A Beginner’s Guide to Structuring Your Swim Workout

When you head to the pool for a swim workout, do you ever wonder what you should be doing?

When you head to the pool for a swim workout, do you ever wonder what you should be doing? Many athletes tend to think they only need to jump in the pool, swim a certain distance, do some speed work, and then hurry on with the rest of their day.

This is not the best way to train, but not everyone can afford a personal coach to provide specific workouts designed to meet certain goals and time demands. So, to help you, I put together a set of guidelines to help you make the most out of every segment of your swim workout.

How to Warm Up for Your Swim Workout

When you get to the pool deck and get situated (kickboard, water bottle, and gear set out), do a few quick arm rotations and dry-land swimming drills. Even some exercises with elastic bands can help get your upper body prepped and ready for your swim workout. You wouldn’t think of going for a hard run without a warm-up and dynamic stretch, so why should swimming be any different?

Personally, I like to do about ten shoulder shrugs and some imitation swimming with my arms to get my upper body going. Then, to get my lower body geared up, I’ll do ten knee bends and then flex, stretch, and loosen my ankles. After that, I’m sufficiently warmed up and ready to swim.

Once you’re in the pool, you should start out with some in-water, warm-up work that is easy. Some examples are:

  • 200m swim, 200m kick, 200m pull, 200m swim
  • 400-500m swim
  • 2-4 x (150m free, 50m non-free)
  • 2-4 x 400m (150 free, 50 non-free – repeated twice)
  • 400m swim, 300m pull, 200m kick, 100m drill choice
  • Or an easy 10-15 minute choice of whatever you feel like doing

How to Add Drills to Your Swim Workout

After you have done a thorough warm-up and ingested some fluids, it is time to move on quickly to a drill set to get your arms moving and heart rate up. A drill set will be a bit faster than your warm-up, but not as hard as your main set. The primary goal is to focus on good swim technique before fatigue sets in.

I like to give my athletes pretty standard drill sets by only changing up the number of repeats or distance in the set. The drill set rest/recovery period should be no longer than fifteen seconds. Here are a few examples:

  • 4-10 x 75m with 15 sec rest (kick, drill, swim by 25m; could also be pull, kick, swim or drill swim, drill, etc.)
  • 3 x (100m pull, 50m swim)
  • 2-4 x 150m (25m drill, 50m swim)

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The Main Set of Your Swim Workout

After your drill set is complete, a quick one-minute break is all you need to determine your main set, the goal of your workout. Your swim workout goal can be broken into three types:

  1. Speed/sprinting/lactate threshold sets
  2. Technique/strength sets
  3. Distance/endurance sets

Each workout should focus on one of these three goal types, which will determine your main set. Below are some examples of how to structure your main set:

Speed Day:

3 x (100m swim HARD, 50m easy)

10 x 100m at lactate threshold effort

2 x (5 x 100m FAST at descending effort, 100m easy)

Distance Day:

4 x 300m at moderate effort with :20 rest

6 x 200m

Odds: Max distance per stroke with focus on good technique

Evens: Moderate effort for 4 x 400m

Technique/Strength Day :

4 x (100m pull, 50m one-arm drill, 250m pull)

3 x (4 x 50m band training with :10 rest, 300m pull with :15 rest, 50m easy) at moderate effort

2 x (4 x 100m with :15 rest, breathing every 3/4/5/6 by 25m)

#1 – Pulling

#2 – Swim

How to Cool Down After Your Workout

After completing your main set, perform a quick cool down to end your swim workout. It’s easy to finish your main set and hop out of the pool to leave, but I would highly advise against this. A cool down can be short, no longer than 300m, and will help prevent injury. For my athletes, I generally advise a 100-300m of easy freestyle with emphasis on good technique.

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To make for an effective workout, once you’re done swimming, do some quick core work. I tell my athletes to do this either right on the pool deck or right when they get home:

  • 3 x :30 of holding plank position
  • 3 x :20 of side plank
  • 2-3 sets of your favorite core exercises

The workouts I’ve provided above should be used as a guide to help you learn more about how and what you could be doing at the pool. Staring at the black line can get boring, but if you take charge of your workout, getting bored and losing focus don’t have to be excuses anymore. Now you know how to properly structure your swim workout. So stop doing 30 x 50 or 100 free repeats all day and make a new plan.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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