Whether you’re looking for an enjoyable, total-body workout, or simply wish to get better results at your next tri, get ready to log some serious pool time.

The benefits of  a swimming workout are endless. It works your body as well as your mind — you’ll get great aerobic and cardio conditioning with the added mental challenge of holding your breath underwater for sustained periods of time.

Ready to dive in? First, practice the two drills below to help improve your stroke. The catch-up drill helps you really feel the water and get the most out of your pull, and the side-kick drill will fully extend your body while waking up the legs.

After that, be sure to figure out your aerobic fitness level and build from there. Once that’s calculated, implement this training plan to build up your strength and speed for a sprint triathlon distance of 400 yards.

Catch-Up Drill

Swim with both of your arms fully extended while keeping a steady kick, then complete one stroke at a time. Make sure your hands touch at the top of your body between each stroke.

Side-Kick Drill

Kick on your side with your bottom arm fully extended and the other arm down by your side. Kick 8–10 times, then rotate sides.

Aerobic Base:

To establish your aerobic base, do 3 x 100s every five minutes, and swim each of those 100 yards as fast as you can (be sure to record your time). Repeat three times. Then, calculate your average time from those three; this will be your aerobic base.

What really challenges swimmers and will push you to the next level is the amount of rest or lack of rest between each set. The best swim programs put quality of yardage first, not quantity, so you will race best if you practice race speed. This swimming workout does not have a huge jump in yardage, but rather a focus in intensity of pace. Translation: when it hurts, keep going — that’s how you improve!

NOTE: Be sure to start every swimming workout with a 300yard warm up, and end with a 200-yard cool down.

5-Week Training Plan

Equipment needed: goggles, bathing suit, stop watch, kickboard.

Week 1: Finding your base

Day 1: 800-yard total

Warm up – 300 yards, catch-up drill on even lengths.

Workout – Get your aerobic base time (3 x 100 every 5 minutes).

Cool down – 200-yard easy pace swim.

Day 2: 800-yard total

Warm up – 300 yards, side-kick drill on odd lengths.

Workout – 6 x 50s every 1:45 (total of six sets)

This is where your aerobic base comes into play. Your aerobic base was established by finding your average time over three 100-yard sprints, so take half of your aerobic base time and use that for the 50s. For example, if your aerobic base was 2 minutes, it will take 1 minute to swim a 50. So these 50s will be on 1:45, giving you 45 seconds of rest.

Cool down – 2 x 100 of easy swimming on your own time.

Day 3: Yoga – Because swimming is a full-body workout, it is important to also get in a full-body stretch!

Day 4: 800-yard total

Warm up – 300 yards, 100 drill

Workout – 3 x 100 on your aerobic base time. Keep each 100 consistent.

Cool down – 100 yards of kick, 100 yards easy swimming on your own time.

Day 5: Cross Training – Biking

Day 6: 800-yard total

Warm up – 300 yards

Workout – 1 x 100 then 8 x 25s on aerobic base.

Cool down – 100 drill, 100 swim.

Day 7 : Off day

Try paddle boarding or kayaking; both are low-intensity workouts that will work your arms and shoulders and keep you in the water. Remember: active rest is very important for swimmers.

Week 2: Building Your Stroke 

Now that you have a base, focus on drills this week to help improve your stroke. Bring your total yardage for each swimming workout up to 850 yards. Still stick to the same warm-ups and cool downs but (for example) instead of doing 6 x 50s every 1:45, swim 7 x 50s every 1:40.

Week 3: Strengthening Your Kick 

Add another 50 to each workout for a total of 900 yards per workout, with a focus on your kick. On Day 4, complete the workout using your kickboard, just kick 4x100s. For Day 5, cross-train with a focus on lower body: squats, lunges, and/or jogging.

Week 4: Strengthening Your Arms 

When doing your Day 2 workout of 9x50s, alternate a 50-yard swim and 50 seconds of pushups. For cross training, hit the weights with a focus on your arms and shoulders.

Week 5: Prepping for Race Day

Return to the Week 1 workouts; you don’t want to overdo it. Most importantly, get excited for your race — you’re ready!

Ann Murphy is a Southwest Florida native and collegiate swimmer at John Carroll University

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