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Home / Training / How to increase your triathlon swim speed

How to increase your swim speed

Make sure you don't become last-man Charlie this season

(Credit: Jonny Gawler)

Fiona Ford offers some advice on how to increase your speed in the water and make sure you don’t become the last-man Charlie.

For triathletes, the most effective way to improve your swim speed over the winter is through Critical Swim Speed (CSS) or threshold training. In physiological terms, your triathlon swim is an endurance distance event at 1,500m, 1,900m or 3,800m.

Posting a fast time requires a well-conditioned aerobic engine, muscular endurance, excellent pacing and efficient movement patterns. Swimming short, fast intervals would have a greater effect on your anaerobic capacity and would only be beneficial if you were racing short distances.

Structure your training around threshold pace or CSS. Identify your CSS by performing swim time trials over 400m and 200m and working out your average pace per 100m. If your 100m splits show that the first 100 or 200m were significantly faster than the latter half of your 400m TT, pacing is likely an area for improvement. For the purposes of training adaptation, you need to be working at or slightly below your threshold or CSS pace.

Training anaerobically at maximum speed over short distances is useful occasionally to provide feedback on stroke efficiency and propulsion ratio of legs to arm cycle. But this type of training is demanding on your recovery and adaptation cycle, so utilise it sparingly. Prioritise CSS sessions to see race-specific results, re-testing your CSS every 6-8 weeks.

Structure your training sessions each week around a key CSS/threshold pace session, performing reps of 100, 200 and 400m at CSS pace with short recoveries. Use a technique-focused session each week to improve stroke efficiency and an endurance session working over longer reps of 800m plus at CSS +3-5secs per 100m.

You could also include a pool-based open-water session during the winter months, practising skills like modifying your stroke for open water, drafting, deep-water starts, turns and consistency in pacing which will all help to improve your time.

For lots more swim advice head to our Training section

Profile image of Jamie Beach Jamie Beach Former digital editor


Jamie was 220 Triathlon's digital editor between 2013 and 2015.