How to get out of a swim speed rut

Swimming consistently but not getting any faster? It's a common problem but one that can be easily fixed. US swim coach Andrew Sheaff has the answers…

Exhausted swimmer post-swim on beach

Triathletes tend to get stuck swimming at one speed, day in and day out. As a result, that speed becomes a habit and they can get stuck at that speed. While being able to maintain your speed is a great attribute for racing triathlons, it becomes a problem when that speed is slower than you’d like! 


It’s a bigger problem when you’re unable to go faster, even if you want to. At a basic level, the solution is simple, breaking out of a rut requires you to practicse swimming faster than you normally do. Here are some strategies that effectively accomplish that goal.

Practise swimming fast 

The number one key to improving your speed is to practice swimming fast. That’s it! When you’re trying to improve speed, all that matters is swimming fast.

Optimise your practice sessions for speed, and set up your sets so you can swim fast. Keep the repetition number low, keep the distances short, and keep the rest periods high. This will allow you to swim fast.

Then, just practise swimming fast! You don’t have to apply this framework to all of your swimming, just on a couple short sets per week. It will make a difference!

Change swim speeds during sets 

Getting out of a rut requires you to change speed. A simple way to practise doing so is to consistently change speeds during sets.

One option is to practice descending your speeds within a set. For instance, if you have six repetitions for a set, you could start at a very easy pace and get faster each repetition, ultimately finishing at a very challenging pace.

Another option is to alternate speeds within a set. You could perform the odd repetitions at a very strong effort and perform the even repetitions at a very easy effort.

A third option is to alternate strong and steady efforts within a repetition. Let’s say you’re doing some 200s. For each 200, the odd laps would be strong and the even laps would be steady. In every case, you’re breaking out of the rut and forcing yourself to swim fast.

Have a different swim speed theme for each day 

Rather than swimming similar distances over similar speeds every time you swim, have a specific ‘theme’ each day you’re in the water.

For instance, let’s say you swim three times per week. On one day, you can swim short distances at a much higher speed than normal. On another day, you could swim your normal medium distances and steady speeds. On a third day you could swim longer distances and slower speeds.

Long/medium/short and slow/steady/fast can have any meaning you choose, provided that they’re significantly different from each other.

The fast swimming should be a lot faster than the slow swimming and the long repetitions should be a lot longer than the short repetitions. By setting up your practice schedule this way, you’ll be forced to change speeds and swim faster than you otherwise would.


Top image: Getty Images