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10 off-season triathlon swim sessions

10 off-season triathlon swim sessions

In the triathlon off-season, we are all thinking about how to start the next season fitter and faster than ever. Andy Blow gives you 10 swimming sessions to energise and improve your triathlon swim...

Improving your stroke and stamina involves far more variety and fun than just a pool. At home, on camera, in the gym – there’s a multitude of sub-hour options to transform your opening triathlon leg…

1 – 50-50s

This involves 50 x 50m reps. It’s a great way to tick off 2.5km of swimming in bite-sized chunks so the time really flies. Break it down as 10 sets of five reps with sets one and 10 being an easy swim (warm-up and cool down). Mix up the strokes and drills in the middle eight sets. Do it all off a consistent turnaround time appropriate for your fitness level, and swap the lead around if you’re swimming in a group to share the workload and clock watching.

2 – T20

Despite being quite a tough session, a timed 20min swim counting your total lengths kills two birds with one stone. You get a long, steady-state swim, which is rare for most in training, and you can re-test yourself every couple of months and assess progress. Aim for even splits and get someone to split time 100s for you if possible (or use a lap-counting swim watch).


If you’re like most triathletes, then kicking in the pool is probably not one of your strengths. So working on your kick during the winter can pay dividends as it improves your body position and sprinting ability. With a kickboard, try a set of 6 x 150m going 50m kick, 50m swim, 50m kick on each one with 20secs rest. Work hard on the kick and recover on the swims. Build up to 10 sets eventually if you’re feeling strong!

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4 – BROKEN 1,500M

After a good warm-up, try swimming a main set of 1,500m where you note down a cumulative time for the distance via a series of shorter reps. The obvious choice is 15 x 100m. Make sure you stop the clock after each rep so you don’t record the rest intervals and see what kind of time you can get down to. As you progress you can reduce the rest interval or keep the rest interval the same and record a faster overall time. Perfect as a once-a-month test set.


This workout forces you to ‘negative split’ your session rather than start fast and slow down. This makes it easier to do the same in races next year, giving you an advantage over others who will be slowing down over the course of a race. Aim to swim 20 x 50m, and perform them in pairs on a turnaround time you find very easy to achieve at first. After each pair of 50s, drop the turnaround time by 5secs until you can no longer complete the rep in the required time and set off on the next. This is a great workout for fitness and pacing.


Seeing yourself on video is extremely useful for improving your swim. It draws your attention to what you’re actually doing with your arms, legs and head position compared with what you may think you’re doing. Many companies offer swim video analysis clinics or you can just set up a camera poolside and view it when you get home.


Using paddles can help to build specific strength in the pool. Build up to doing 10 or 15 x 100m at a strong pace with your hand paddles on, taking 20secs rest between each. Be progressive with the way you build up; start with just three to four reps in a session and increase them from there to avoid injury.

How to use swimming paddles


Mixing up the strokes makes swim sets more interesting and will challenge your technique and fitness in new ways during the winter. If you can do it, fly is a great stroke for building strength and anaerobic work. Work up to doing a set of 12 x 50m as 25m fly, 25m front crawl with a 10sec rest between reps. Warm up and cool down by swimming backstroke and breaststroke only.

Why you should be swimming ‘off strokes’ regularly


Turning without pushing off the wall helps build power into your stroke and replicates a mini open-water race start every length. Try a main set of 4 x 400m with open turns on alternate lengths. Really work hard away from the turn to get up to full speed in six to eight strokes – as you would in a race start. This brings a small element of anaerobic training to an otherwise aerobic set.

10 – 2 X 1KM

After a warm-up, do a continuous swim of 25m hard, 25m easy. Then do 50m hard, 50m easy, 75m hard, 75m easy and 100m hard, 100m easy. Repeat the 100m reps and go back down through 75s, 50s and 25s and you’ll have swum 1,000m in total. Repeat the set with a pull buoy and you’ll have swum a great 2km main set.


Off-season swim schedule

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Mike Anderson was 220 Triathlon's staff writer between 2011 and 2014.