How to build race endurance in the pool

Here's how to introduce longer interval sets into your swim training to build race endurance for every distance

Credit: James Mitchell

When training in the pool, it’s easy to forget that the tri swim is endurance-based, requiring both an efficient technique and subtle pace awareness/control. So including regular, longer interval sets in your swim training is vital. But how long is long? At what pace? And how can they be made fun?

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For sprint/standard-distance racing, repeat intervals could vary from 300m-800m, and for long course 400m-1km, depending on the focus. Pacing for endurance intervals may vary depending on your goal, e.g. swimming a longer interval at an easy aerobic pace allows you to focus on technique,  build base endurance and support active recovery. Whereas swimming closer to race pace over longer intervals challenges pace control and efficiency under fatigue.

Swimming with a similar ability partner or group, as drafted swims and/or inc. ‘Aussie exits’ (climb out and stand up before re-entering the water safely), can make the challenge of longer intervals great fun. This session has it all!

Top three tips

Draft in training

A challenging and effective way to swim your endurance intervals and keep on pace is to ‘swim on the draft’ in pairs or a group, alternating the lead swimmer.

Record your splits

Analyse your 100m split times over longer intervals to gauge your pace control. Record at which point fatigue kicks in to achieve faster swim average speeds.

Calculate your pace

It’s easy enough to smash out a fast 50m, but endurance swimming requires subtle pace awareness/control, so use training aids to achieve consistent pacing.

Technical swim endurance session 1

Coach: Richard Smith

Warm-up:

  • 200m build swim
  • 30secs rest
  • 4 x 50m kick
  • 15secs rest
  • 4 x 50m as: 25m scull; 25m swim
  • 15secs rest

Main set:

  • 600m at 95% of your 750/1500m race pace with ‘Aussie exit’ every 200m
  • 1min rest
  • 6 x 100m at 105% of your 750/1500m race pace holding pace
  • 2mins rest
  • 600m at 95% of your 750/1500m race pace with ‘Aussie exit’ every 200m
  • 1min rest
  • 6 x 100m at 105% of your 750/1500m race pace holding pace
  • 20secs rest

Cool-down:

  • 200m easy mixed strokes

Adapt for beginners: Reduce the long swim intervals down to 300-400m repeats and reduce the number of 100m reps. The % swim paces should reflect your target race-distance pace.

Adapt for Ironman: Increase the long swim intervals up to 800m-1km repeats and increase the number of 100m and/or sets completed. Adjust your % swim paces.

Technical swim endurance session 2

Coach: Dan Bullock, Swim for Tri

Benefit: This balances stamina and technique work, and is beneficial regardless of your stage of development.

Warm-up:

  • 200m front crawl (FC), 150m with pull buoy, 100m your choice of drill, 50m kick only. Then
  • 8 x 25m, building slow to fast. On the odd 25m swims, three strokes with hands closed and three strokes open. Repeat on the even 25m swims.

Main set:

  • 50m FC into 50m advanced single-arm drill (ASA, using fins and pads).
  • 150m FC into 50m ASA
  • 250m FC into 50m ASA
  • 350m FC into 50m ASA
  • 450m FC into 50m ASA

Rest 30secs between reps.

Cool-down:

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  • 50m easy with paddles, fins and snorkel; 50m easy with fins and snorkel; 50m with snorkel; and a final 50m of your best front-crawl.