My favorite swim workouts

When I devised my training plan for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon over Labor Day weekend, I knew swimming would figure in hugely. I am a healthier, stronger person when I supplement my three running days per week with a couple swimming days, and I find that swimming translates well to running. But after suffering some serious burnout after swimming competitively in high school, I have to make a conscious effort to motivate myself to get in the pool. At its best, my on-again, off-again relationship with swimming compares favorably only to Ross and Rachel.

In the past, I’ve used principles of sports psychology to devise mind games to get me motivated. I’ve reminded myself of why I love to swim. I’ve used carrot-and-stick reward systems to bribe myself.

But this week, I’ve found motivation to swim in three very simple sources. First, I have my swim buddy back! Steve’s been joining me at the pool again now that his classes aren’t taking so much time, and it’s wonderful.

Second, I’ve found a beautiful new pool. I’d been swimming at the Takoma Aquatic Center for the past year or so, and loved that it’s close to my house and free. But a few months ago, Liz of Liz Runs DC introduced me to the Wilson Aquatic Center just off the Tenleytown Metro. It’s a brand new, beautiful, Olympic-sized pool that’s also close to my house and free—what’s not to love?

Wilson Aquatic Center's pool looks just this shiny and new in real life.

Finally, in a conscious effort to avoid boredom now that I’m hitting the pool more often, I took the time to compile a bunch of my favorite swim workouts. I’m sharing them below. Feel free to reciprocate by posting a comment with your own favorite swim sets or workouts.

My all-time favorite workout: 1,650 warmup, starting at warmup pace, picking up the pace each 500 yards; 6X200 IM; 200 cooldown. Why is this my favorite? I can’t be sure. I just know that yards slip away easily during this challenging yet quick workout.

Other favorite workouts: 500 warmup. Main set: 300 free, first six strokes of every 50 fast; 3X100 stroke (I alternate free and breaststroke); 6X 50 free; repeat whole set three times.

800 free warmup; 3X800, increasing intensity each 800

500 warmup, non-free every third lap. Then 300 free, 3 100 IMs, 6 50s kick, 100 easy. Repeat two more times.

My all-time favorite set: 5X400 IM. Almost a workout in and of itself, this is a set that redeems any amount of slackerdom. It’s also a great set for a low-motivation day, as it’s almost impossible to really slack off while doing butterfly.

My favorite sets: Use these as  building blocks for great workouts, or tack them onto the end of your own favorites.

1,800-meter pyramid set on :15 rest: 1×50 > 1×100 > 1×150 > 1×200 > 1×250 > 1×300 > 1×250 > 1×200 > 1×150 > 1×100 > 1×50

4×25 sprint freestyle on :45, then 4×25 no-breath freestyle

five 100s (500), five 75s (375), five 50s (250) and five 25s (125) = 1,250 (do 2x = 2,500)

12X 75 swim: Free, stroke, free

16X75 pull

30-minute timed swim


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5 responses to “My favorite swim workouts

  1. Liz

    My problem with swimming is that I get bored. As in no scenery or music to distract me – just the bottom of a pool. These look like a great way to change it up and keep it interesting. I also have trouble remembering to keep count of the distance if you have any tips on that!

    • When I swim, especially distance sets, I try to get a song in my head (helps turn boredom into meditation in motion). I then substitute a few words in the chorus for the yards/meters I’ve swum (“Stir It Up” becomes “25 … little darlin’ 25 … and then 50). Cheesy, but it works!

  2. a present! just for me! swim workouts! you should’ve have!

    also (comment on your comment), i have a magical thing that attaches to my goggles that lets me listen to my ipod while i swim. so good. i think h20 audio makes it.

  3. Jessica

    I’m just going to have to give a little “boo!” for the ‘Friends’ reference in the beginning of the post.

  4. katekirk

    Thanks for this – I make them up as I go along so maybe I’ll attempt to record a few and share back. I think I got burned out by 15 years of competitive swimming too, and it took my running injury to get me back. And then when I get that cap squished on my head (and my grownup hips squished into that Speedo), I remember that part of what I loved was how easy it was for me…unlike running, which I grew to love, but is NOT easy.

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