Monday, February 1, 2016

Strength Before Speed - Three Swim Sets

by Gordo Byrn

If you’ve ever had the experience of your arms turning to rubber after the first 400 of a swim start then this post is for you.

Open water swimming has more in common with a bike race than a time-trial. There are many rapid changes in pace and you need to be able to recover while continuing to move forward.

Here are three swims that address the specific fitness required to go fast in open water. As added bonus, you can do all of these without a clock.

1. Medley 250s
Swim a continuous cycle of 100 Medley (25 Fly, 25 Back, 25 Breast, 25 Free) that is immediately followed by 150 Free. If you’re not strong enough for fly then swim head-up freestyle with your chin held still on the water line.

As you improve fitness, you’ll be able to build the pace of the 150 Free. When you start, the swim is likely to look like… 25 Fly then 225 active recovery.

I swim total distance of 1,000 to 5,000 using this workout pattern.

2. Band Only
Cut tire inner tube widths or use a section of old bike tube. Ensure that your ankles are snuggly together so that you can’t kick.

Progress gradually with sets such as:

  • 20x25
  • 20x50
  • Twin 20x50 (once at the start of the workout, once at the end)

Rest interval should be three relaxed breaths.

Don’t worry about the clock or your speed. Just keep your chin down, widen your stroke and keep your forearm pointing down when pulling water.

3. The Long Swim
For the serious athlete, in addition to three masters workouts, include a race distance swim.

Here are four ways to play it:

  1. Just Do It - Swim relaxed for the distance. In the final half of the workout, vary your pace by 50 or 100. A pattern I like is Very Fast / Easy by 50 or Fast / Steady by 100
  2. Pace Change - Roll continuous 125s as 50 long strokes (Easy), 25 (Very Fast), 50 Steady
  3. Progressive - Split the distance into four segments and swim each segment slightly faster
  4. Up and Down - Split the distance into five segments and swim the segments as Fast, Mod-Hard, Steady, Mod-Hard, Fast. Make segments #4 and #5 slightly quicker than #1 and #2, respectively.

For bonus points, you can do the swims above in open water. Intervals can be modified to use time or strokes. Most pool swimmers are surprised at how pace changes impact them without the extra rest of frequent push-offs.

Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog at

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