A Swim Workout for Every Season

2017-02-07 18:06:45

By Sara K. Madden

It's been over five months since I hung up my bike, and shifted my focus from triathlons to running. Although it is not a necessary part of marathon training, I'm still committed to swimming weekly.

A swim workout once or twice a week is a fantastic way to stay healthy, recover from training, and get a good fitness base for the coming race season.

Whether enjoying the off-season, or racing competitively, here are a few of my staple workouts. So, grab a pull buoy, a kick board, a Waterproofed iPod Shuffle, and spend some quality time at your local 25 meter pool this season!

1. Triathlon Training Workout

A triathlon training workout

Triathlon swims are unpredictable - from the initial panic of the start, to finding your pace, to then having the chaos resume as you sprint towards the shore. This workout is intended to prepare you for those unpredictable scenarios and get you ready to race.

Pro tip: For you overachievers who REALLY want to replicate the swim start, recruit the kids swimming in the next lane to whack you with fun noodles as you swim along - Kidding!

Warm Up
1 x 300 easy swim

    Main Set
  • 1 x 200: swum as 150 free and 50 back, 20 seconds rest
  • 2 x 100: kick, 20 seconds rest
  • 5 x 50: build, 45 seconds rest (Goal: Start each 50 meter at moderate effort, building speed at the wall, and finishing fast, with the last 5m as the hardest)
  • 5 x 150: swum as 100 swim then 50 kick, 15 seconds rest
Cool Down
1 x 300 easy swim

Total distance: 2000 meters

2. Running / Marathon Training Workout

A running/marathon training workout

Incorporate this workout into your training when running is your focus, and you are looking for some active recovery. As a low-impact exercise, a swim workout is ideal for enhancing your aerobic fitness and strength, while avoiding any further stress on your ankles and knees. Swimming improves flexibility, and strengthens your hamstrings, hip flexors and IT bands. It also increases your VO2 capacity, which will positively impact your running economy. You can even swap out a recovery run for some pool time if your legs are feeling extra weary from all that pavement pounding.

Warm Up
1 x 200 easy swim

    Main Set
  • 4 x 300: swum as 50 swim easy, 100 kick fast, 50 swim easy, 100 swim fast, 20 seconds rest
Cool Down
1 x 200 easy swim

Total distance: 1600 meters

3. Off-Season Workout

A off-season workout

Approaching swimming during the off-season can be a lot like approaching a yoga session. Both demand focus on your breathing that can introduce a very meditative quality to the workout. This particular workout focuses on these practices by working on distance per stroke and breath control. To reinforce that this season is about recovery, not results, I often skip wearing a watch for this workout... but I do bring my pull buoy along.

Pro tip: The DPS (Distance per stroke) drill is done by counting how many strokes you take from one end of the pool to the other. Your focus is to maximize the distance that your pull and glide can propel you by taking as few strokes as possible. The goal is increasing your VO2 capacity by breathing every 3 to 4 strokes. But don't HOLD your breath. Instead begin exhaling slowly a few seconds after you put your face back in the water.

Warm Up
1 x 200 easy swim

    Main Set
  • 4 x 100 pull, breathing every 3 to 4 strokes, and 30 seconds rest
  • 4 x 75: DPS, 60 seconds rest
  • 4 x 50: pull (Goal: Holding back on the first 50, and working up to a hard effort of pulling for the last 50), 60 seconds rest
  • 4 x 25: fast, 10 seconds rest

  • 4 x 100: swum as
  • 25 breathing every 2 strokes and 20 seconds rest
  • 25 breathing every 3 strokes and 25 seconds rest
  • 25 breathing every 4 strokes and 30 seconds rest
  • 25 easy, breathing comfortably
Cool Down
1 x 200 easy swim, optional pull

Total distance: 1800 meters

With racing season winding down, most of my workouts are of the off-season variety. My swim cap and goggles are riding around in the car, still damp from my swim this morning. And before they can dry I'll be back in the pool, building that fitness base and staying healthy!

Note: Please be sure to tailor your fitness routine to your own individual health, and your goals. Seek professional medical advice if you have any questions regarding what is appropriate for you prior to participating in any exercise program.


Sara K. Madden is a triathlete and Boston Qualifier living in Albany, NY with her husband Jeremiah. In April 2014 she finished her first Boston Marathon while training for her third Ironman Lake Placid.

One of the founding members of Team Loco, an endurance sports team, she strives to inspire her team, the athletes she coaches, her coworkers, and anyone who crosses her path to try something that takes them out of their comfort zone! Sara's favorite things include camping, gluten-free pizza, and racing in tutus, sombreros or other absurd accessories!

Sara K Madden


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