Jess Learmonth reveals her swim training secrets

GB's Jess Learmonth is one of the fastest female swimmers on the ITU circuit. Here she talks about her swim training and shares some advice for age-groupers - over to you Jess...

Jess Learmonth reveals her swim training secrets. Credit: ITU

I have swam since I was very young and reached national level, but then stopped when I was about 17. From then I didn’t do anything until I took up triathlon at the age of 23.  For the swim leg I have a massive advantage over other triathletes, as I have such a good base.


For me the winter is all about strength work, so it’s about longer reps  and more metres in the pool. From October to January I wear drag shorts in every session. These help me develop strength and stop me going too hard too early. There’s no chance of doing that with the shorts on. I also do a lot of paddle work, kick sets and swim a bit of fly.

My coach likes hypoxic sessions where I try to swim 25 metres underwater. This helps you with your breathing and  maintains your fitness without too much exertion, so I do it through the season too. It’s an easy way to keep fit without maxing out. It’s good mentally as well – it’s a challenge.

Hypoxic sessions can help with developing confidence too. If you know you can do that distance without taking a breath you are much more likely to stay relaxed if you get caught up in the washing machine and unable to breathe. It’s funny how much better you can do if you relax. I think it will really help people new to swimming as well. It doesn’t have to be technically perfect either and it’s something everyone can do – but don’t start at 25 metres!

During the winter it’s also important to keep training entertaining as it can be a bit of a slog.

During race season I reduce my mileage and just do 2-3 hard swims a week. These include swimming 2 x 50 metres at max out, into 200 metres tempo so it simulates going out fast and then maintaining it.

We do open-water draft work once a week as it’s massively important. It’s good to get used to swimming round people and it’s good fun.

One session I hate is max out efforts, like 6 x 100metres full out. I can’t stand it. I hate it when my coach says ‘you can have a 30 seconds rest and then try and go a second faster…’ I think ‘no…!’ Those sort of sessions are horrendous I think.

Swimming is massively technical, particularly the underwater aspect. if I was new to swimming I would assign at least one session a week to working on the underwater catch. Once you get that you can work on your strength but it’s more worthwhile doing technique first. Swimming is all about technique and when you get it, you get it.

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Jess had two podium finishes in 2017 (3rd place at the Rotterdam World Triathlon Series Grand Final and 2nd place at the 7 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm) ;and finished the season 6th in the rankings.

And she has started 2018 as she finished 2017 with a second at WTS Abu Dhabi

Those in the UK can watch and support Jess racing WTS Leeds June 9-10 live by lining the city’s streets, or watching it in style from the grandstand.

Jess on Leeds

For me Leeds is really special as I am from here and I train here. It’s a great city and it has triathlon at its heart. It’s by far my favourite event on the ITU circuit, and the crowds are probably the best too. 

Ali and Jonny [Brownlee] had a lot of input into the course and it is definitely a really interesting and technical one, and obviously we have the weather too so it can be cold and wet. If you do have weaknesses you do get found out on the course, and. I think that’s why people want to race it, because it is so tough and honest. 

There’s something for everyone and there’s a great atmosphere. I can’t think of another triathlon that’s better for elites or age-groupers.


You can follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Learmonth