Swimming drills for triathletes

Improve the swim leg of your triathlon with drills

For most of us triathletes swimming is the sport where it’s hardest to keep our motivation. First up you have to find a pool and fit in with their opening times, then you have to travel over there, pay to swim, get changed, and then pluck up that courage to take that horrible cold plunge into the water. Most likely you’ll have to battle other members of the public for the best part of an hour in a sport that’s frustratingly difficult and has you starting at the bottom of a pool!

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.

The best way you can help yourself is to have a set already mapped out before you get in the pool that keeps your attention and gives you what you need from the workout. Swim sets should always be split up so you have a warm up, prep set, main set, then a subset or straight to a warm down.  

When you map out your training you should complete different types of sets working different areas of your profile. Whether that is a technique set, speed set, threshold set, VO2 max set or a recovery swim, and they should also progress over the weeks to constantly challenge you.

Every swim set should have turnaround times. For example, if you’re swimming 20x100m off 1:30 and you finish the rep in 1:15 you have 15 seconds rest before you start the next rep. This is important as it dictates how much rest you have, dictates the difficulty of the set and gives you something to aim at if you’re training with short rest. If 1:30 is very hard for you but eventually you can turn around on 1:20’s it shows a significant improvement in your speed and fitness.

Example of a speed set

Warm up 5x200m SKIPS

1) Swim

2) Kick

3) Individual medley

4) Pull

5) Swim 

8x25m 3x fast 1x Backstroke (x2) off 30 secs

16x50m 3 Easy 1 Fast off 45 secs

12x50m 2 Easy 1 Fast off 50 secs

8x50m 1 Easy 1 Fast off 55 secs

4x50m All Fast off 60 secs

Warm down.

Example of threshold set

400m Swim

300m Pull

200m Individual medley

4x25m Max 

1x100m off 1:30

1x100m 1:25

1x100m 1:20

2x100m 1:30

2x100m 1:25

2x100m 1:20

3x100m 1:30

3x100m 1:25

3x100m 1:20

10x50m Kick.

odd reps 25m! 25m easy

even reps 50m FAST

Warm Down 

Example of VO2 max set

300m Free (100m free 50m back) x2

12x50m Drills x3

1) Single arm

2) Doggy paddle/water polo stroke

3) Catch up

4) Sculling


25m Max 25m recovery.

Alternating deep water start with dive with pushing off wall.

100m Max effort off 2mins

75m Max effort 25m recovery off 2mins

50m Max effort 50m recovery off 2mins

25m Max effort 175m recovery. 4mins rest.


5x200m paddle pull off 3mins

100m warm down.

Example of recovery set (no turnarounds as that adds pressure. Just easy swimming)

1000m 225m swim 25m back

800m Pull paddles

600m Pull paddles and band

400m Free

200m Individual medley

100m Kick 

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