Understanding Your Swim Workouts



If you want to crush your next (or first) triathlon, The Sufferfest triathlon training plans are the most effective way to make a transition to a stronger, faster, tougher you (see what we did there). Because the swimming sessions don't have corresponding videos in the app, we've created text description of each workout to ensure you can Do As You're Told. 

Just like cycling and running, the workout description tells you how many sets you will perform of a particular interval, at what effort, and how much recovery to take in between. The primary difference with swimming sessions is the interval length will be distance based rather than time based. Unlike cycling and running, however, rest periods during swim workouts mean static resting, not easy swimming or active recovery. Most rest periods are short, between 10 and 60 seconds and about 90 seconds at the most. Static resting will allow you to catch your breath and prepare for the next interval without having your face in the water.

Note that the duration of swim workouts shown in your training plan are ballpark estimates. The time it takes for you to complete a given workout will largely depend upon how fast you swim, how much rest time is included in the workout, and what the workout is comprised of. For example, a 1,000m workout that is  mostly a series of drills will take much longer than a 1,000m workout of race pace efforts.


Each swim workout is broken up into 4 Parts:  

  1. Warm-Up
  2. Activation
  3. Main Efforts
  4. Extra Volume



Proper warm-up is essential to help get your body ready for the work ahead, prevent injury and help you get the most out of your swim sessions. The first couple hundred meters of your swim should be performed at an easy to moderate effort. Just like when cycling and running, you want to gradually increase your heart rate and slowly prepare the body for harder efforts later in the workout. 



This portion of the workout is an extension of the warmup, where you'll do some kicking, pulling, drills, or faster efforts to fully engage the different muscles, reinforce proper technique, and further increase heart and breathing rates. 


Main Efforts

The Main Effort of each workouts can contain one interval or multiple intervals. Sometimes the intervals will all have the same rest period and sometimes they will be different. Be sure to read the workout carefully. We recommending printing or copying the workout onto a sheet of paper that you can bring to the pool and refer to during the session. 

Pro Tip: Write the workout in pencil on a sheet of paper, wet a kick board and then stick the paper to the kick board. That way you won't lose it and when it gets wet, you can still read it.

In the main effort section, if there are intervals and rest periods of different distances and durations, they will be listed in the order that they should be performed. They will be listed as "Interval 1" with the distance that you'll swim, then the rest period you should take after that interval. Then move on to "Interval 2", and so on down the list.

If there is a list of intervals without rest periods following each one, pay special attention to the effort level specified for each interval. In this case, you may be swimming a 500m interval, but changing effort at specific distances, like 25, 50 or 75m. This type of workout will require you to multi-task; remembering the interval breakdown and counting laps at the same time.

If there are multiple Main Efforts, they will be numbered and you will complete all sets within the first Main Effort section before moving onto the next section.  

Workout distances are given in Meters, however if you swim in a yard pool, you'll swim the same length intervals, but remember that a yard is shorter than a meter, so your total distance in yards will be less than the total distance given in meters. Most pools are either 25 yards or 25 meters per length, though some are 25 meters, and some may be 50 meters. A 50 yard or 50 meter interval in a 25 yard/m pool means that you will swim down and back, which is referred to as 1 lap. 100m is 2 laps, 200m is 4 laps, etc. 

The main effort description will include:

  1. Number of Sets - The number of times you go through a full “set” of intervals.  Not all workouts contain multiple sets. There will always be recovery between sets.
  2. Rest Between Sets - This describes the recovery that should be done between completed Sets.  If a workout has only a single Set, then you will see “N/A” here.
  3. Interval Distance per Set - The number of times you repeat an interval to complete 1 Set. Some Sets contain a single Interval, while other Sets can contain more than 6.  
  4. Interval - This describes each segment that makes up an interval.  Sometimes there is a single segment for the interval, sometimes there are multiple segments for an interval.  To complete a single set, you simply repeat the Interval Segments


Extra Volume

Rarely will you find extra volume in your swim workouts, but it is possible. If you do, it will likely be a set of drills to help reinforce proper technique, or an easy swim or pull set to build aerobic conditioning.



In addition to structure swim workouts, your plan may include specific drills. These are used to practice specific aspects of the swim stroke and reinforce proper technique. Drills can bechallenging, but don't rush through them. Remember, if it's challenge, that probably means you need the practice.

Kicking- Kicking drills can be done several different ways:

  • On your belly with arms outstretched on a kick board in front of the body,
  • On your back with arms extended and hands stacked above/behind the head,
  • On your side, 
  • On your belly without a kick board (which is the most challenging). 

Pulling- Pulling drills are designed to isolate the upper-body portion of your swim stroke, and can be done with or without paddles. You'll need a pull buoy that you can squeeze between your legs to keep your body in a good position high in the water while eliminating the kick portion. This is good for strength building, working on your pulling and rotation techniques. Because you're not feeding much oxygen to your leg muscles, pulling drills are not as aerobically demanding as other sessions. 


Using the Pace Clock:  Most pools and aquatic centers will have a pace clock. There are two types of pace clocks: digital and analog. When you start an interval, make sure to watch the clock and begin on an even number to make it easier to keep track of your times and rest periods. Most swimmers and triathletes use the "top" (00) or the "bottom" (:30) as typical starting points. For example; if you start an interval when the clock says 5:00 and you swim 100m, look at the clock as soon as you finish the 100m and take your prescribed rest period from that time. If you finish at 6:40 and your rest period is supposed to be 20 seconds, you'll take off on the next interval at 7:00. So when you hear people say they swim their 100's on a 2:00 interval, that is the total of their swim time plus recovery period for that distance.

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