We recruited pro triathlete Anna Cleaver, a front-pack swimmer and longtime swim coach, to distill all the dirty details into a streamlined guide to greater swim efficiency (read: new speed). Get ready to unleash your inner swimmer. (Note: a version of this appeared in the July issue of Triathlete magazine. Also see The 4 Phases Of The Freestyle Swim Stroke and 7 Swim Tools For Triathletes for more swimming advice from Cleaver.)
1. How should I structure my swim training?
For her build into Ironman New Zealand, where she and Meredith Kessler swam 47 minutes, pro Anna Cleaver was swimming four times a week, and nothing over 4,500 meters in a workout. True, she’s a pro with a long and decorated swim background, but she prescribes a similar swim frequency for her age-group counterparts with a mix of fast and slow work to alternate focus on aerobic swim fitness and good technique. “Sometimes you see a triathlon swim squad get in the water and it’s all-out for an hour. I would rather they took one day per week to slow it down and do drills and technique work—that’s where you’ll get your gains.”
Monday: Aerobic endurance session
This is where you should be doing those sets of 400s, 600s, 800s. A big component of your session might be pull work with or without paddles. Aim for 3,000 meters at a minimum but if you can get in up to 4,000 that is optimal. You won’t be training with a high heart rate here; this could be an opportunity to swim with a friend or by yourself to avoid the temptation to go super fast in a Masters workout.
Wednesday: Test set
Do a main set of 10 – 20 x 100 holding best effort, or a combo of 200s, 100s and 50s. Your main set should consist of about 2,000 meters. Record your times in your training log to monitor improvements. You may also consider using this session to do a time trial—perhaps Olympic or half-iron distance. Aim for 3,000–3,500 meters in this session.
Friday: Fun and fast
Your Masters workout might accommodate this session nicely—shorter distance intervals, longer rest. Think 1,500–2,000 meters’ worth of 50s and 25s, at varying pace. This is a great day to also focus on key drills and technique. Do some pick-ups at the end—this might be 8×25 meters where the first 12 strokes are super fast and the rest easy, recovering after each. You are not likely to achieve big mileage on this day, but the quality should be high.
Weekend: Open water practice
If you have access to a lake or beach and have time, this is a great chance to do a 45-minute-to-an-hour open-water swim. Time in your wetsuit is super valuable if you are going to be racing in one. You can practice sighting, continuous swimming and enjoy the outdoors. Bring the family and have a picnic afterward!