Sub-1hr session: swim hard, swim fast

Push your body to its absolute limits in pool training to improve race fitness and efficiency

Swim hard, swim fast

Looking to improve your swimming fitness and efficiency? Try this 60min drill session from Emma Kate-Lidbury.


For this session you will need a swimsuit, hat, goggles, pace clock/stopwatch, pull buoy, kick board and training partners.

To get the most out of this session, avoid doing it near to a hard bike or run – make sure you schedule it on a day when you won’t be doing any other intense workouts. 

You should be fine to bike or run the following day and hit higher intensities should you need to.

The need for speed


400m choice swim; 300m pull; 200m kick; 100m medley (fly, back, breaststroke, front crawl). 

Main session

Prep set: 12 x 50m on 60secs, as (1) easy 25m, fast 25m; (2) fast 25m, easy 25m; (3) fast 50m; (4) easy 50m. Repeat x 3.

Main set: 6 x 200m as: first 100m at ‘take-out’ speed, i.e. the speed at which you will swim the opening 100m of a race, then 80-85% effort for the remaining 100m. Deck-up (climb out of the pool) after each one. Ensure at least 1min rest between each 200m.


200-300m easy swim. 

Main benefits

Performance benefits

An ideal session for getting your body used to working at its maximum. If done consistently, you’ll notice that the benefits translate to your aerobic and anaerobic swim fitness with improved ability to swim for extended periods at race pace. Come race day, this means faster swim splits and greater efficiency. You’ll also hit the bike feeling fresher.

Mental benefits

This session is not an easy one – it will hurt! Swimming at ‘take-out’ speed and then settling into 80-85% effort requires focus, positive attitude and the same mental commitment that you should have on race day. 

Attack it and embrace it! As you tire, focus on your technique and breathing. Try to do this session with others who are a similar speed (or faster) to keep it competitive.

Physiological benefits

Training to swim fast at the start of a race has two advantages: you’ll be able to hit and hold that top-end swim in those all-important opening metres without blowing up, and it should help you find clear water, which at mass start races can be a huge benefit. 

Performing a workout like this will also mean you have the aerobic and anaerobic capacity to swim hard and then settle into a more comfortable rhythm. 

Adapt for Ironman


Instead of 200m repeats, swim 300m and, after the first fast 100m, hold the 80-85% effort for the remaining 200m. You could also add in 12 x 50m pull and paddles as a second prep set.