5 Swimming Workouts For Triathletes

No matter what kind of triathlete you are, be it a short-distance racer or a long-distance participant, these swimming exercises for triathlon will help better your aquatic leg.

Triathletes often focus only on strengthening their upper body muscles for the swimming component, conserving their legs for cycling and running legs. However, it is still essential to keep kicking your legs during the swim, as this can give you a real edge over your competition.

Competing in races ranging from shorter events such as the sprint triathlon to extended events such as the Olympic-distance triathlon, half-Ironman, or full Ironman requires an effective kick to not only speed you through the water portion but to conserve your energy. By utilizing this technique well, you will stay ahead during the bike and run legs, and still have energy left over for subsequent legs of the race.

Alison Freeman, a Level 1 USAT- and Training Peaks Level II-certified coach as well as a four-time Olympic-distance age-group national qualifier and several Ironman and 70.3-distance finisher, claims that, for triathletes, two or three swims per week is sufficient.

She suggests that Half-Ironman and short-ranged triathletes have swimming to biking to the running ratio of approximately 1:2:1.5 (usually two swims a week).

Alison suggests that long-distance competitors should adhere to a ratio somewhere between 1:2.5 and 3:1.75, or 2. It is beneficial to do two swims a week if you are a beginner or inexperienced swimmer; however, Ironman distance triathletes, who are training for a 3.8km swim, should add a third swim into their weekly routine.

Triathletes usually favour freestyle when swimming for the majority of their training sessions since this is the stroke used in the competition. Nonetheless, it is wise to incorporate a variety of strokes into the routine to benefit from cross-training and increase strength in other muscles.

Best Swim Workouts for Triathletes

This list of exercises will benefit triathletes by aiding them in increasing the potency of their respiration, endurance, leg strength, and speed.

1. Focus – Breathing (2,400 m/yds)

This exercise is beneficial for getting your kicking and breathing in line with each other and decreasing exhaustion. If you have an accurate sense of timing when kicking and breathing, you’ll save energy while also increasing strength and velocity.

Developing the ability to time your breathing and leg movements appropriately will save energy and enable you to move faster and with more force. It is essential to exhale fully into the water and fill your lungs with oxygen when executing hypoxic sets (breathing patterns).

Ensure your lung capacity is up to par before trying out any difficult breathless exercises.


300 freestyle

200 freestyle closed-fist freestyle (see below for drill explanation)

Main Set

Swim 200 meters in the freestyle with a pattern of taking a breath every three strokes for 50 meters, every five strokes for 100 meters, and every three strokes again for the final 50 meters.

60-second rest

200 freestyle, breathe every five strokes

60-second rest

Do 200 repetitions, alternating between three strokes with the right arm while keeping the left arm at the side, and three strokes with the left arm while keeping the right arm at the side.

60-second rest

Swim 400 meters of freestyle at a steady tempo while coordinating breathing and leg kicks.

2 minutes rest

Swim ten sets of 50-meter strides in any of the freestyle, butterfly, or backstroke strokes with fins and rest for 60 seconds between each set.


300 freestyle

Closed-Fist Freestyle Drill

Closed-fist freestyle exercises are a straightforward and powerful technique to improve your sensitivity to the water with your lower arm and emphasize a high elbows recovery. Making a fist with your hands and then swimming freestyle like you usually do is as uncomplicated as it seems.

When you make your hand into a fist, the area with which the water can come into contact is much smaller. This encourages you to be mindful of where your arm should be in the water to catch it properly with an early vertical forearm.

This exercise is emphasizing that it is necessary to use both your forearm and hand to catch the water when swimming. Additionally, it encourages a high elbow recovery and a higher rate of strokes due to a reduced catching area.

Ideal for increasing the familiarity of your lower arm with the water, making sure to have your forearm in an early vertical position when catching, and ensuring a high elbow when you lift your arm.

2. Focus – Pace (2,400 m/yds)


300 freestyle easy

Do 300 repetitions of a fingertip recovery drill, swimming the odd 50s with the drill and the even 50s with regular technique. (Refer to the explanation of the drill provided below.)

200 kicking with a kickboard

Main Set

Perform 5 swims of 50 yards at a steady pace, then rest for 10 seconds between each 50-yard swim.

Swim five 50-meter freestyles with a 10-second rest period in between each one.

Swim 5 consecutive 50s in a streamlined posture, taking 10 seconds rest in between each 50.

Focus on your form and technique for the five 50-meter freestyle swims, taking a break of 15 seconds in between each swim.

Do a 300-meter freestyle swim with a pull buoy and paddles, increasing the speed of each 25 meters until the final one is at race pace.


300 freestyle

Fingertip Recovery Drill

The Fingertip Recovery Drill is an essential exercise for swimmers who desire to keep a raised arm recovery and start the pull movement with a higher hand entry.

To perform this exercise properly, swim freestyle as usual, but when returning your arms to the initial position, slowly drag or lightly touch your fingertips along the water’s surface.

This drill is meant to allow swimmers to have unfastened, calmer shoulders in the aftermath of their strokes and is an ideal exercise for those wanting to discover how to rest additional muscles while recuperating.

Suitable for those who use a high-elbow recovery, enter the water with their hands further up, and need to relax their shoulders during the recovery process.

3. Focus–Kicking (2,700 m / yds)


200 freestyle easy

Do 200 meters of the freestyle stroke and 25 meters of a drill called the “catch-up drill,” followed by 25 meters of unrestricted freestyle. (Refer to below for a description of the catch-up drill.)

Do eight sets of a 25-count Six-Kick Switch exercise with a 10-second break in between each 25th count (for an explanation of the routine, please see below).

8 x 25 freestyle fingertip recovery drill

Main Set

Do eight sets of twenty-five six-beat kicks using a kickboard, taking a ten-second break in between each set of twenty-five.

Do four 50-meter freestyle sprints with a six-beat kick, and take a 10-second break between each 50.

Swim with fins, alternating odds on your left side and evens on your right side in sets of 25, with 10 seconds of rest in between each set.

Do a four-length freestyle swimming sprint using a six-beat kick with a 10-second break between each 50-meter leg.

Perform an 8-time 25-meter swim drill, pushing off the wall and gliding for a count of two when your arm enters the water, having a 10-second break between each 25-meter lap.

Swim four fifty-meter freestyle sprints with a six-beat kick and take a ten-second rest break between each fifty.

Do an 8-repetition 25-meter swim in freestyle style with a catch-up stroke, taking a 10-second rest in between each 25.

Swim four 50-meter freestyle sprints, using a six-beat kick for each one, and take a 10-second rest in between each 50.


300 easy freestyle

Catchup Drill

The Catch up Drill is a well-known freestyle practice that helps to better the timing of the stroke and a person’s capacity to wait in the pool. You pause your next stroke until the arm which has been moving the paddle is done recovering so that both arms are in the same position.

You can practice this drill with a kickboard by placing your arms and body in an aerodynamic position, grasping the board with one hand, and then completing the stroke with the other arm.

The streamlined arm is placed out in front and kept there until the other arm finishes the stroke and the two hands come together. Doing this exercise without the kickboard will help.

The main points of this exercise are maintaining an upright body posture, grabbing the water with a forceful early vertical forearm grip, and an elevated elbow lifting action.

Optimal for: Bringing elbows close to the body while in the recovery phase, a robust initial vertical angle to the forearm when grabbing, and a highly streamlined body posture.

Six-Kick Switch Drill

This drill for freestyle swimming is a fundamental one that concentrates on maintaining balance, correct body posture, and working on rotating the body. The drill is straightforward, however, it needs to be performed at a slow pace to reap the greatest advantage.

Execute six thrusts while swimming with your head facing downwards and your body in a streamlined form. Next, make one forceful stroke, emphasizing a powerful start and raising your elbow during your recovery. Proceed to use your opposite side for the following six kicks for balance.

This exercise can be done with or without flippers; using them assists in maintaining your posture above the water’s surface.

Good for creating a well-balanced posture, great rotation, solid vertical forearm movement at the beginning, and a high elbow return.

4. Tri to Speed

This exercise regimen enables you to practice at faster rates than the speed of a sprint. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you can maintain your technique while sprinting, that’s a good sign that what you’re doing in pace training (and your race) is nearly ideal. The best sprinters always have an amazing kick.
  • You might be wondering why you should bother sprinting during your training. After all, swim legs are 400 meters at a minimum and can extend up to 2.4 miles in an Ironman. You need to cultivate sprint speed to break away to a faster pack, prepare your legs for T1, or to beat somebody to and around a buoy.
  • When you’re sprinting, as in the 12 x 25s in this workout, you don’t have time to think about technique. For better or worse, muscle memory will take over. Make sure your technique is good before sprinting too much and ingraining bad habits. Your technique will worsen throughout your sprint. Don’t worry—it happens to everybody. The recovery between the hard sets will allow you to get your heart rate back down and reset your technique.


Swim 200 meters freestyle in intervals of 20 seconds, followed by 200 meters of pulling and lastly, 200 meters of kicking with 20 seconds of rest in between.

Main set

50 freestyle, focusing on good technique, on 10 seconds rest 10 x 50s freestyle, maintain a fast pace throughout, on 20 seconds rest 100 fingertip drill, on 20 seconds rest 12 x 25s freestyle, first six on 1 minute, second six on 45 seconds 100 freestyle recovery 8 x 25s, kick on your right side on the odds/kick on your left side on the evens, on 10 seconds rest 100 kick


400 swim

Total: 2,350

5. Side-Kick Kicking Sets

This exercise is excellent for increasing leg strength and overall cardio stamina. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • When you kick on your side, your lead arm should be extended out in front of you and your other arm should be at your side, with your hands where your pockets would be on a pair of pants. If you use a centre-mount snorkel, it’ll make holding your head position much easier. Use fins as you begin to build your technique and strength but remove them as you gain more confidence and skill.
  • With the 200 drills as part of the cool-down, don’t overthink the drilling. With enough repetition, muscle memory will eventually take over. You can also have someone film you swimming. It’s a great teaching tool in the hands of a coach.


300 freestyle

Main set

100 kicks on the right side in 20 seconds rest 100 kicks on the left side in 20 seconds rest 100 freestyle, focusing on your kick, on 20 seconds rest 8 x 25s kick, on the right side on odds, on the left side on events, 10 seconds rest after each 5 x 100s, kick on the right side for first 25, swim a 50, kick on the left side for last 25, 30 seconds rest after each one 500 free, swim with focus on technique and kicking from your hips


Do 200 freestyle strokes, zipping up with each arm recovering, then dragging your thumb from your hip to your armpit to assist with hip rotation on 30-second breaks in between. Then swim 300 meters.

Total: 2300

Side notes

Many triathletes view the swim leg of a triathlon as an opportunity to work their upper body and save their legs for the bike and run.

It is crucial to employ your upper body significantly when swimming, but you can still succeed in the race if you use your legs as well. This applies regardless of the type of triathlon you are competing in, be it a sprint, Olympic distance, half-Ironman, or Ironman.

When you kick correctly, your legs will not tire quickly, your swimming leg will be swifter, and you will conserve your energy.


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