3 Swim Workouts for Triathletes

3 Swimming Workouts for Triathletes

Looking to throw down on race day? These three swim workouts for triathletes will help you dominate the swim leg of your next triathlon.

As a long-time competitive swimmer I often end up sharing a lane with triathletes at my local open swims.

While I know that I am generalizing here, there are a couple constants that I notice consistently with triathletes: An over-reliance on swim gear during their swimming workouts, and too much long and unbroken swimming.

Triathletes train a lot outside of the water, and as a result don’t have the same amount of time to invest into swimming as a pool-only athlete. So why waste time training far below your goal race pace?

The swim workouts for triathletes below are “short” but are high in intensity.

Interval training has been shown to work over and over again for both aerobic and anaerobic gains, and it stuns me how often triathletes shy away from this kind of training when they get into the water.

Doing mile-long reps in the water might get you used to swimming for long periods of time without rest, but it won’t help you get much faster. And that’s the goal with these swimming workouts for triathletes.

Here are three main sets that will help you crush the swim leg:

Workout #1: The Pace and Ladder Set

This set, which I call the Pace and Ladder Set, is simple, effective, and teaches you how to swim at pace under varying levels of fatigue, making it a great addition to your training arsenal.


Set points:

  • All freestyle swim
  • Take :20-:30 rest between rungs on the ladder
  • Start out at race pace.
  • The goal is to take your target pace and hit it on the first 100. Double it for the 200. Triple it for the 300. And so on.
  • On the way back down you will feel a little surge in energy—with the set getting “easier” and the finish line approaching you’ll get a figurative wind behind your back—and as a result should be able to swim faster than you did on the way up.

3 Swimming Workouts for Triathletes

Workout #2: The Threshold Set

The set is about as simple as it gets:

  • 30×100 freestyle (2 swim + 1 kick) @:20 rest after each rep.

Oh baby, I’ve been doing this set for as long as I can remember. You will be tomato-faced by the end of it. And also in much better shape after doing it a few times.

I know, I know—most triathletes hate doing flutter kick on a board. (A lot of competitive swimmers avoid it like the plague, too.)

But there are some big advantages to incorporating it into your swim training: it will make you work harder (your legs burn up way more oxygen when kicking compared to swimming or pulling), will get your heart rate up, and also condition your legs so that you can turn on the jets when need be during the swim leg.

Throwing some kick into the mix will also help give your shoulders a break, helping you avoid the injury every chlorinated athlete acquaints themselves with at some point—swimmer’s shoulder.

Workout #3: Race Pace Power

This is another one of my staples that can be customized to just about any kind of chlorinated athlete. The triathlete-version of this set has a two part focus: hitting your race pace on the 100s, and then alternating some power-based swimming.

In this set you will need to dig into your triathlon bag and did out your DragSox or a swim parachute for resistance during the 25s.

There’s a lot of benefits to throwing down on some drag: swimming under load has been shown to create a more balanced stroke, it will force you to have a higher elbow during the catch, and the post-activation potentiation benefit you will experience after you take them will help you feel like a champ in the water during the aerobic segments of the set.

Here’s the set:

  • 8×100 free swim – hit your target race pace @:20 rest
  • 8×25 free swim with DragSox or parachute @:30 rest

Extra minute rest

  • 6×100 free swim – hit your target race pace minus 1 second @:20 rest
  • 6×25 free swim with DragSox or parachute @:30 rest

Extra minute rest

  • 4×100 free swim – hit your target race pace minus 2 seconds @:20 rest
  • 4×25 free swim with DragSox or parachute @:30 rest

More Stuff Like This:

40 Ultimate Swimming Workouts. Our master list of swimming workouts for all distances and strokes, featuring workouts from Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and more.

5 Gifts for Triathletes to Dominate the Swim. Looking for some swim-related toys to help you improve your swim? Here are our favorite tools for crushing your swim sessions and swim leg.

3 Swimming Workouts for Beginners. Get in shape with these three swim workout templates for beginners that can be adjusted according to your fitness level.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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