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14 swim tips and sessions from the pros

14 top pro triathletes, including Gwen Jorgensen, Jodie Stimpson and Leanda Cave, share their top swim tips and sessions


Pro tip

“Having come from a pool-swimming background my stroke used to be almost like catch-up. Yes, it’s efficient in the pool, but it’s not so good when it comes to open water. So over the past couple of years I’ve worked on reducing the pause in my stroke. This has meant that my turnover has increased a little, but makes me better at responding to surges in the pack and means I don’t go backwards if I’m swimming against a current. Good drills for this include sculling to help you feel the early catch part of your stroke, and swimming with a fast turnover while wearing fins.” 

 Favourite swim session

“Going into a race I like doing this set as it prepares me for the fast start in the swim…”

2-3 x (4 x 75m fast with 5secs rest,
3 x 150m at race pace, 50m easy). 


Pro tip

“Get a wetsuit that fits you well and swim in open water as much as you can. When swimming in the open water don’t always just swim easy, get your mates to swim hard with you from buoy to buoy and swim close together, just like in a race-day situation.”

Favourite swim session 

“Beware, this is a toughie, and covers 3.4km…”

200m swim, 50m kick, 200m pull, 50m kick
600m pull paddles, easy; 2 x 100m fast, 10secs rest; 500m pull paddles; 3 x 100m fast, 15secs rest; 400m pull paddles; 4 x 100m fast, 20secs rest.  
100m very easy.
8 x 25m as three hard one easy with 10secs rest.  
200m cool-down.


Pro tip

“My tip is: be consistent with your training. You can give your swim some extra attention during the winter when it’s not as easy to bike and run, but you need to be consistent week in week out. Swim every week three times and maintain it.”


Pro tip

“This tip is rather random, but I think it could come in pretty handy for those colder races – I like to put some heat cream on my quads (and swim muscles, too, depending on how cold it is before I put my wetsuit on). It keeps me warm throughout the swim and at the start of the bike. It just helps get my legs moving right out of the water. Obviously you’d need to try this in training first – too much heat cream can be a bit of a nightmare.”

Favourite swim session 

“Favourite and swim don’t go together too often in my vocabulary, but when forced I would choose the following…”

4km as: • 800m swim warm-up • 8 x 100m • 8 x 50m fast on max rest • 400m pull/paddles, easy • 4 x 100m • 4 x 50 on max rest • 200m pull/paddles • 2 x 100m • 2 x 50m fast on max rest • 500m cool-down.


Pro tip

“Don’t obsess over your technique. Some basics are important, but everyone has their own way of swimming, with its pros and cons. 

“Our swim in open water has little to do with swimming in a pool, so train to get the most out of your own freestyle, avoiding stress and trying to always enjoy being in the water!”

Favourite swim session 

“My favourite swim sessions are based on short and explosive sets, from 25m to 100m. I especially like one with some reps of 25m-50m-75m-75m-50m-25m, one fast, one easy, with a very short rest. I think it’s a good way to get used to the changes of pace that we have in competition.”


Pro tip

“Get yourself a swim band. You can even use a piece of inner tube tied together so it’s just big enough to go around the ankles.”

Favourite swim session 

“Any set with a band only (in other words, without a pull buoy) before your main swim set will be great to build some fatigue in the arms, but also help you accentuate your catch and turn on your core. If you’ve never done
any band work before try the following…” 

6 x 50m off 10secs rest. As you get stronger work up to 50m/100m/150m/200m/ 200m/150m/100m/50m, also off 10secs rest.


Pro tip

“My number one couldn’t-tri-without tip for swimming is ‘routine’. Those early mornings will feel a lot easier if you get used to them. If you struggle to wake up while it’s still dark, invest in a Lumie natural light alarm clock – they’re great!”

Favourite swim session 

“My favourite swim session usually involves a bit of individual medley (IM). Being a triathlete you tend to do long, aerobic freestyle reps so IM just breaks the long sessions up. Plus, doing butterfly and breaststroke help make you
a stronger swimmer. 


Pro tip 

“Get yourself a good pair of open-water goggles. Spotting turnaround buoys is so important to ensure your 1,500m swim doesn’t turn into 1,700m. And being able to see the buoy without the distraction of foggy goggles or one eye filled with water is helpful! I use the Tyr Nest Pro Nano mirrored goggles; they’re not big enough to cover your whole face but slightly bigger to make it easier to see.”

Favourite swim session 

“My favourite swim session is the below because it mixes it up so it seems to go a lot quicker than just swimming front crawl.

"Warm-up of around 1,200-1,600m; main set of 3 x [8 x 50m] individual medley;8 x 100m front crawl; finish with short cool-down.

“For a more specific main set, I tend to like threshold swims, such as 10 x 200m off a short turn around.”


Pro tip

“My Vasa Erg Trainer, I love that thing. Great land- based training that keeps me excited about swimming and helps me master technique and strength on land so it can be applied in water.”

Favourite swim session 

“My fave sesh is a set of 150s. So, say, 10 x 150m with good rest (20-30secs). These should be done as…”

• 50m sprint (like start of a race).
• 50m easy, but only breathe every five strokes to simulate recovering with reduced oxygen – quite like the start of a race).
• 50m race pace (settle in to solid race pace or just slightly above it).


Pro tip

“Practise running out of the water and taking off your wetsuit at race pace – it’s important to practise race-specific things during training. You can even simulate having a timing chip by wrapping a watch around your ankle.

“I also think technique is often overlooked when a person gets tired. It’s hard to focus and meet the demands of competition when you’re tired, but it’s most important to hold technique and form during this time.”     

Favourite swim session 

• 400m,focusing on good technique or something that you struggle with.
• 4 x 100m,increasing speed/pressure and holding form under fatigue.
• 4 x 50m,descending, continuing to hold form.

Main set 

• 2 x 25m max effort.
• 200m broken at 200m pace.
• 3 x 100m threshold.
• Break for 5-10mins to recover.
• End with a cool-down. 


pro tip

“I’d say, swim a lot with paddles. That’s what I do as well, and I love it! You build up strength and endurance together. But, be careful and do it step by step. Sets should progressively get longer. And listen to your body, especially your shoulders and arms.”

Favourite swim session 

“My favourite is an 800m locomotive. It’s perfect for triathletes and even makes 800m non-stop fun! 

It works like this…” 

• 25m normal front crawl followed by another 25m front crawl but using long strokes (one or two fewer
than previous).  
• 50m/50m and 75m/75m/ 100m/100m/75m/75m/50m/50m/25m/25m. 

Make sure you count the laps! It’s a good simulation of how you mostly swim in a race, as pace and stroke change a lot during competition. You can do this with or without paddles.


Pro tip

“Always apply Vaseline (or other lube) on the neck and the ribs where your tri top might chafe you. I still have scars from Kona one year!”

Favourite swim session 

“I usually swim 12 x 50m, 6 x 100m, 3 x 200m. Don’t do more than 16x/8x/4x because this is supposed to be intense, and unless you’re a real swimmer you won’t be able to keep the intensity up.”

• 500m warm-up, different styles • 8 x 50m free technique • 6 x 50m free, little breathing (i.e every 7th or 9th stroke), short rest of 10-15secs • 50m easy • 3 x 50m free, accelerate from 1-3 with 20-30secs rest • 50m easy • 8 x 50m free, hard with short rest of 10-15secs • 50m easy • 4 x 100m IM hard, 10-20sec rest • 50m easy • 2 x 200m free, hard, 20sec rest • 200m cool-down.


Pro tip

“I think one of the best swim drills is the fist drill. Nothing complicated, just swim front crawl with fists clenched, alternating back to normal stroke every 25 or 50m. This enhances your ability to catch the water with your forearms.  Most novice swimmers (myself included) drop their elbows. This will teach you how not to do that as you’ll swim on the spot if you don’t do it correctly.”

Favourite swim session 

“I like workouts that go by relatively quickly! Fartleks, for example, tend to make time fly. This is one I particularly enjoy…” 

Warm-up of 400-800m • 400m as 100m hard/100m easy (twice through) with 20secs rest • 2 x 300m as 75m hard/75m easy (twice through) with 15secs rest • 3 x 200m as 50m hard/50m easy (twice through) with 10secs rest • 4 x 100m as 25m hard/25m easy (twice through), 5secs rest • 400-800m cool-down.


Pro tip

“I think my number one swim tip would be to just stay relaxed, no matter what the circumstances.”

Favourite swim session 

“I’d do the following session 2-3 times, with a few 100m easy in between. It really recreates a race, and doesn’t take much thought…”

200m max, 5secs rest, 4 x 200m off 2:35mins.

Alistair Brownlee's key triathlon training sessions

21 triathlon tips from the world’s best triathletes


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