A Swim Workout Plan for Beginner Swimmers

8 Weeks to Increased Swimming Fitness in the Pool With These Swim Workouts

Swimming laps
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You are a beginner swimmer or a novice swimmer. You have the basics of a swimming workout figured out. You want to be a better swimmer, but once you get in the swim pool to get the swimming workout started, you feel a little lost? Don't know where to begin the swim workout? No swim coach to write a swimming work out for you?

Perhaps you are used to doing running workouts or bicycling workouts, and now want to add a swim workout to your regular workout routine, but think you are a weak swimmer and won't be able to do it?

If you can swim four, 25-meter or 25 yard lengths of a pool, then you can use the Build to 500 Meters or Yards Swimming Workout Plan to build up to a swimming workout that totals 500 meters or 500 yards of swimming.

Maybe you are a beginner swimmer stuck in a workout rut, always swimming the same swim workout, week after week, and want to try something different? Here's a swimming plan to help you get fitter (and maybe faster) through progressive swimming workouts.

This swimming workout plan is divided into two, 4-week periods. Each 4-week period has three weeks of increasing work and one week of recovery. There are optional work outs to modify the plans for swimming two, three, or four times each week. The ground work is the same regardless of the number of swim workouts each week - you are going to build fitness and maintain or develop better technique.

Getting stronger but sloppier is not the answer; you need to develop or maintain your swimming technique, and you need to get fitter - you need both.

While you do want to have the best technique possible, there is a balancing act between the current level of fitness and the ability to hold great technique. If you are not fit, you cannot do the stroke correctly.

My experiences show that it is like a teeter-totter. Increase fitness, improve technique; back and forth, focusing on one or the other as the primary emphasis of each swim workout set.

Do not ignore either factor at any time, but do not try and develop both simultaneously. It becomes physically and/or mentally exhausting to always try to focus on both. It is very difficult to do both at the same time, and it can get very frustrating. We'll mix both exercise and skill development within a swimming workout, but seldom will you purposely place equal focus on both at the same time.

This is not necessarily the same type of plan that would be used by a high school, college, or club swimming program that is focusing on a peak performance during a certain period of the season, like a conference, state, or national championship. This workout plan is intended to meet general fitness needs. It can be adapted to fit almost any goals, from an aerobic exercise session to a workout plan for the swim leg of your next triathlon. This workout plan could repeated 6 times to give you almost a full year of workouts. As you get in better shape you will complete more repeats for a given section. You can repeat these workouts as you get fitter. Finally, remember to consult a physician before beginning any fitness regimen.

This is how it works:

  1. Get a pencil and paper (you may want a calculator as well).
  1. Take a look at
    • a sample workout so you learn the workout codes
    • a template with suggested workouts (you fill in the minutes)
    • a blank workout template
  2. Determine how many workouts you will be doing each week.
  3. You should do at least two, but you could do as many as 5 workouts each week.
  4. Determine the maximum time for the longest workout to start the program and for the entire 8-week period.
    • I recommend no more than 75 minutes per workout for this plan.
    • Do not increase more than 10% per week in total workout minutes.
    • 5 to 10 minutes each week is a good goal.
  5. Start with your longest workout in Week 7 and complete the other Total Minute sections based on percentages of that longest workout.
  6. Multiply the number of minutes in a given workout by the percentage of that workout's pieces or parts (round up or down to the nearest minute).
  1. You will complete the number of minutes of each piece of each workout (rest up to one minute between each piece).
  2. You will complete as many repeats as time allows in each piece (when there is time leftover, use it for additional rest).

I am going to assume that you are using a 25-yard pool; 2 lengths = 50 (yards), etc. If you are in a different size pool, adapt the workout accordingly.

The speeds to perform during a workout - Easy, Moderate, or Fast - are relative to you and your ability and are what you think they are for now.

  • Easy is very low effort
  • Moderate is an effort you can repeat several times
  • Fast is an effort you could only do a few times, one that requires more rest (than moderate or easy) to maintain the effort level

Use drills for technique work during workouts, or have a friend or a lifeguard watch you swim and give you some feedback. You can find more on drills on the About Swimming Technique Pages. You may want to add some dryland strength work or stretching. Good luck with your swimming workout plan.

Swim On!


Updated by Dr. John Mullen on March 26, 2016