Article image

by Erica Slaughter

May 3, 2019

The right routine depends on many factors

The number of competitions in your triathlon season as well as your need to train for three disciplines can make developing a training strategy seem complex, but coming up with the right plan isn’t as difficult as you might think.

You need to increase your aerobic capacity for races that require varying levels of endurance, but that’s not your only objective. Perhaps more importantly, you need to physically and mentally prepare for the challenges of each discipline and the unknowns of triathlon that make each race distinct and exciting. You want to stand on the beach waiting to get the race underway, undaunted and ready for whatever the water has in store for you, and you want to exit the water with enough energy to do as well as you’re capable of doing in the cycling and running legs of the race.

With these goals in mind, develop a framework for the season that ensures you get the most out of your training. You’ll need to have quantifiable benchmarks against which to measure your progress and evaluate your race readiness.

In a perfect world, you’d have unlimited time available to spend training. But you’ve got demands on your time and three disciplines for which to train. To make things simple when it comes to developing your swimming training plan, try constructing a strategy based on a periodization scheme that fits your goals for the season. There are two main types from which to choose: linear and nonlinear.

Linear Periodization

A linear periodization scheme requires you to progressively increase your yardage and perhaps the duration of your training sessions. The rationale for this is simple: Increasing your training load increases the stress on your muscles, which expands your aerobic capacity. Furthermore, planning a training season based on this periodization scheme is as simple as increasing your training volume on a daily or weekly basis.

Let’s say that you have 12 weeks until your big race. Each week, increase your yardage incrementally, perhaps by 25 percent from the week before, until you reach a workload that should provide the aerobic base you need for your event.

For example, if you start with 2,000 yards in Week 1, you’ll increase it to 2,500 in Week 2, 3,125 yards in Week 3, and so on. You do not and should not just get in the water and crank out exactly that distance straight. Your time will be well spent by including drills, kicking, pulling, and anything else you need to work on to become a stronger swimmer.

Nonlinear Periodization

In a nonlinear periodization scheme, you’ll vary the training variables of volume (the yardage you swim) and intensity in your workouts on a daily or weekly basis. This way, you could peak for several individual races in one season as opposed to just one main race at the end of the season.

The theory behind nonlinear periodization is that training gains in strength and endurance can be achieved through more than endurance training alone, that physiological gains can be supplemented by high intensity interval training.

What this means for your swim training is that you’ll vary your yardage on a daily or weekly basis and add some shorter distance sets at race pace (or more intense than race pace) with intervals to limit your amount of rest between repeats.

To develop your endurance, it’s important to put stress on your muscles so that they’ll respond and adapt to this stress. This is where training gains will be made; without this stress, your reduction in volume will set you back from where you’d be if you were following a linear periodization scheme but with interruptions.

An example of a weekly workout utilizing nonlinear periodization might look like this:

Day 1

1000 moderate pace swim

8 x 50s @ :45 (or whatever interval affords you no more than 10 seconds rest)

Day 2

1000 moderate pace swim

6 x 100s @ 1:30

Day 5

2000 moderate pace swim

4 x 50s @ :45

As you can see, nonlinear periodization shouldn’t be confused with completely random organization of training. You still want measurable benchmarks to chart your training progress.

One Final Thought

Whichever periodization scheme you follow, there’s one training variable that’s always important in swimming: frequency. Whether you’re a former NCAA champion or a novice, swimming isn’t kind when it comes to the principle of reversibility, or loss of training gains due to interruption in training.

You should strive to swim at least three times per week, even if you’ve only got 20 minutes. It’ll always be better than nothing. Choosing the right workout will go a long way!


  • Triathlon


  • Triathlon
  • Triathletes
  • Training