Race Specific Training Phase in Triathlon Swimming

The race specific phase of training as both an athlete and as a coach was my favourite.  As an athlete it allowed me to make practical applications of all the little changes I had worked on over the course of the last training cycle while as a coach I got to see how well those adaptations held out under some crazy work.

If you’re the exercise physiology type you may have noticed that I didn’t specifically call this phase of training the Aerobic Capacity training phase or the aerobic power training phase.  I think that because triathlon athletes have such varied distances they may be training for, each of those races will require something specific to them.  If you are doing a half Olympic distance race, why do you need to learn now to swim 10,000m?  I need to learn how to output enough power over the 10 to 15min without gassing out.   Whereas if I am looking at swimming an Iron Man distance triathlon I need to learn how to manage sustained effort from an one hour and twenty minutes to maybe as long as two hours.  Those are completely different training processes!

The thinking around your race specific training period is “what am I ultimately trying to accomplish, and how do I dovetail the training I have done previously with the technical changes I have made and move towards that goal.” 

This is probably not the time where you want to be making huge technique changes.  It is at this point that you want to refine those technical changes, and move them towards becoming a habit.  You will still need to be mentally engaged with technique changes that you have made, and you will still need to remind yourself to swim focused during your workouts but now time or distance becomes more important. 

If you are swimming shorter distance races your goal might be to do it faster than you did previously.  Your workouts will be geared towards swimming at your desired pace (while still having good technique), and proper stroke counts.  The distances might be shorter to start (25 and 50m repeats) and as you become more successful the number of those repeats will increase.  I always look at adding 10-15% more volume to a set each week.  When your set volumes are around 4 to 5x the distance of your race you can start changing the repeat distances (75 or 100m).  Remember, you will require more rest in order to be successful.  As you become more successful that rest interval can decrease.

Main Set (1600m; 32:00)
8*200m Swim @ 4:00 as:
125m Strong Rhythmic swim
5 seconds rest
25m Low Stroke Count (shoot for 16)
5 seconds rest
50 Race Pace or Better (looking for :45-:47)

Focus should be on maintaining the length and connection of the body as you are starting to fatigue…

**Note:  This is not a full workout but just an example of a SwimFocused prescribed workout.  For more information on our training programs see our Monthly Coaching Services.  

If you are swimming a longer distance race your goal might be to just complete the distance successfully, or it might be to be faster than you were the previous season.  Either way, the principles in designing your set will be similar.  Your initial repeat distances might be higher, but you will not be going as fast so managing the sets will be easier.  In this case you are not trying to hit 5x your race distance in training sets because, 5x 3800m with any regularity is very difficult.  I feel that 1.5-2x your race distance in volume during your major work sets is solid volume, but realistically the average person does not have three blocks of 2 hours per week to run 6000-7000m practices.  This time commitment is not realistic for triathletes who are training the other two modalities in their sport, and living their lives or working.   Remember that high quality, focused swimming is still the goal.

All that being said, I would like to remind you not to lose all those great gains you’ve made on your other training blocks.  You can still spice up your off workouts with some power elements.  Throw in some all out, fast swimming at the start or end of your practices to keep things interesting.

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

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,

KURT