How to improve your swim performance by mixing up the pace

Mixing up swim pace is key to improving race-day swim speed and performance, but how can you work on variety in the pool? Coach John Wood has just the session…


Changing pace can be a real challenge for endurance athletes across any sport, let alone three. And when you race, you’re likely to find that you don’t just swim at one pace throughout (especially over 750m or further).


So being able to swim at different speeds or intensities is important, as is the ability to switch between these speeds comfortably.

Chances are that when you start a triathlon race swim – in the pool or open water – you start with a sprint. You need to be able to get yourself moving quickly and up to pace as quickly and efficiently as possible, and find yourself a space to work with or feet to sit on. Obviously this can use up a lot of oxygen, so it doesn’t last very long, maybe 25 to 50m.

After your start, you begin to settle into a little more of a rhythm. Theoretically, you’ll still be working hard, but not quite at a flat-out effort. It gives you a little time to get a handle on how you’re feeling.

This will probably last anywhere between 100 and 200m, depending on your race distance.

For the rest of your swim, regardless of whether it’s a 400m (super sprint), 750m (sprint), 1.5km (Olympic), 1.9km (half-Ironman) or even a 3.8km (Ironman) swim, you’re likely to drop to around your threshold pace.

But being able to shift these gears and get comfortable at each pace takes practice and understanding of your body and how it reacts. It also takes practice to make sure that your efforts are actually making a difference to your swim speed and not just wasting energy – many athletes try harder and swim slower!

Have a look at the session on the below to help you work on dialling in different efforts and paces.



100m as: alternating 25m front crawl (FC)/25m backstroke

100m as: choice of 25m front/back/side kick

100m as: alternating 12.5m scull/12.5m swim

100m FC

4 x 50m with 10secs rest between reps


25m max sprint followed by 30secs rest

100m @PE 8-9* followed by 30secs rest

175m @PE 7 followed by 60secs rest

200m easy recovery

Repeat x 3


300m as: 100m choice of stroke, 100m FC backstroke, 100m kick

*PE = Perceived Exertion. 1 being no effort and 10 being max effort.

Adapt for beginners

Make sure that the speeds do change, but don’t necessarily go for max effort to start with.

Adapt for Ironman

Do longer 2nd and 3rd reps – 125m/200m or even longer. You could repeat x 4/5, too.