Three Swim Skills to Hone Your Race Form

By LifeSport Coach Jeremy Howard

Three Swim Skills to Hone Your Race Form

There are many skills one can improve as a swimmer in order to make themselves a faster triathlete.  Depending on ability, comfort level and speed there are different skills that I would focus on, to a greater or lesser extent, with different athletes, but the three skills below are ones that I return to with all my athletes, in some capacity, to help get them in race form.  Descending and building are effort based skills that focus on both comfort in the water and speed skill.  Many triathletes (and swimmers as well) end up swimming slower as they try harder.  The reasons for this are vast and the subject of another article; what building and descending sets provide is the feedback to see whether or not this is happening while keeping the focus squarely on speed skill and race effort.  The final skill, high stroke rate, comes at race effort and control from a different angle.


Descending is a skill where you get faster swim to swim. For example you can swim 3 x 100 with 20 seconds rest between each descending 1-3.  On the first 100 you could swim 2:00, then take your rest, swim 1:55 on the second 100, take 20 seconds rest and swim 1:50 for the final 100.  Descending requires great control and you can adapt this as your skill and proficiency increase, descending over a greater distance and/or placing more emphasis on the control.  For example 10 x 100 descend 1-10 requires more control than 2 x 3 x 100 descend where you get to reset and go back to the easy 100 on #4.

Workout #1:

Warm-up:        2 x {100S-100D-100K

                          2 x 3 x 50 descend (20” rest)

          light descend, just getting used to the change in effort


Main Set:         4 x 3 x 100 descend (20” rest)

                         Aim to descend as evenly as possible (ie 3 seconds between each 100) and have the second 100 at race pace.


Cool Down:      300-500 easy


Building is a natural progression from descending.  When you build, you get faster throughout a continuous swim.  So, a 300 build by 100 would be a 300 where each 100 gets faster.  For example, the first 100 would be swum in 2:00, followed by a 100 in 1:55, followed by a final 100 in 1:50, all without stopping.  In order to get accurate feedback on swims like this it is helpful to have a coach, though some watches will record splits automatically and other pools will have pace clocks mounted on the side so that you can see your splits as you swim.  As with descending, you can adapt this as your skill and proficiency increase building over a greater distance and/or placing more emphasis on the control.  For example, a 1000 build by 200 where you hit 70.3 race pace on the 4th 200, and all 200’s get 3-4 seconds faster is much more complicated than the 300 shown above.


Workout #2:


Warm-up:        300S-200D-100K

                          3 x 100 descend (20” rest)

          light descend, just getting used to the change in effort


Main Set:         600 negative split (neg split just means second half is faster than the first)

                         300 build by 100

                         600 build by 200

         300 build by 100

         Goal here would be to build to race pace on the last portion of the swims, with the last 300 being slightly faster than the first 300


Cool Down:      300-500 easy

High Stroke Rate:

Triathlon swims start out fast and unlike swimming in a pool triathlon swims can be more reactionary and physical with athletes bumping into each other as well as different levels of choppiness.  A higher turnover can help you react quicker and keep a more even keel throughout the unpredictable swim.  One way to emphasize this is to incorporate swims of varying speeds/turnovers into your pool workouts.  This allows you to change cadence in the water, naturally as well as learning to recover off of those higher cadence and/or harder efforts while still swimming.  For those with a running background, these are essentially fartlek workouts.

Workout #3:


Warm-up:        300S-200D-100K

                         2 x {4 x 25 FAST (30” rest), 100 easy (30” rest)


Main Set:         3 x 400 as 25 FAST/25 easy (45” rest)

                          Emphasize high turnover on fast portions

                          12 x 50 as 25FAST/25 easy (30”)


Cool Down:      300-500 easy

These three skills will help sharpen your race form while emphasizing the control necessary for continued development.  Additionally, all of these skills  focus on changing speeds in ways that build strength for the specific surge and recover aspect present in most triathlon swims.

LifeSport coach Jeremy is a USAT certified coach who has coached a number of triathletes from beginner to podium finishers. Jeremy has been coaching for 8 years and been successful with all his athletes finishing their events and berths at 70.3, IRONMANS and Ultramans. Contact Jeremy to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance. Find more great training tips by joining us on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

LifeSport Coaching


Facebook twitter