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Sprint swimming is the key to improvement, says Bath Amphibians coach Ben Matthews

pyramid swim

When training for a fast swimming time, it’s important to train with high-intensity elements in every session.

Even longer, slower sets should have a solid volume of increased resistance training using fins or hand paddles, or be broken up with some shorter, harder efforts.

The reason we incorporate intensity in every swim is because we are already inputting a large volume of low intensity steady aerobic work on the bike and run. To continue this in the pool (especially when time constrained to an hour session) would be an inefficient use of time.

Therefore, triathlon swimming is distinct and unique because it must include a much larger proportion of “hard” work.

Q. Should I be sprinting all of the time?

Absolutely not. When you swim with intensity, this does not mean sprinting, or even that every session is filled with maximum efforts. Instead, each session should include some sprints to promote muscle adaptation with one each week designed to exhaust the athlete.

The reason for so much intensity in the pool is mainly due to the skill element of swimming. For example, biomechanically there’s almost no difference between fast and slow cycling, however strokes change a lot if you compare fast and slow swimming.

Developing a relaxed and rhythmical “fast” stroke can only happen at speed, so naturally a lot of fast swimming is required.

Q. How do Bath Amphibians do it?

Our really hard sessions involve a large volume of maximum effort work on short rest periods. A steadier set is inevitably a little slower, with the high-intensity elements a little more spread out and the total effort would be a lower, but without sacrificing a substantial volume of faster swimming.

Q. What kind of sessions can I do?

Sessions that include sprint efforts, threshold pyramids (see example) and incorporate resistance work are ideal for ramping up intensity. Be mindful of your profile in the water. It’s easy to twist instead of roll, losing your streamlining and efficiency through the water.

This happens when you start putting in more effort with less focus on your technique. To combat this, be sure to engage your core using it as a connection between the balancing action of the kick and your rolling shoulders.

Ben’s favourite pyramid set:

Be sure to warm up properly beforeyou attempt the set. A steady 400m with acouple of faster lengths thrown in to raise the heart rate and intensity steadily should do the trick.

3 x 500m as:

25m hard / 75m easy

50m hard /50m easy

75m hard/25m easy

50m hard /50m easy

25m hard / 75m easy

+ 3min rest between each 500m

200m cool down swim

Find more training tips at our dedicated swimming page.

Find out what other tips you can pick up from our trainer’s blogs.