4 x 75 w/:15 rest (close eyes and only open them to breathe or sight)
  • 1 x 300 swim with no walls (sighting 3 times on each 25)
  • 6 x 75 w/:15 rest (25 easy, 25 medium, 25 fast)
  • 1 x 300 pull with buoy only (50 breathe every 3, 50 breathe every 5)
  • 4 x 75 w/:15 rest (25 fast kick, 50 easy swim)
  • 300 choice cool down

Of course, you cannot get more race specific than by getting out in open water and swimming at race intensity or duration. And do not forget to practice your beach start entry or treading water start depending on which kind of start your race has. 

But if open water is not an option for you, at least not regularly, make your pool swims as race specific as possible to optimize your performance on race day. Happy swimming! 

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Lindsay Leigh Triathlon Coach
Lindsay Leigh
Endurance Coach at No Limits Endurance Coaching | Website

Lindsay Leigh is an endurance coach with No Limits Endurance Coaching. Her coaching credentials include USAT Level 2, USA Swimming, and, UESCA Ultrarunning, among many others. Lindsay has extensive experience coaching athletes of all levels – from 5k to 100-mile distance, from sprint triathlon to the Ironman distance. She works with athletes in various disciplines, including triathlon, swimming, running, cycling, spartan/OCR, and motocross.