According to the latest demographic study on USA Triathlon members, the average triathlete is a 38- year-old married Caucasian male with a Bachelor’s degree who works in a white-collar job, has a household income over $100,000, and participates in races for the personal challenge (95%).
Regardless of their background, triathletes are busy people that often spend too little time in the pool. When you take into account the time spent commuting and changing in and out of your speedo/wetsuit, swimming can quickly become a time-consuming activity.
Plus, considering only about 10-20% of your time in a race is spent in the water, when busy athletes must decide how to allocate precious training time, swimming often becomes an afterthought. However, the possible benefit of spending a little more time in the pool cannot be dismissed.
Swimming is the one discipline in which your cardiovascular endurance is strengthened by using every single muscle in the body. The benefit of developing all these secondary muscles carries over greatly to the other disciplines.
For example, instead of slumping over at the end of your run, your strengthened core muscles will enable you to continue running with proper form.
Besides, swim training can often be continued even during times of injury, thanks to its low impact on the knees, ankles, and hips.
Finally, according to an extensive study by Harvard Medical, swimming was found to be among the activities that burn the most calories per hour. This is noteworthy, considering the second most common reason for triathlon participation is to stay in shape (87%).
Five 30-Minute Swimming Workouts
Respecting the time-constraints of most triathletes, below you can find five efficient swim practices that can be done in only 30 minutes. Especially, if you already have a decent swimming base to build upon, you can get away with just doing these shorter workouts.
If your schedule allows for longer swim sets, be sure to take a look at these 9 longer swimming workouts written specifically for triathletes.
To become a well-rounded swimmer, you must identify and improve upon your weaknesses. Each of the workouts listed below have different types of exercises that focus on improving specific aspects of your swimming ability, such as strength, endurance, and speed.
Workout 1: Endurance
Improving your swim-specific endurance is arguably the most important aspect for triathletes since in a race you need to be able to swim continuously at a moderate to high pace without taking a break. To better endure these longer swims in open water, you must get comfortable swimming longer freestyle sets in the pool with little rest in between.
The ladder workout is an all-time classic set that is popular among triathletes and competitive swimmers around the world. It is an easy set to remember and it is an excellent way to build your endurance.
You should swim all distances in this set at a moderate pace that makes you breathe deep and frequent enough to make you a little uncomfortable, but still allows you to finish the set without taking extra seconds of rest.
• Warm-up: easy 200 (50 backstroke - 100 freestyle - 50 backstroke)
• Main set: 100-200-300-400-300-200-100 all freestyle with 15-30secs rest in between
• Cooldown: 100 easy your choice stroke
Total = 1900 yards/meters
Workout 2: Speed
Triathletes often disregard training their sprint swimming speed, since most of the triathlon swim is done at a pace well below max speed.
However, to be a well-rounded athlete you will need to train the full range of systems. This includes occasionally training above the lactate threshold line to improve your body’s ability to process lactate, which allows you to go harder, longer.
• Warm-up: 2 x 100 easy your choice stroke with 30secs rest
• Neuromuscular activation: 4 x 25 SPRINT (1 fly – 1 back – 1 breast – 1 free) with 60secs rest, followed by 100 easy
• Lactate threshold set:
- 3 x 25 SPRINT fly with 40secs rest
- 2 x 50 SPRINT back with 60secs rest o 3 x 25 SPRINT breast with 40secs rest
Extra minute rest
- 4 x 25 SPRINT free with 40secs rest o 2 x 50 SPRINT free with 60secs rest
• Cooldown: 200 easy your choice stroke
Total = 1050 yards/meters
Workout 3: Technique
Whatever your current swimming level, it is always a good idea to further work on your technique. One great way to improve your stroke technique is to practice various swimming drills.
Since freestyle (crawl) is the fastest stroke and most of your future workouts will consist of freestyle sets, here are three excellent freestyle swimming drills you can do:
1. Catch-up drill (video): This great drill is performed by keeping your left arm paused straight out in front of your shoulder, until your right arm “catches up,” upon which the left arm goes through its full freestyle cycle and the right arm pauses out in front. By isolating arm movement, you are forced to use your kick to keep your body afloat in a horizontal line AND it also promotes proper hand entry that does not cross over the midline.
2. Closed-fist drill (video): This one is exactly what you think it is. Instead of cupping the water with an open hand, you will be making a fist. This drill may feel awkward since it takes away a lot of your pulling surface area, but it encourages you to swim with a high elbow which enables your forearms to pull more water.
3. Sculling (video): Sculling improves your proprioception – a fancy word for sense of self-movement and body position – by isolating specific weaknesses in your stroke. Sculling is performed by moving your hands and forearms quickly in a repetitive pattern while scooping as
much water as possible. You can target any part of the pulling phase of your stroke; the sculling variations are endless.
If you are looking for more stroke-specific pointers, be sure to check out our article on swimming techniques for a more in-depth discussion.
Workout 4: Open Water Skills
Since most triathlon swims take place in lakes, oceans, and channels you must prepare for these rough conditions. While it would be wise to complete several swim sets in open water, you can still prepare yourself adequately in the comfort of a pool. This workout specifically focuses on the skills you need to survive the turbulent waves/conditions and navigate efficiently in open water.
• Warm-up: easy 200 alternating, 50 freestyle swim-50 flutter kick with kickboard
• Main set:
- 6 x 50 Tarzan drill: swim freestyle with head out of the water looking straight down to the other end, 15secs rest in between
- 3 x 200 freestyle without touching the walls: turn at the “T,” 30secs rest in between
- 6 x 50 Tarzan drill: swim freestyle with head out of the water looking straight down to the other end, 15secs rest in between.
• Cooldown: easy 200 alternating 50 freestyle swim with 50 flutter kick without a kickboard.
Total = 1600 yards/meters
Workout 5: Strength
Just like in any sport, gaining strength is achieved by adding resistance to your movement. Swim-specific strength can be gained by using hand paddles which allows you to grab onto more water or you can add weight by using “power towers” or wearing extra clothing to weigh you down. You should swim the main set of this workout at a strong pace with an emphasis on good stroke technique.
• Warm-up: easy 200 (50 backstroke - 100 freestyle - 50 backstroke)
• Main set:
- 6 x 25 freestyle with buckets with 30 secs rest in between to float back (video)
- 4 x 100 freestyle wearing an old T-shirt with 15 secs rest in between
- 4 x 150 freestyle with paddles with 20 secs rest in between
• Cooldown: 150 easy your choice stroke
Total = 1500 yards/meters
Strengthen your breathing muscle outside the water
Respiratory training is a vital part of your body's ability to perform well. Many mobile applications offers the ability to track your progress through data. With a data driven breathing trainer, you recieve real time data on your vital lung capacity and your expiratory and inspiratory strength.
The breathing trainer from Airofit targets different areas of breathing. All Airofit’s sessions and programs are developed by breathing experts like the former world champion in freediving, Dr. Mike Maric.