The General Fitness Phase in Triathlon Season Planning

I feel that the general fitness phase in training plans often go either under utilized or totally neglected.  I would like this blog to shed some light on a few things:  what is the general fitness phase, where it fits in to your seasonal plan, why the phase is neglected, and what are the things you can do during this phase.   Okay, with that being said let’s get to it.

General fitness phases or build phases, are training blocks that transition you from a period of low volume or time off to your desired/optimal training volumes.  For example, I start my triathlon life as a couch potato and I sign up for a sprint distance race.  I need to be able to swim 750m in the water, but I haven’t swam in 5 years.  I understand how to swim and my goal is to finish the race in 6 months time… I don’t care how fast.   I want to be able to swim a 2000m practice (and yes, the swim distance is 750m, but I know that I need to train 2k).

Over a specific predefined period, I am going to raise my training volumes from 0m per practice to 2000m.  In this case I am going to take 4 weeks and every week I am going to raise my volume by 500m starting at 500m.  I know 500m doubled to 1000m is not going to break me, and I am erring on the side of too easy rather than crazy hard.  Nothing during this training block will be at really high heart rates, nothing will be overwhelmingly fast, and it does not matter if I do it freestyle (frontcrawl), backstroke or kick.  All I am doing is acclimating my body to working again.

As mentioned before, fitness phases can be used at the beginning of a season, and should be used after any down time.  Downtime or rest phases could be from 1 week to however many weeks, and regardless of this length, jumping back into high intensity or high volumes from rest weeks could set you back in your training.  If you are coming off a short break your fitness phase may be as little as 1 week if you are really fit, or as much as 3 weeks.  Let how you feel guide you and adjust your season training to accommodate for lengthened periods of re-adaptation.

Why could this phase of training be missed by some athletes?  Overexuberance and excitement of getting back into the swim of things can cause it to be missed.  Ignorance is another reason as coaches and athletes sometimes get the idea that they can start at their required volume and train into it from there.  This can cause athletes to get overwhelmed in practice or even worse, injured.

I believe that general fitness phases are where you can do your most focused swimming.  As above, nothing during this phase is super intense or long so each length and each stroke can be thoughtfully done with honest effort.

Some common workouts that I have seen from coaches during fitness phases just include a build up of volume.  SwimFocused believes that thoughtful change with revolving focuses throughout your workout can make this portion of the season both interesting and rewarding.  Imagine doing a workout like this:

Warm Up (900m; 21:00)

  • 200m Swim @ 4:00 
    • Just be loose and relaxed… especially during the extension… get that catch up feel going.. 
  • 2*50m Kick one arm up one arm @ :15 rest 
    • Long posture… with a quick breath focus… 
  • 8*50m Drill/Swim with Fins @ 1:10 
    • 25m - Single Arm hand by side 
    • 25m - Swim Long and Smooth 
      • Looking to feel the power coming from the core… 
  • 200m Swim Strong @ 4:00 
    • Little bit of effort here… sighting lots…. 


Main Set (700m, 22:00)

  • 8*25m Catch Up Swim @ :45 
    • Hands wide … reaching forward into the extension… no rushing… 
  • 3*100m Swim Build @ :30 Rest 
    • Just long and smooth swim… keep the head turn and breath calm… no lifting … go slowly and relaxed to start then build the effort at the end of each 100m… 
  • 8*25m Kick with Board and Snorkel @ :15 Rest 
    • Flowing legs… focus on the up kick… glutes firing… heels to the surface of the water… 


Cool Down (100m, 3:00)

  • 100m Easy Swim 
    • Fins optional… 


** Please note this is not the complete prescribed workout but just a specific example of a SwimFocused practice.

If you are interested in learning about the other training blocks of a triathlon seasonal training plan check out our article Triathlon Swim Season Planning

Your general fitness phases are an important aspect of adaptation to training, for teaching and solid healthy swimming.   Regardless of where you are in your journey, focused planning, focused practices and honest effort will result in seeing great gains in the swim portion of your races.

Yours in Swimming,