Triathlon Swim Training for Newbie Swimmers

Training Load By Week
Training Load By Week
Average Weekly Training Hours: 00:00

Are you a triathlete without a swim background looking to improve your stroke mechanics as you build your swimming fitness? This plan is designed specifically for you. Whether you are training for your first triathlon or looking to improve your form in between seasons, this 4-week plan takes you through a series of swimming drills and gradually adds some aerobic base building workouts to help you focus on mechanics as you build your fitness in the water.

The plan includes a 500-yd time trial at the end of the first week to help you set your swimming pace zones. As the plan progresses, the focus moves from drill work to building up to some longer and more intense swim sets. The final week of the plan culminates with a 1,000-yd time trial.

Frequency in the water is important for new swimmers to develop good form and proper habits. With this in mind, the weekly yardage is spread over five swim workouts with two designated rest days. The plan also includes three strength sessions per week to target typical swimmer weaknesses and prevent shoulder injuries. Most of the workouts range from 800-1,000 yards with the longest workouts reaching 1,500-2,000 yards. You can adjust the workout distances up or down according to your needs.

The plan—like any training plan—represents an initial draft, rather than a final document set in stone. You will write the final version over the coming month as you adapt the training to your specific situation and goals.

Consult the Alp Fitness website (alpfitness.com) for supplemental resources to use along with this plan. Train smart!

Sample Day 1
732m
Stroke Counts + Downhill Swims

WARMUP: 200 easy

SET ONE: 4 x 25 stroke counts (rest as needed).
Count strokes per length with rest as needed between 25s. Remember these numbers so you know your average. If your number is above 20 strokes per 25 yards; your aim is to eventually lower that below 20. (Note: one arm equals one ‘stroke.')

SET TWO: 16 x 25 “swimming downhill” (rest as needed).
To get the sensation of “swimming downhill,” think of your chest/lungs as a big buoy (like an inflatable beach ball) that you want to push down into the water. Press this buoy (your chest) into the water, and let the force of the water pushing back raise your hips and legs to the surface.

WARMDOWN: 100 easy

Sample Day 2
732m
Weightless Arm + Rotating Kicks

WARMUP: 200 easy

SET ONE: 6 x 50 "weightless arm" (rest as needed).
As you extend your arm forward during entry, imagine that arm being weightless. In other words, you don’t want it to sink or fight against the water by letting it drop straight down. If you find this difficult, remember to “press your buoy” (i.e. chest) and imagine you are reaching toward the wall at the end of the pool as if it were your last stroke.

SET FOUR: 8 x 25 rotating side-to-side kick (rest as needed).
Start off lying on one side with your bottom arm extended above your head and your top arm at your side. Kick about six times; then take a stroke and rotate to the other side. Repeat, rolling from side to side every six kicks or so. Aim to keep your body long and level as you rotate along the spine.

WARMDOWN: 100 easy

Sample Day 3
823m
Front Quadrant Swimming

WARMUP: 200 easy

SET ONE: 8 x 25 “front quadrant” swims (rest as needed).
Here, “quadrant” refers to the following. The water line represents the x-axis and a vertical plane drawn through the shoulders represents the y-axis. As these lines intersect, they divide the space into four quadrants. Your aim in this set is to always have an arm extended in the “front quadrant” -- that is, in front of the shoulder and under the water. In other words, once your front arm extends forward at entry, pause it in that position until your opposite arm finishes its stroke and enters into the front quadrant space.

SET TWO: 8 x 50 (25 catch-up drill, 25 regular free) with rest as needed.
For the catch-up drill, keep your non-stroking arm extended in the front quadrant entry position until the opposite arm “catches up” to the same position. This slows down the stroke, emphasizes the pause after the forward extension upon entry, and exaggerates the “front quadrant” swimming.

WARMDOWN: 100 easy

Sample Day 4
823m
Stroke Eliminators

WARMUP: 200 easy

SET ONE: 4 x 25 stroke counts with rest as needed.
Count strokes per length. Take your average stroke count and use this as your target number for the next set. (Note: one arm equals one ‘stroke.’)

SET THREE: 20 x 25 “stroke eliminators” with rest as needed.
Start with a slow 25 at your target strokes per length from above. Note the time it takes to swim this. On the next 25, try to lower the time a bit while maintaining the same stroke count. Continue this pattern by going a little faster on each 25 until you can no longer maintain the target stroke count. At this point, slow down the time and maintain the stroke count.

WARMDOWN: 100 easy

Sample Day 6
914m
Swim 500-yd/m Time Trial

You should go into this workout rested.

After you are warmed up, swim a 500 at the fastest pace you can maintain for the distance.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE RESULTS
To determine your swimming pace zones, take your time and divide by 5. This will be your "T-pace" (that is, your lactate threshold pace).

In your settings, go to Zones > Speed/Pace. If it's not already present, add "Swim Speed/Pace." Select "Distance / Time" and "Joe Friel for Swimming (7)." Enter your test results to calculate your swimming pace zones.

In the post-workout comments, write down the conditions and contextual factors that impacted how you felt.

Be sure to indicate whether you swam in a short course or long course pool, yards or meters.

Sample Day 8
914m
Downhill Swims + Weightless Arm

WARMUP: 200 easy

SET ONE: 4 x 25 stroke counts (rest as needed).
Count strokes per length with rest as needed between 25s. Remember these numbers so you know your average. If your number is above 20 strokes per 25 yards; your aim is to eventually lower that below 20. (Note: one arm equals one ‘stroke.')

SET TWO: 12 x 25 “swimming downhill” (rest as needed).
To get the sensation of “swimming downhill,” think of your chest/lungs as a big buoy (like an inflatable beach ball) that you want to push down into the water. Press this buoy (your chest) into the water, and let the force of the water pushing back raise your hips and legs to the surface.

SET THREE: 6 x 50 "weightless arm" (rest as needed).
As you extend your arm forward during entry, imagine that arm being weightless. In other words, you don’t want it to sink or fight against the water by letting it drop straight down. If you find this difficult, remember to “press your buoy” (i.e. chest) and imagine you are reaching toward the wall at the end of the pool as if it were your last stroke.

WARMDOWN: 100 easy

Sample Day 9
914m
Front Quadrant Swimming + Rotating Kick

WARMUP: 200 easy

SET ONE: 4 x 25 “front quadrant” swims (rest as needed).
Here, “quadrant” refers to the following. The water line represents the x-axis and a vertical plane drawn through the shoulders represents the y-axis. As these lines intersect, they divide the space into four quadrants. Your aim in this set is to always have an arm extended in the “front quadrant” -- that is, in front of the shoulder and under the water. In other words, once your front arm extends forward at entry, pause it in that position until your opposite arm finishes its stroke and enters into the front quadrant space.

SET FOUR: 8 x 50 (25 catch-up drill, 25 regular free) with rest as needed.
For the catch-up drill, keep your non-stroking arm extended in the front quadrant entry position until the opposite arm “catches up” to the same position. This slows down the stroke, emphasizes the pause after the forward extension upon entry, and exaggerates the “front quadrant” swimming.

SET FIVE: 8 x 25 rotating kick with rest as needed.
Start off lying on one side with your bottom arm extended above your head and your top arm at your side. Kick about six times; then take a stroke and rotate to the other side. Repeat, rolling from side to side every six kicks or so. Aim to keep your body long and level as you rotate along the spine.

WARMDOWN: 100 easy

Adam Hodges
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Alp Fitness

I offer training plans for runners and triathletes seeking personal growth through self-defined challenges, whether those involve races (e.g. Ironman 70.3, 50K trail runs) or solo adventures (e.g. fast-packing, mountaineering objectives). Learn more about the training approach in my book, “The Triathlete’s Training Guide,” and check out alpfitness.com for additional videos and articles to help you train smart.