Lunchtime Swims

Make the most of your lunch hour with Dan Bullock’s 45min pool-based sessions – guaranteed to find you some extra swim speed


Make the most of your lunch hour with Dan Bullock’s 45min pool-based session – guaranteed to find you some extra swim speed.


  I’m often asked, “If I only have 45mins to spare twice a week, what should I focus on in the pool?” Easy. I’d do a couple of drills that focus on body position and developing open-water skills, combined with some fitness and speed.  With these under your Lycra, and with some careful planning and organisation, you can improve your open-water swim skills massively, prevent boredom in the pool and do something constructive. The following 45min session is based on using a 25m pool, and is perfect for a midday, working-week workout.  


Do this with and without fins, covering 500m or lasting 10mins: five lengths breathing on every fifth stroke, four lengths breathing on every fourth stroke and so on until you’re down to one length breathing of your choice. Breathing on every fifth stroke will keep you swimming slowly so you warm up gently. It will also give you the chance to work on body position, recovery and the pull phase without the head movement upsetting your position.             

Subset drill

Another popular question among my swimmers is, “When can I stop doing my drills and get on with the good stuff?” My answer: you should never stop them. They should form a small part of every session.  

A video showing the USA’s Auburn University men’s team in training highlights this nicely. During the video, the current Olympic 50m front-crawl champion (Brazil’s César Cielo) and the current world 50m front-crawl record holder (France’s Fred Bousquet) are both seen swimming this simple but effective extension drill  

This one simple drill has you looking like Superman in the water. It focuses on streamlining, bilateral breathing and head position, kick practice and core stability. The drill is done with the lead arm outstretched, trailing arm to the side, upper body rotated so that you can feel the rear shoulder is out of the water, head still unless turning to breathe, and a gentle flutter kick. Bring the shoulder of the lead arm to the chin and work to keep the surface shoulder of the trailing arm still. Alternate lead arms per length. Do this with fins, covering 200m or lasting 5mins.  

Main set

Each session outlined here is swum as a steady swim covering 150m-300m (or as far as you can swim in 4:15mins, resting for 45secs), depending on ability and time available. Each has an open-water theme that will help you deal with some of the more common challenges that you might encounter out in open water. The total set lasts 25mins.  

1 Breathing-pattern practice

150-300m front crawl (front crawl), swum as one length (1L) breathing to the left, 1L breathing to the right, third length breathing bilaterally, on every third stroke. Rest 45secs. On race day you might feel more comfortable breathing every second stroke. Those who haven’t practised breathing to both sides might end up getting stuck breathing into the flailing arm of a ?competitor or looking straight into the sun.  

2 Breath holding

150-300m front crawl swum as no breathers once the lane rope turns to red at both ends (most lane ropes are blue and white in the middle and all have a short segment of red at both ends. If yours don’t, then on the way into the wall and on the way out, hold your breath for 5-7secs at the end of each length). During periods of congestion in a race at the start or around a turn, you may not get a breath in when it ideally suits you. This may not have happened to you yet, but it might happen to you some day, and you shouldn’t panic when it does. A few seconds of breath holding will help you ride this out. Rest 45secs.  

3 No-rest swim

150-300m front crawl swum continuously, no touching the wall. As soon as your lane ropes change to red, then loop through in front of the wall to simulate a long continuous swim with no hanging on or resting. If the lane is wide enough, and you have pool space, then you might want to practise the backstroke roll (the roll from front crawl to single-arm backstroke, back to front crawl to take you into a 90° change of direction) to speed up your turn. Rest 45secs.  

4 Sighting

150-300m swum as seven strokes powerful front crawl, then relax into two easy and pop up to sight forwards. Just the eyes above the surface, though: don’t waste time or energy lifting the whole head up and breathing. You should practise getting your breath in during your normal strokes and using the sighting strokes to do just that – sight. Rest 45secs.  

5 Relaxing and goggle emptying

150-300m swum as seven strokes front ?crawl, then roll into an exaggerated extension position (the ‘Superman’) facing up, lead arm outstretched. Use this time to catch your breath. Think about how you will get to take advantage of the buoyancy of the wetsuit ?once on in race conditions and relax for a moment. Rest 45secs.  


At this point I’d recommend some backstroke or breaststroke variations to use the shoulders in a different direction. 25m of double-arm backstroke with a pull buoy supporting the legs is a nice, easy variation. Follow this with an easy 25m of breaststroke arms with front-crawl legs (and fins), which will help promote a continuous kick. Alternate one length of each for at least four lengths, and up to a maximum of eight covering 100-200m, for approximately 5mins.   If you’ve been working on your technique ?and fitness all winter, then this is an ideal session to fine-tune race prep. But don’t take ?it as a short cut to the many reps needed to ingrain good technique and work on improving fitness.   

Jargon Buster Fins or flippers A

re used to develop kicking skills, as well as an aid to drills for balance or stroke mechanics.


The action of lifting the shoulder and throwing the arm forward for the next stroke. Initiated and controlled by the shoulder.

Pull phase

The underwater arm cycle: movement is slow to fast, fingertips pointing to the bottom of ?the pool once the forward extension finishes.

Bilateral breathing

Changing breathing sides after each stroke cycle, on odd-numbered strokes.

Core stability

The ability to control the position and movement of the central portion of the body. Training targets the abdomen muscles

Flutter kick

Legs extended and moved up and down in a scissor-like motion.

Pull buoy


A figure of eight-shaped piece of foam, clutched between the thighs, which lets the swimmer concentrate on upper body technique.   Dan Bullock is a former 220 Triathlon Coach of the Year. He’s also ASA qualified and an expert in open-water swimming.
Photos: Jonny Gawler