Improve 70.3 Swim Speed

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Here’s a swim session I typically performed weekly, especially when preparing for an upcoming IRONMAN 70.3 race.

I liked it because it was very efficient; wasn’t overly fussy with complicated pyramids and sets; and it helped me reinforce what was most important to my triathlon swimming.

Workout Objectives:

The purpose of this workout is to build fitness and specific swimming strength, while also focusing on technique (which should be a consideration of every session).

In particular, this workout helped me optimize my hand position.

It’s very important that you maintain good hand placement on entry and throughout the catch & pull phases of your stroke. You don’t want your hands out too wide and you definitely don’t want them coming across your body’s midline. Maintaining hands at approximately shoulder width is a good mental cue.


Required Gear:

For the warmup, I use fins.  My favorites are the classic FINIS Zoomers.  Their short blades are aligned with the natural angle of the foot, and they really improve ankle flexibility that is often missing in triathletes.

The main set requires paddles and a pull buoy.  I typically use a smaller paddle to avoid undue stress on my shoulders, especially in the early season.

I actually have 2 types of paddles in my bag: the FINIS Agility Paddles and the FINIS Freestylers.  The Agility paddles deliver instant feedback that reinforces proper hand position throughout the entry and pull.  The Freestyler helps avoid crossing over or spearing your hand too deep upon entry.

Swimming with paddles builds strength by increasing the resistance and therefore places a greater load on our swimming muscles.

As you progress and build strength, you can increase the size of your paddles.  But take care!  Increasing the resistance on your swimming muscles should produce fatigue but never pain. If you feel any pain in your shoulders, stop using the paddles immediately.

During the warm-up and cooldown, I love to strap on the FINIS Stability Snorkel, which removes the variable of head rotation when breathing.  This allows me to focus on perfecting the nuances of my stroke mechanics.



Warmup:  1200m

  • 200 easy FR with snorkel; focus on hand placement for catch and stroke length, aiming for maximum distance per stroke.
  • 200 kick with fins

Repeat this sequence 3 times.

Main Set:

  • 9x 200 FR Paddles + Pull Buoy; Rest Interval (RI) 30sec
    - Intervals 1, 4 and 6: easy swimming.
    - Intervals 2, 5 and 8: moderate effort (higher aerobic effort but sub-threshold).
    - Intervals 3, 6 and 9: at threshold (or best sustainable pace/effort).
  • 8x 50 FR; RI 30sec
    All 50s completed at threshold or slightly above (i.e., at the same effort level, or a little harder, than the hard 200’s in the previous part of the main set).

Cool Down: 

  • 200m easy mixed strokes
  • 200m easy Fr with snorkel (reset stroke; concentrate on hand placement at entry and catch; focus on maximum DPS).

Total Distance:

3.8km (approximately 1hr-1hr10min)

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