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How to build a triathlon swimming training plan

Triathlon swimming training ...


The TL;DR of this article is:

  1. Write down what you want to complete

  2. Write down where you currently are relative to that goal

  3. Examine how many swimming sessions you have until your goal

  4. Split up your training sessions into distance, speed and technique sessions

  5. Execute your training sessions and keep monitoring your progress

  6. Close to your triathlon, swim your triathlon distance to prepare

  7. One session before your event, taper down to half the race distance.

Need more information? Keep scrolling...


Step 1: Set your goal

Everyone has a different goal for their triathlon swimming training - being able to complete the distance for the first time, achieving your dream CSS or smashing the world ironman competitions. It all starts with that first goal.

By setting your triathlon goal you can frame all of your decisions based on that goal - how often you should be training, how intense you should train, and more!

How far is the triathlon swimming distance?

If you have entered a triathlon event already, you can check the website of the race organiser, but the standard distances are here as a handy reference:

Super-Sprint triathlon

In a super-sprint triathlon you will usually swim 400m, usually in a pool. Then you will cycle 10km and run 2.5km.

The swim leg can alter in length depending on the size of the pool. In the UK swimming pools are mostly 25m, in which case, you will be doing 16 lengths. If a 50m pool, it's 8 lengths (quick maths!).

In the united states, swimming pools are often 25 yards in which case the swimming distance is usually 400 yards (but this is only about 366m!). Some pools in the UK and europe can be 25 yards, but this is less common.

If the triathlon you've selected is part of a wider event weekend, with other races going on, the swim may be open water, in which case it's a straight 400m swim.

Super sprint triathlons are often good events for seasoned triathletes to sprint the whole way around in an afternoon. If you're not a strong swimmer or feel nervous about setting off around other athletes, no pressure, just stay in the back of the pack at the start of the swim.

Sprint triathlon

A sprint triathlon is a great distance for new athletes to get their teeth stuck into. This event is challenging for novice triathletes without extreme distances that require gruelling months of training.

A sprint triathlon can be in a pool or open water and the distance is most commonly 750m but can be 800m depending on the race organiser.

If the event is hosting an olympic triathlon race, it's most common to have a 750m swim, as this is half the distance of the 1500m olympic distance triathlon swim.

You will then usually follow up your swim with a 20km cycle and a 5km run.

Olympic distance triathlon

An 'Olympic distance' or 'Standard distance' triathlon consists of a 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

In our professional opinion, the best olympic distance triathlons are always open water swims. Why? Olympic triathlons in a pool are often very crowded and you can bump into other athletes which takes you off your stride. You can also feel much more pressure to race along, rather than saving energy for the later legs. An open water swim brings a fantastic atmosphere too!

If you're worried about swimming open water, remember there will be plenty of lifeguards around (usually in kayaks). Contact your race organiser to understand more about their swimming safety plan.

If you're tired, there is no harm in swimming breast stroke for a while to get your breath. Just note, you're usually not allowed to do backstroke as you may clatter into another triathlete!

Half Ironman / 70.3 Triathlon

Now we're getting into the tasty distances!

A half ironman, also known as a 70.3 triathlon (due to the 70.3 miles you will cover), starts with a 1.2 mile / 1.9km swim, then you will move onto a 56 mile / 90km cycle and finish with a 13.1 mile / 21.1km run (That's a half marathon to you or me) ... Easy right?

It may be to the triathletes who complete the next level...

Ironman Triathlon / Long Distance Triathlon / Iron Distance Triathlon

At this level, you must really enjoy pain?

Ironman is actually a brand name so if you're not completing an event set by the aforementioned company, it will usually be referred to as a long distance triathlon.

An Ironman triathlon, starts with a peaceful 2.4mile / 3.8km swim, then you will glide through a 112 mile / 180km cycle and stroll into a 26.2 mile / 42.2km run (yes, that is a marathon).

In order to complete this kind of distance, you will need serious preparation, it's always best to have a conversation with another athlete who has already completed this distance.

I've chosen my triathlon distance! What now?

Be specific about what you want to achieve in your triathlon. Are you looking to hit a personal best or just finish your first triathlon? This will be essential later on!

Write down your goal and remind yourself whenever you train.

Examples include:

  • "I will complete my first triathlon in under 3 and a half hours!"

  • "I will beat my personal best of 1 hour 20 minutes for my sprint distance triathlon!"

and if you're Kristian Blummenfelt...​

  • "I will beat my Ironman time of 7:21:12!"

Whatever your triathlon goal is, be proud of it! Everyone starts training from different levels of fitness and skill, the real goal is to improve yourself and have a load of fun in the process!


Step 2: Understand your current swimming skill

There are three main areas to examine:

  1. Maximum swim distance without stopping

  2. Speed (measured as 'Critical Swim Speed' or CSS)

  3. Swimming technique or swimming skill

Swimming technique

Swimming technique or swimming skill is the most important factor to consider when training for a triathlon.

A fit, inexperienced cyclist can beat an experienced unfit cyclist. It's the same with running. Not with swimming. 90% of your swimming speed is all about technique.

Unfortunately, it's also the most difficult one to measure, but we have a few tricks.

Rating your technique

We're going to rate your technique on a scale of 1 to 10.

10 is you're an olympic swimmer, challenging for the gold in Paris 2024,

1 is you can swim... but don't really move forward you're mostly flailing your arms around.

If you can't swim, you should have swimming lessons before attempting to comple any distance triathlon.

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