Swimming Workouts To Improve Your Speed And Stamina

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Just like with most things in life, the key to getting better at swimming is practice. But if you don’t spend your time in the pool mixing up what you do in your workouts, your gains will inevitably plateau.

It’s important to tailor your training around what you’re hoping to achieve in the water, whether that’s becoming a faster swimmer, getting ready to compete a long-distance event, or simply losing weight and getting fitter in general.

To help you achieve your swimming goals we asked Olivier Poirier-Leroy, former national level swimmer and founder of training manual and diary YourSwimBook, to share and explain a variety of workouts suitable for beginner and intermediate swimmers.

Swimming Workouts To Build Stamina

This is a tried and tested session that I’ve used with swimmers of all abilities. I do variations of it myself every Wednesday during my aerobic/recovery sessions. It’s some basic interval training that will tax your aerobic system and give your overall cardio fitness a big old boost.

The goal is to work up to about 45 minutes’ worth of aerobic swimming. How hard should you be working? Holding a conversation between repetitions shouldn’t be easy, but not impossible. Think comfortably uncomfortable.

Warm up

Warm up with some 25m or 50m laps of closed-fist freestyle swimming. Closed-fist freestyle swimming is exactly as it sounds – you ball up your fists, forcing your forearms to do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to pulling you through the water. It’s a great way to encourage a high elbow catch and will also help you improve that elusive feel for the water so that your stroke is on point once you get into the set.

Beginner workout

1 Alternating freestyle/closed-fist freestyle

Reps 8 Distance 25m Rest 15sec

2 Freestyle

Reps 10 Distance 100m Rest 20sec

Intermediate workout

1 Alternating freestyle/closed-fist freestyle

Reps 16 Distance 25m Rest 0sec

Speed up as you work through the reps to finish with a strong 95% effort on the final rep.

2 Freestyle

Reps 25-30 Distance 100m Rest 20sec

Swimming Workout To Build Speed

Developing speed in the water isn’t just about effort, it’s about finding the sweet spot between efficiency and power. The following will help you work on both of these critical aspects of faster swimming. It’s not heavy on distance, but it is high in quality.

There is a lot of stroke counting during this workout. Counting your strokes is a great habit to get into – it’s a constant reminder of how efficient you are being in the water and keeps you focused on a tangible part of your swimming, cutting down on some of the daydreaming that inevitably happens while we churn around the black line.

Beginners should do this set one to two times, while more advanced swimmers can work their way up to five rounds.

1 Freestyle 50s

Reps 4 Distance 50m Rest 25sec

With each rep, lower the number of strokes per 50m. If you take 35 strokes on the first rep, try 34 for the second rep, 33 for the third, and 32 for the fourth. The goal is to swim as efficiently as possible. Tight streamline off the wall, solid hip and shoulder rotation, and an even and balanced stroke.

2 Freestyle 25s

Reps 6 Distance 25m Rest 40sec

Take your best stroke count from the 50s and cut it in half (so in our example this would be 16 strokes). Your goal is to go as fast as possible while holding that stroke count. This will teach you to be efficient at a high speed and find that happy balance between stroke count (how fast your arms are turning over) and distance per stroke (how far each stroke takes you in the water). It’s all about quality with these bad boys.

3 Double arm backstroke

Reps 1 Distance 50m

Swim easy to keep loose before the next round starts.

Swimming Workout To Burn Calories

This Tabata-style workout is short but high on intensity. You hit the gas on the first rep and hold on for dear life. Make sure do to a comprehensive warm-up, paying particular attention to your legs, and after the workout do a solid ten minutes of easy swimming and kicking to flush your muscles of lactic acid.

1 Freestyle sprints

Reps 8 Distance 25m Rest 10sec

2 Freestyle easy

Reps 1 Distance 100m

3 Kickboard

Reps 8 Distance 25m Rest 10sec

Hold the board in front of you and kick with your legs.

4 Freestyle easy

Reps 1 Distance 100m

5 Freestyle sprints

Reps 8 Distance 25m Rest 10sec

Try to beat your average pace from the first round.

Swimming Workout For Triathletes

For triathletes who are preparing for an event, there are a couple of things to focus on in the pool that will help prepare you for a good performance on race day.

In this workout we are going to have a dual focus – swimming with some sighting (picking your head up to the front to see where you are at, which is helpful for navigating while open-water swimming) and some swimming at your target race pace. The set is 2,300m not including the warm-up and warm-down.

1 Freestyle 100s

Reps 5 Distance 100m Rest 30sec

Swim at your race pace.

2 Freestyle 50s

Reps 4 Distance 50m Rest 20sec

Descending effort (get faster with each rep) sighting every 10m or so.

3 Freestyle 100s

Reps 4 Distance 100m Rest 30sec

Swim at your race pace.

4 Freestyle 50s

Reps 4 Distance 50m Rest 20sec

Descending effort (get faster with each rep) sighting every 10m or so.

5 Freestyle 100s

Reps 3 Distance 100m Rest 30sec

Swim at your race pace.

6 Freestyle 50s

Reps 4 Distance 50m Rest 20sec

Descending effort (get faster with each rep) sighting every 10m or so.

7 Freestyle 100s

Reps 2 Distance 100m Rest 30sec

Swim at your race pace.

8 Freestyle 50s

Reps 4 Distance 50m Rest 20sec

9 Freestyle

Reps 1 Distance 100m

Swim faster than your target race pace.

10 Warm-down

Do five minutes of easy swimming and then hit the hot tub!

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.