How to get to the swim buoy first

Swim at one pace in open water and get caught up at the start? Then here’s the speed session for you


When you get in the lake, river or sea, it’s far too easy to ‘just’ swim and get it done. As training, it’s great for aerobic conditioning… but that’s probably about it.


If you’ve ever done sprint or interval sessions running (especially on the track), or a turbo/spin session, these ideas can be taken straight into the pool or open water – the same theories of training apply. In the pool your distances are more clearly defined, and while in open water there may be more disruptions the ideas are the same.

The session below involves maximum-paced efforts with reduced amounts of recovery, but they’re only short swims. When you do each of the efforts, focus on pushing your hand/arm back firmly through the water, driving as much water backwards as you can. With this, your arm should naturally recover quicker, negating the need to throw your arm forward to start again. Try it at slow speeds to get comfortable with it, then build up the power to work harder/go faster.


10-15mins easy 

Loosen up, get relaxed in the water, increase your HR steadily

2 x [4 x 15 strokes] 

As 15 strokes super slow and easy; 15 strokes moderate; 15 strokes vigorous; 15 strokes max effort

10mins easy to recover

Main set

10 x 10 strokes max effort

Think power and acceleration

30 strokes recovery after each rep

10 x 10 strokes max effort

Think controlled aggression

20 strokes recovery after each rep

10 x 10 strokes max effort

Think push with purpose with your hands/forearms

10 strokes recovery after each rep


10mins easy recovery swim

Adapt for beginners

You could do this in the pool if you’re not open-water swimming yet (do 1 length fast, or even half a length), or you could take longer rests between each rep.

Adapt for Ironman

As long as it’s not at the expense of swimming fast in the reps themselves, don’t swim as ‘easy’ in the rest periods. Also, do an extra set of reps with longer rests beforehand.

3 tips from John Wood


Don’t worry about the exact numbers of strokes – it’s a rough guideline to get you thinking of intervals.


Focus on pushing the water back with purpose and drive to generate speed and power.



Do drills in the recovery if you know that elements of your stroke need work.