Swim Training for a Half-Ironman Distance Triathlon Swim

triathlon swim
Triathlete swimming. Getty Images

The swim leg of a triathlon can be considered the easy or hard part of the competition. Whether it's a sprint, Olympic, half-Ironman, Ironman 70.3, or another Ironman distance, the level of difficulty varies. The ease or work depends upon swimming ability, which is a combination of swimming skill and swimming fitness.

A shorter triathlon might require more swimming speed, while a longer triathlon requires more swimming endurance.

Regardless of the distance, swimming skill, technique, endurance, and swimming speed all play a part in a successful triathlon or a successful marathon swim.

Developing Swimming Skills and Fitness

Swimmers can develop swimming skills by swimming often and focusing on technique. This is often enhanced by doing swimming drills and by having others watch or record the swimmer with the goal of receiving feedback.

To develop swimming fitness, swimmers have to swim often enough and with enough intensity to push their body to a higher level. Getting to that next level of swimming fitness is ideal. To begin the fitness program, swimmers should be able to swim at least 500 meters or yards, non-stop, and be able to swim at least 30 minutes as a workout.

For swimmers who need help getting to that next level, one of these beginner-level swim workouts may be of assistance:

Train for a Half-marathon Using This Swim Training Program

The following is a 14-week training program aimed at a 1,500 to 2,100 meter or yard swim. Either way, both work, as meters are 10% longer than yards, but the basics are the same. The goals of the swim training program are as follows:

  • Swim the distance at a steady pace while holding good form (Swim 1, Swim 4).
  • Build swim strength (Swim 2, Swim 3, pulling).
  • Build swim speed (Swim 2, swim 5).

The training program uses three to five workouts a week. Workout #1, #2, and #3 each week are the main workouts, with #4 and #5 being optional. Swimmers will have better success if they include all five workouts, but they are not required.

If swimmers feel any pain while they are training, they should stop and get it checked out. Taking care of small problems early can prevent them from developing into larger problems that can stop training.

Swim Gear Needed for Training

Besides a swimming pool, there is some gear needed for training. The basic swim gear needed for the training plan includes:

  • A regular swimsuit
  • Goggles
  • A drag suit (a baggy swimsuit or run shorts with a drawstring)
  • A pull-buoy (a float worn between the thighs, forcing more focus on the upper body)
  • Swim Paddles (optional and not for use if having any shoulder pain)
  • Waterproof watch with a stopwatch function

Swimmers will need to include technique work in all of the training sessions. Swimmers can seek out and practice specific swimming technique help, including swimming drills like catch-up and fingertip drag.

Plan Training Based on Fitness Level and Experience

Swimmers can jump further down the training list if they are already at that fitness level, but experience has shown that it works best by starting at the start. Swimmers do not have to do the workouts within a week in the order listed, but they should always get the first three workouts accomplished each week.

Every workout should start with 5-15 minutes of warming up and 5-15 minutes of cooling off at the end of the workout. Both of those parts could include swimming technique drills. The workouts should not last more than 60-75 minutes. After the main set is completed, prior to cooling off, swimmers can add 5-20 minutes of easy swimming with a pull-buoy (paddles optional).

Workout #1: Build the Swim Distance

Effort for Main Set: Moderate, Race pace
Description: Negative split, non-stop swim.

If the set is 2x, take about a 1-minute rest between swims. A negative split means to start slower than finishing. Swim easier at the beginning and swim faster at the end.

  • Week 1: 6 x 100
  • Week 2: 2 x 300
  • Week 3: 2 x 500
  • Week 4: 2 x 700
  • Week 5: 1 x 1,000
  • Week 6: 1 x 1,200
  • Week 7: 1 x 1,400
  • Week 8: 1 x 1,600
  • Week 9: 1 x 1,800
  • Week 10: 2 x 1,000
  • Week 11: 1 x 2,000
  • Week 12: 2 x 1,000
  • Week 13: 1 x 2,100
  • Week 14 (Race Week): 1 x 500

Workout #2: Build Swim Speed for the Distance

Effort for Main Set: Hard, As fast as possible while still maintaining speed for the whole set
Description: Fast 50's on 10-15 seconds rest.

  • Week 1: 10 x 50
  • Week 2: 15 x 50
  • Week 3: 20 x 50
  • Week 4: 25 x 50
  • Week 5: 20 x 50
  • Week 6: 25 x 50
  • Week 7: 30 x 50
  • Week 8: 35 x 50
  • Week 9: 30 x 50
  • Week 10: 35 x 50
  • Week 11: 40 x 50
  • Week 12: 35 x 50
  • Week 13: 40 x 50
  • Week 14 ( Race Week): 8 x 50

Workout #3: Build Swim Strength

Effort for Main Set: Easy to Moderate, Negative split
Description: Drag suit with a 1-minute rest between swims. If two swims, then the first swim is easy and the second swim is moderate. If one swim, then it is done as a negative split. Again, a negative split means to start slower than finishing. Swim easier at the beginning and swim faster at the end.

  • Week 1: 2 x 200
  • Week 2: 2 x 300
  • Week 3: 2 x 400
  • Week 4: 2 x 300
  • Week 5: 2 x 400
  • Week 6: 2 x 500
  • Week 7: 2 x 400
  • Week 8: 2 x 500
  • Week 9: 2 x 400
  • Week 10: 2 x 500
  • Week 11: 2 x 600
  • Week 12: 2 x 500
  • Week 13: 2 x 600
  • Week 14 (Race Week): None. Do not do Workout #3 this week. Instead, the day before the race, do a 10-15 minute easy swim with no drag suit. Include three to four 1-minute efforts at race pace.

    Workout #4: Build Swim Skills

    Effort for Main Set: Easy
    Description: Mixed swim drills, swimming, swimming with a pull-buoy, and kicking. Do none of it faster than a moderate effort. Kicking is just using legs, no arms. Swimmers might use a kickboard (float hold with arms) for the kick if desired. The workout is listed as total time in the water.

    • Week 1: 30-minutes
    • Week 2: 30-minutes
    • Week 3: 30-minutes
    • Week 4: 30-minutes
    • Week 5: 45-minutes
    • Week 6: 45-minutes
    • Week 7: 45-minutes
    • Week 8: 30-minutes
    • Week 9: 60-minutes
    • Week 10: 60-minutes
    • Week 11: None. Do not do Workout #4 this week.
    • Week 12: 45-minutes
    • Week 13: 30-minutes
    • Week 14 (Race Week): 20-minutes.

    Workout #5: Build Swim Skills and Swim Power

    Effort for Main Set: Very Hard, Maximum effort
    Description: This workout is the same as "Workout #4" with one exception: After a warm-up, do 8 x 25 maximum effort swims with about 1 minutes rest between each 25. The remaining workout should be mixed swim drills, swimming, swimming with a pull-buoy, and kicking. Again, none of it should be done faster than an easy effort. Kicking is just using legs, no arms. Swimmers might use a kickboard for the kick if desired, as before. The workout is listed as total time in the water.

    • Week 1: 30-minutes
    • Week 2: 30-minutes
    • Week 3: 30-minutes
    • Week 4: None. Do not do Workout #5 this week.
    • Week 5: 30-minutes
    • Week 6: 30-minutes
    • Week 7: 30-minutes
    • Week 8: None. Do not do Workout #5 this week.
    • Week 9: 30-minutes
    • Week 10: 30-minutes
    • Week 11: 30-minutes
    • Week 12: None. Do not do workout #5 this week.
    • Week 13: 30-minutes
    • Week 14 (Race Week): 20-minutes. Do only 4 x 25's this week.