In between sets at the pool yesterday, I paused long enough to speak to a friend in the lane next to me. A 4x Marathon Olympic Trials Qualiﬁer, 2:37 PR, and National Champion, she swims to cross train; no cycling, no weights, no core. I asked her when she was racing again, and she said, although not at peak ﬁtness, she was racing a half marathon later this month. She went on to say how much harder it was getting to regain top form at her age and be competitive with the young speedsters. She turns 40 next week.
Base work for swimming is a bit different than base work for cycling and running. You need to build endurance, which generally means mileage. But mileage can also bring fatigue, with fatigue comes loss of technique, and technique is the most important factor effecting your potential in the water. The way to build base fitness without loss of technique is to bring both along at the same time. In cycling and running we tend to start the season with lots of long, easy stuff, but in swimming, you should start with slightly higher effort levels over shorter distances and gradually lengthen workouts as fitness and technique improve. The slowest you’ll ever race is Ironman pace, so that’s usually where you should start the season.
BUILDING ENDURANCE, IMPROVING TECHNIQUE
Ladder set, breathing every 3rd stroke (bilateral)
All freestyle - 50/100/150…150/100/50 RPE 2 (5-10 sec rest between each)
8x50 m Easy kicking RPE 1 (10 sec. rest interval)
8x50 m freestyle drills RPE 1 (10 sec. rest interval)
4 × 400 m (early season start with 2 and work up to 6)
odd reps: 400 m freestyle with bilateral breathing RPE 2 (20-sec. rest interval)
even reps: 100 m IM or backstroke/300 m freestyle RPE 3 (15-sec. rest interval)
200 m easy swim cooldown
Remember, you are building endurance while working on technique. If you find yourself needing more rest interval, slow down. Breathing (bilateral) every 3rd stroke during your base building will force you to swim at an easier, more relaxed pace.
An explanation of RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion: