How to build a solid swim foundation

A solid swim foundation will pay dividends when racing returns, so focus your training time on the right areas and get ready to swim stronger and faster says John Wood

which part of the swim stroke is most important for developing speed

While you need fitness to swim faster, especially over longer distances, you won’t build much fitness only working on swim technique. So yes, swim technique should be a real focus for any triathlete, but it shouldn’t be your sole focus.


Instead, put drills and technique into your warm-up, use it to switch your brain and body on, and then use the main set to work on the various energy systems. Seventy percent of your training should be done at aerobic levels, i.e. below 6/10 effort, where your body is able to utilise oxygen. Twenty to 25% should be done at or around threshold/CSS/race effort, i.e. between 7 and 9/10. And the final 5-10% should be sprint work, working on shorter, faster efforts.

Aerobic work will also include your warm-up and then the bigger part of your fitness (and focus) can be on threshold/CSS efforts.

Coach’s top three tips

Use fins

Do short efforts (so anything up to 100m) with fins on so you can get used to swimming quickly. Using this swim aid also helps you to focus on your arm turnover.

Use a tempo trainer

Do race-paced efforts with a tempo trainer, set to bleep on the end of the lengths, start with shorter reps and build up to swimming closer and closer towards race distance.

Sprint it

Do efforts where you sprint the first length and then settle down to ‘race pace’ after that – use a strong push-off off the wall to help generate the extra speed.

The swim session


200m own choice

100m kick – left side, right side, back, front

8 x 50m as: 25 drill, 25 swim (odd lengths do single-arm drills; evens, catch-up drills)

15secs rest 

Prep set

8 x 50m as: descend 1-4, 1 being easy, 4 being race pace. As you put down more power, focus on keeping your form and not just thrashing

10secs rest

Main set

12 x 100m as: 3 x 100m at race pace, 1 x 10om easy; repeat

15secs rest 


4 x 50m as: first 10m fast, 40m easy; 15secs rest

100m mixed swim

Adapt for beginners

Do fewer reps through the warm-up and prep set, and do shorter (50 or 75m) reps in the main set.

Adapt for advanced


Do longer reps in the main set – maybe up to 200m – or do more reps with fewer recovery 100s.