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Three Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts

Swimming back and forth, back and forth, back and forth can make your head spin after awhile!

Another thing about swimming that makes my head spin is the way most workouts are written. For example :

1 x 200 alternate 25 swim / 25 kick

body position 5/50 with :45 rest – 25 3/4 catch-up/25 swim

short intervals : 12 x 50 swim – decend #1-3, #4-6, #10-12 with :20 rest


In the time it takes me to decipher that, I could have already finished my swim workout.

So, we’re gonna break it down and make it easy for you. Here are 3 beginner swim workouts that will help you go from zero to hero in the pool! If you’re just getting started in the pool, then check out our Zero Hero Swim Boot Camp to help you gain some confidence and endurance in the water before you try these workouts.

If you’re just starting out, get familiar with the pool by trying these drills. Once you’re comfortable, you can try these workouts. Rest as often as you need to and it’s 110% ok to cut the workout short or to make it longer… whatever works best for you!

For you visual learners:

Three Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts - Lap distances |
In a 25 yard pool, 1 lap = swimming to one end and then back to where you started. 1 lap = 50 yards, so 2 laps = 100 yards

*Under each workout will be a link to a PDF that you can print out, fold or cut, and place in a small plastic bag and keep by the pool to look at during your workout.

Three Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts - Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes Swim Workout |

1. Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

This workout is designed to help you focus on your swim technique and improve your efficiency. Or in other words, it will help you swim farther and faster with less effort. You’ll need a kick board for this workout.

Warm-up (200 yards) – Swim 4 laps with 30 second rest in between each lap.

Drills (350 yards) 

Rest for 30 seconds – 1 minute between drills

  • 2 laps of kicks – Grab your kick board and holding it straight out in front of you, swim 2 laps focusing on your kick. Don’t point your toes. Think about how you kick when you’re wearing flippers and kick with floppy and loose ankles. Rest for 30 seconds between laps if you need to. You can keep your head out of the water, or in the water…
  • 1 lap of the Superman drill – Once you have your kick down, toss the kick board aside and assume superman position. Swim 1 lap just kicking. Breath as usual. Focus on kicking from your hip.
  •  2 laps with closed fists – At this point, you might hate swimming, so get ready to punch the water. With closed fists, swim 2 laps of the freestyle stroke. This drill will help you get a feel for the water and it will help you use your whole arm during the pull phase of your stroke when your arm pushes back through the water.
  • 2 laps of stroke count – Count how many strokes it takes you to swim 1/2 a lap (50 yards). An easy way to do this is to count how many times one of your arms enters the water. Next, swim 1/2 a lap and try to decrease your stroke count by really focusing on pausing for a second and gliding when your arm enters the water. Repeat for 1 more lap.

Swim (200 yards)

  • Lap 1 – Head– Look down instead of ahead of you. This will help keep your spine streamline and it will also help you avoid a stiff neck. Focus on turning your head to the side to breath in a smooth motion.
  • Lap 2 – Shoulders or Arms- As your hand enters the water, keep your fingers together and make sure you glide before pulling and lifting your arm out of the water. Concentrate on swimming with a wide stance and try not to let your arms cross over each other as they enter the water.
  • Lap 3 – Knees or Hips – Focus on rotating your hips each stroke. This really helps you stay streamline and reach and glide more effectively. Kick from the hip, not the knee!
  • Lap 4 – Toes – Don’t point them. Remember, kick with floppy ankles. Think about your kick during this lap and focus on using your kick to keep your lower body from sinking. Your kick doesn’t propel you forward, so don’t waste excess energy trying to kick like crazy.

Cool Down (50-100 yards) I’d probably just cool down for 50 yards because I’m weird and I like to end my workout on an even number.

Total – 750 – 800 yards (depending on your cool down)

Printable PDF: Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes Workout

Three Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts - Breathe Easy Swim Workout |

2. Breath Easy

Workout #2 is going to focus on your breathing and building up your lungs. This is super important because, obviously, we need to breathe. The number one cause of panic during a triathlon swim is people feeling like they can’t breathe. So if you find a breathing patter that works best for you and practice it often, then you’ll be less likely to panic on race day.

Warm-up – (200 yards or 4 laps)

Breath Busters – (100 yards) – Hold your breath and see how far you can swim underwater without coming up to breathe. Swim 25 yards and then take a 30 second break between each. You’ll do a total of 2 laps.  Click here to read why this drill is so great. Make sure you come up for a breath whenever you need to!

Bilateral Breathing – (200 yards) – To get a feel for bilateral breathing, swim 4 laps bilateral breathing where you’ll breathe every 3 strokes. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe on the right, stroke stroke, stroke, breath on the left.

Left Side Breathing – (50 yards) – Swim 1 lap breathing on your left side every stroke.

Right Side Breathing – (50 yards) – Swim 1 lap breathing on your right side every stroke.

Sprints – (200 yards) – Swim as fast as you can using whatever breathing pattern works best for you. You can split this up and rest ever lap or ever 2 laps or try to swim 4 laps without stopping. This will help you get used to how it will feel to swim on race day.

Cool Down – (100 yards) – Finish this workout off with a nice easy few laps.

Total – 800 yards

Printable PDF: Breathe Easy Swim Workout

Three Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts - Endurance Swim Workout |

3. Endurance Swim

I know I just said that back and forth, back and forth was boring, but this workout will help boost your confidence for race day and ensure that you can swim the full distance of your sprint triathlon and still have some energy left for the bike and run. (Sprint triathlon swims are usually 1/4 mile = 500 meters = 10 laps)

Warm-up – Do some simple stretches, like these, to warm up your arms outside the pool. We’re not going to do any warm-up laps so that you get the feel for what it will be like on race day.

Swim (600 – 800 yards) – Swim 12 – 16 laps (or more if you’re feeling good!). The reason we want you to swim further than your race distance is to help you build endurance and stamina. That way, on race day, you will know with confidence that you can swim 500 yards no problem!

Cool Down – (100 yards)

Total – 700 – 900 yards!

Printable PDF: Endurance Swim Workout

Three Sprint Triathlon Swim Workouts - Printable PDF's | TwoTri.comFor printable PDF’s of these workouts, click the links below:

Workout #1

Workout #2

Workout #3


  1. Amanda

    This is great Jess! Thanks for this post. I will be trying some of these!

    • Jess Anderson
      Jess Anderson05-14-2014

      Yay! Let us know what you think! You go girl!

  2. amy

    I am concerned about the math you listed on here for visual learners who need to learn how to decode a workout. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was 4 years old. I can tell you that 25 yards does NOT equal 1/2 a lap. 25 yards equals 1 lap and 50 yards equals 2 laps. I swam 200, 500, and 1,000 yard free for high school and college. 200 yards is 8 laps, 500 yards is 20 laps and 1,000 yards is 40 laps. Therefore 440 yards is not 9 laps. 400 yards = 16 laps, therefore 440 yards is technically either 425 yards which equal 17 laps or 450 yards which equals 18 laps. If you need to check the figures, I would go online to U.S. Master’s swimming or U.S.A. Competitive swimming websites. Make sure that information is related to yards and not meters. Most pools are 25 yards. Long Distance pools are in meters, which is different.