Nail your Ironman from the start with these killer swimming drills

Photo: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman

Whether it’s your first or your fifth Ironman, these sessions will help you as you prepare for the biggest physical challenge of your life.

Before having a crack at these killer sessions, you should have been working towards your Ironman goal for a couple of months and have built up your swim, bike and run volume.

The sessions are designed to take place at the end of a structured and progressive 10-to-16-week build phase and to see you into the race preparation phase of training. These workouts aren’t for the faint-hearted, but then neither is the challenge of an Ironman.

Keep the pace hot throughout with our killer bike and run training drills.

Session One: Open-Water Race Simulation


Time needed 
1 hr 15 mins
Equipment needed Wetsuit, goggles, swim cap.
Coaching tip The point of this session is to get in the lake or sea and practise starting off fast then settling into race pace swimming. Practise sighting every three to five strokes. Do this session well and you’ll be more likely to catch the feet of faster swimmers and stay there.

Warm-up 400m steady swim. Focus on faster stroke final 100m.
Main set
  • Deep-water start or land start as chosen IM race
  • 30 strokes flat out – approx 300m at race pace – 20 strokes easy
  • 30 strokes flat out – approx 300m at race pace – 20 strokes easy
  • 30 strokes flat out – approx 300m at race pace – 20 strokes flat out
  • Tread water 60 seconds 30 strokes easy – approx 300m at race pace – 20 strokes flat out
  • 20 strokes easy – 30 strokes flat out – 300m race pace – 20 strokes flat out
Warm down 400m (approx) easy + wetsuit removal practice on exit.

Total: 3,000m

Make it easier Only do the first three repeats of the main set.

Session Two: Pool 500s


Time needed 
1 hr 15 mins
Equipment needed Pull buoy, fins, hand paddles, kick board, goggles.
Coaching tip This session develops the ability to surge and control swim speed under pressure. Complete this session and you’ll be able to hold your race pace from start to finish.

Warm-up
  • 100m freestyle (FS).
  • 50m kick (with kick board).
  • 100m FS.
  • 50m kick on back (with board).
  • 100m FS bilateral breathing.
  • 100m FS (with fins).
  • 100m FS bilateral breathing.
  • 100m FS (with fins).
Main set
  • 4x100m (20s rec) as 1. pull buoy, 2. paddles, 3. pull buoy, 4. paddles
  • 1x500m FS build speed each 100m (3s increment each 100 – final 100 at sprint pace)
  • 1x200m recovery – FS
  • 1x500m FS at IM race pace
  • 1x200m recovery – FS
  • 1x500m FS build speed each 100m (final 100 at sprint pace)
  • 1x200m recovery – FS
Warm down  200m easy as 50m FS – 50m kick – 50m FS – 50m kick on back.

Total: 3,400m

Make it easier Drop the 500m efforts to 300m efforts.

Session Three: The Big Aerobic Booster


Time needed 
1 hr 30 mins
Equipment needed Goggles, pull buoy, kick board.
Coaching tip This session really builds your aerobic swim strength and stamina. As the session progresses, concentrate on holding your IM race pace after the effort sections.

Warm-up
  • 100m FS – 100m pull – 100m kick
  • 25 scull – 25m catch up – 25m fists – 25m FS. 
Main set
  • 1,600m FS as 25m fast – 150m at IM race pace – 25m easy (60s rest).
  • 1,200m FS as 50m fast –125m at IM race pace – 25m easy (60s rest)
  • 1,000m FS as 75m fast – 100m IM race pace – 25m easy.
Warm down 200m easy swim.

Total: 4,400m

Make it easier? Drop the distances in the main set to 1,200m/1,000m/600m.