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by Kris Goodrich

May 5, 2021

Train at different intensities to maintain your optimal weight

It’s a well-known fact that swimmers like to eat—a lot! And in a perfect world they’re in the pool just enough to balance their eating and swimming in order to maintain their optimal body weight. What happens when suddenly your weight seems higher than normal? Are there workouts that are better than others to take the extra pounds off? Do you need to work out more? Harder? Go on a diet?

Weight loss is pretty simple when you break it down: Fewer calories consumed than your daily caloric expenditure equals weight loss. Your daily caloric expenditure is a function of your metabolism and your activity level. Your calories consumed are what you eat each day. If you’re not one who likes to restrict your eating, increasing or changing your workout plan can help to tip the scale back in your favor. You need to move more to lose more.

When planning your workouts, it’s important to know the time and frequency you have available in your daily schedule. If you’re lucky enough to be retired and can swim for three hours each day, low intensity workouts fit right into your schedule. If you have a full-time job and/or kids, your time is at a premium, and shorter, high-intensity workouts several times a week with recovery days in between would be a better fit.

Often the best balance is a mix of different types of workouts: shorter high- or moderate-intensity workouts to burn a lot of calories in less time, then longer, low-intensity recovery planned for days when time isn’t a factor. In USMS’s Workout Library, you’ll find all types of workouts to mix and match to fit your specific daily needs.

Workout 1: Moderate Intensity

Moderate intensity workouts are typically the mainstay of a weight-loss routine. Often referred to as aerobic workouts, moderate intensity workouts mean you’re working at 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum effort. You can work at that effort for a moderate amount of time before you need to rest and recover.

  • On a scale of 1-10, your effort level would be around 7 or 8. Coaches often use the word “pace” for moderate intensity. You’re not swimming slow for recovery or sprinting race pace, but rather holding the same speed throughout the entire set.
  • This moderate intensity workout has higher yards and doesn’t require quite as much time as the low intensity workout. Since you’re swimming a little less distance, your energy expenditure and calories burned will be less but so will the time it takes to swim the workout.


200 freestyle on :05 rest

200 pull on :05 rest

200 kick on :05 rest

100 freestyle on :05 rest

100 pull on :05 rest

100 kick on :05 rest

Main Set

3 times through:

  • 2 x 200s freestyle on :10 rest (swim at steady pace)
  • 3 x 100s freestyle on 1:45

(Pick a send-off you can hold all three times through, faster than pace.)

4 x 75s kick on :10 rest

(IM order, fins and/or boards are fine)

300 pull

(Every third length backstroke or breaststroke)


200 choice

Total: 3800           

USMS members can view this workout and hundreds more in our Workout Library

Workout 2: High Intensity

High-intensity workouts alternate all-out swimming with rest periods or recovery swims. Although the yardage might not be as high, you’re able to fit in a decent number of yards in a really short time. The drawback to high-intensity training is that you typically are able to do less in each session and the recovery time between sessions may be longer.

High-intensity workouts are great for those people who have limited pool time or personal time. They’re a great bang for your buck to burn some calories and overload your body in a short time period.

  • This workout features high-intensity swims alternating with an active recovery.
  • Use the recovery to let your breathing slow down, relax your body, and reset and lengthen your stroke to prepare for the fast swims.
  • On a perceived exertion scale of 1-10, you’re trying to hit 9 or 10 on those fast swims.


400 freestyle on 8:00

200 IM on 4:00

(Drill/swim IM by 25s)

2 x 250s kick on 4:30

(Use short fins)

Main Set

2 x through the following:

2 x 25s freestyle easy on :50

125 freestyle fast on 2:05

25 freestyle easy on :50

100 freestyle fast on 1:40

25 freestyle easy on :50

75 freestyle fast on 1:20

25 freestyle easy on :50

50 freestyle fast on :55

25 freestyle easy on :50

25 freestyle fast on :35

100 freestyle recover on 2:15

Cool Down

4 x 50s freestyle on 1:00

(Breathe every 3 or 5 by 50)

Total: 2500           

USMS members can view this workout and hundreds more in our Workout Library

Workout 3: Best of Both Worlds

If you have a little more time and don’t want to swim at high intensity throughout the whole workout, here is a workout that might be just perfect.

  • Since the yardage is a little higher, your energy expenditure is higher as well.
  • With the high intensity swims during the main set, you won’t need two hours to complete this workout.


2 x 500s choice on 9:00

(75 free, 25 stroke)

2 x 100s IM drill on 1:50

4 x 50s kick on 1:05

(Use short fins)

Main Set

12 x 25s choice on :30

(Odds fast, evens perfect smooth)

12 x 50s choice on :55

(Odds fast, evens perfect smooth)

6 x 100s choice on 1:35

(Odds fast, evens perfect smooth)

3 x 200s choice on 3:10

(Try to build by 50s and negative split)


4 x 50s freestyle on 1:00

(Breathe every 3 or 5 by 50)

Total: 4100           

USMS members can view this workout and hundreds more in our Workout Library

Workout 4: Mix It Up

It’s easy to get lazy and back off on your intensity when you swim the same workouts or strokes all the time. Every couple of weeks, pick one workout that challenges you to swim different strokes, intensity, or distance. By changing it up, you’ll focus more, use muscles you don’t use as often, and work at the correct effort level.

  • This higher intensity workout mixes up sprints and easy swimming.
  • As an IM workout, it rotates through all four strokes, forcing you to push yourself on both your best and worst strokes.


200 freestyle

200 pull

200 kick

100 choice

4 x 25s freestyle on :15 rest

(Build each 25 slow to fast)

Main Set

2 times through:

  • 150 butterfly on :15 rest (50 dolphin kick, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
  • 150 backstroke on :15 rest (50 kick on back, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
  • 150 breaststroke on :15 rest (50 kick, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
  • 150 freestyle on :15 rest (50 kick, 50 sprint, 50 drill)

4 x 25s choice sprint on :15 rest

200 freestyle recovery on :10 rest

200 kick on :10 rest


4 x 25s choice on :10 rest

(Reverse build each 25 fast to slow)

100 backstroke on :10 rest

100 freestyle, nice and slow

Total: 2800           

USMS members can view this workout and hundreds more in our Workout Library

Workout 5: Low Intensity

Low-intensity workouts are great for when you have a lot of time, want to work on your stroke, or even need a recovery day. Since you’re working at a low intensity, you should be able to maintain correct technique while swimming for a long time.

  • Low-intensity workouts get your body moving and your heart rate up.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, you should be working at about a 4 or 5. For this workout, adjust your intervals as needed to stay in that range.
  • This is a great workout for weight loss, because you’ll swim 6100 yards and expend a lot of energy. The trade-off is that it takes around two hours to complete it.


(Swim straight through with minimal breaks)

400 freestyle

400 kick

400 pull

400 choice

Main Set

4 x 500s freestyle on 8:00

(Odds pull with buoy and snorkel, evens swim)

6 x 200s choice on :30 rest

(Odds freestyle, evens IM)

5 x 100s freestyle on 1:35 descend

5 x 100s freestyle on 1:30 descend


300 choice

Total: 6100           

USMS members can view this workout and hundreds more in our Workout Library

Get Great Weight-Loss Workouts in USMS’s Workout Library

U.S. Masters Swimming has created a searchable database of online workouts, developed for seven swimming specialties and featuring all ranges of distances, strokes, and skill levels. With this members-only feature, you can:

  • Subscribe to receive workouts for the week emailed to you every Monday
  • Filter by course, desired distance, and type of sets you want to do
  • Send workouts to your smartwatch via our integration
  • Customize a workout via and truly make the workout yours
  • Print workouts easily so you can bring them to the pool



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