So, you want to improve your swimming, eh?   It’s your “weakest of the three”?   Feel at home.  According to a 2014 USA Triathlon survey, 79% of card-carryin’ triathletes say swimming is their weakest event of the swim / bike / run trilogy.    You’re in good company.   Statistically.

“But Carole”, my athletes bemoan, “Why should I spend copious hours in the pool when the swimming portion is so much shorter than the running and biking?  I’ll only improve a few seconds with months of work.  My time is better spent on the bike or running!”

Welllllllllllllllllllllllllllll….they’re right.   And they’re wrong.

You’ll spend months and months in grueling workouts at the track to try to shave 30 seconds from that 10k off the bike?  You’ll practice a fumbling, flying dismount so you can run into T2 a precious 5 seconds faster?   You’ll perfect jumping off your bike with the shoes left on the pedals so you don’t have to clunk-clunk-clunk to a quicker transition?   Yet you don’t see the translation to your work in the pool as an improvement?!?

Come here.  This will only hurt for a second.

It’s true.  The amount of work it requires in the pool to bring your consistent and repeatable 100y 1:45 time to a 1:40 is immense.   You’ll need to ‘hold your line’ week after week after week as you stare at that boring black line on the bottom of the pool.   But think this through, my friends.  Why is this important?   Because:  you’re in the 4-sport sport (if you count transitions in there, and you should).  Any time savings you can find is important to the overall picture.

Consider this: you’re not just factoring the 3 seconds faster per 100y you ultimately achieve – even though you SHOULD as this translates to a minimum of 30 seconds to the overall time shaving, depending on the distance.   But what most triathletes fail to consider in addition to this is how the overall swim economy they’ve improved upon affects their entire 4-sport day.  Even if you didn’t improve upon your swim time (and remember, courses vary with properly marked distances and challenging currents, so you likely improved), what you have done is improve your aerobic economy in the swim discipline.  And that means, in laymen’s terms, you’ll bolt to T1 and fly onto that bike course quicker, without as much recovery needed from the swim.

Hang on.  Let me repeat this for you.  You’ll get onto the bike out of T1 without needing as much recovery.    You’ll be able to get down to business on that bike quicker and more powerfully, therefore enabling a quicker bike split because the swim didn’t tire you out as much….which means you’re out onto the run course quicker…which means an overall speedier triathlon day.


And BOOM (because I like writing BOOM).


So make the commitment to improving your swim this year, even though it’s the shortest distance of the day, because it relates to your entire day.   To help get you going, here’s one of the swim workouts I gave to my crew here in beautiful Boulder, CO.   You should shorten or lessen the yardage relative to your current fitness in the pool, and of course give yourself challenging intervals but ones you can make. The ones I’ve included are merely examples.

WU 200 easy.

6 x 75 on 10 seconds rest done as 25 left-arm only (arm not in use stays out in front), 25 right-arm only, 25 free swim .

100 kick.

Then a simple 8 x 50 swim with descending intervals (select intervals such that your 4th and 8th 50 is hard but doable) – example of ours – :50, :45, :40, :35 then repeat :50, :45, :40, :35.

100 Easy kick.

5 x 100 done as a FAST 75 free on tough interval that you barely make but you make (it should give you 5 seconds rest), then right into a 25 non-free on an interval that gives you 10-15 sec rest after an easy 25 of non-free.   For our group we did 75 on :55, 25 easy non-free on :35 done 5x continuously.

The Pull with paddles and/or buoy are done at a moderate,  steady effort  so choose an interval that gives you 10-15 sec rest at a moderate pace to include taking off pulling equipment.  I’ve included examples from our workout but you should modify as needed.

Moderate 400 Pull on 4:55 (example)

Easy 50 on 1:05 (example)

4 x FAST 50’s on :35 (example)

1 x easy 50 on 1:30 (example).

Moderate 300 pull on 4:05

1x easy 50 on 1:05

3 x fast 50’s on :35

1 x easy 50 on 1:30.

You can add to the set here by following this pattern to include a 200 pull with 2 x fast 50’s then a 100 pull with 1 x fast 50.

Put on fins and do (all with fins on) 10 x 25 on 10 sec rest done as 25 dolphin kick on back, 25 gentle free swim.   Then cool down with an easy 200 swim, no fins.

Carole is a former Professional Triathlete and Olympic Trials Swimmer.  She is currently a USA Triathlon Coach and Masters Swim Coach for Boulder Aquatic Masters (BAM).  If you have questions about your swim training, or would like to have your stroke analyzed by film, reach out to Carole at