Q: "Can you suggest some good beginner swim workouts? Right now I am trying to build up distance and haven't worried about speed. Do you recommend incorporating swim drills or just swimming for endurance?" Cheryl S., Eldersburg
A: When it comes to swimming, technique is everything. With proper form you will achieve a faster stroke and a better workout while avoiding injury. If you are swimming regularly but not practicing good form you are reinforcing improper technique and developing poor swimming habits that may be hard to break. As the saying goes, it's not practice that makes perfect, it's perfect practice that makes perfect.
My advice for new swimmers it to sign up for lessons with a certified swim coach or enroll in a swim technique class. It's especially helpful to have your swim stroke videotaped so you can see what your stroke looks like and visualize what needs to be improved.
The next step is to hit the pool and practice the new techniques you've learned. After a warm up, practice 100 yards of stroke drills followed by 100 yards of swimming for each stroke. No matter how experienced you are as a swimmer, swim drills should be a part of every workout to reinforce good stroke technique. The off-season from active racing is the best time to cut back on speed and endurance to focus on form and technique improvements.
Once you've perfected your technique, it's time to move on to speed and endurance. The shorter the race, the greater the focus should be on speed. My typical race season starts with sprint distance triathlons, with swim legs ranging from 400 to 800 yards, so my workouts consist, primarily, of interval sets.
If your goal is to swim 800 yards, start by gradually increasing the yardage and building your endurance until you can confidently swim the full distance. The next step is to incorporate swim intervals and speed drills into your workout. Depending on your ability, experience and current fitness level, start by aiming to complete 25 yards in approximately 30-60 seconds including rest time, and then repeat four to eight times. Gradually increase your distance, for example to 50 or 100 yard sprints, and the number of sets. Ideally you should finish each sprint with at least 10 seconds of rest; this will help you determine what your time interval should be. Once you've developed your base and perfected your form, speed sets are an integral part of every swim workout.
As my race season progresses, culminating with races that include swim distances up to 2.4 miles, or 4,000 yards, my focus shifts to endurance, though I continue to incorporate short interval sets at the end of each workout. One of my regular endurance workouts, effective, if a bit boring, is a pyramid workout in which each set increases by 100 yards before decreasing by 100 yards. For example, after your warm, swim 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, 200 yards and 100 yards, followed by a cool down. Beginnertriathlete.com and 100swimworkouts.com are good resources for a variety of swim workouts.
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