Triathlon Plans: The Swims

Hi everyone - I trained for my first full IM last year following the TR plans quite religiously. (Though I shortened most of the run workouts because my overall running mileage would have been huge if I followed their timed runs. Will TR go to mileage based runs eventually?) My question is about the swim workouts: I loved that they were simple (warm up/drill/main set/kick/cool down), but I am curious about the kick. 250 kick (or kick variation) each swim seems like a waste of time. I always did it last year because my type A personality told me I “must follow the plan”. What do other triathletes do for swims? (I can probably answer that: go to Masters.) Do any other triathletes follow the TR swim plans? Is a 250 kick not a big deal, and I should just do it again for my training this next year?

I guess a question you need to ask yourself is were you happy with the results you achieved? If you were then repeating the plan might be a good idea as you’ll hopefully be starting from a higher base. If you weren’t maybe look for alternative swim options.

Personally I haven’t used the TR swim sessions, a mix of a Masters group and my own swim sessions does for me. I do always do some kicking in all my swim sessions though, maybe not 250m but always some in some form or other.

I’m no expert but for me the kicking was too much, didn’t see the point of 250 kick every session. And didn’t like it at the end would rather kick before my work sets. I ended up sourcing my swim sets elsewhere or cutting the kicks for other drills. I still kicked just not every time or as much.

I asked my masters coach about the importance of kick sets a few weeks ago as our masters swims only rarely has larger kick sets. His reason for less focus on kicking is that given the abilities of the group the time is better spent focusing on technique, pacing, etc.

If you’re a top swimmer looking for that last 1 or 2% and your focus was on competing in masters swim meets, sure, kicksets might make that difference. He feels you’re going to see a larger return on time invested working on drills, technique, pacing rather than kick sets.

As for using the TR swim plans: I typically swim with a group 2-3 times a week and on my own 2 times a week. I have used their swim plans in the past when I wasn’t regularly swimming with a group. I would say that following their plan is going to be better than just pulling random swim workouts off the internet. If it worked for you last year go for it again. If not, find another plan.

PS. I like that TR does time-based runs. I find that when I’ve tried to follow a mileage-based plan it’s really easy for me to run too fast, ignore how I’m feeling, skip a run because I haven’t scoped out the perfect Xkm route… Time-based plans seem to result in lower injury rate and a higher plan compliancy for me.

I like the kick sets; I tend to do them with zoomers. They work for me because I have one leg that is a lazy kicker so it’s a good chance to think about kicking evenly. I also find that they generally help me “reset” after the main set and my body position is good for the cooldown.

Great point! I was quite happy with my results. The plans took me from a complete non-swimmer to a 1:14 finish. Pretty middle of the pack for my 25-29F age group, but my strengths are greater as the race goes on, so was pleased with my swim. I do want to be better this year though, but like you said my base is bigger, so I would expect that putting in a similar effort would raise my paces.

My biggest scare for Masters is that I haven’t taken the time to learn how to flip turn. I am pretty sure that would just be annoying to everyone I share a lane with.

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I definitely agree that I would rather spend time on drills for technique than my kick, especially when wearing a wetsuit for the race which gives you that extra help.

So true about running for time and pacing. I definitely found myself slowing down on the recovery run days because it was a time goal of 50 minutes or whatever. But running 3:30 long runs would be a marathon for me, so that wasn’t happening. I just did 20 miles. I can see the prescribed mileage being an issue for the non/slow runners because then they would be out there forever, which certainly can lead to injury.

Not all swimmers in Masters groups flip turn, the group I swim with has a really wide range of abilities and types of swimmer.

Like @Scheherazade I do my kicking with flippers in the vague hope that it will help my somewhat inflexible ankles!

I would agree partially with the assertion that kicking is less important for triathletes but it still plays a big part in creating a balanced swim stroke. My goal with kicking isn’t necessarily to gain much extra propulsion but to minimise the drag my feet cause. Again as @Scheherazade says even a neutral kick will improve body position in the water and therefore speed rather than just be a cause of drag.

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A bit off-topic, but I’m gearing up my training for a sprint/oly/70.3 this year. Completed a sprint last August. I was dreadful, but I had a blast. Anyways, I’ve been swimming for about two months/ 3x a week. I’ve really only been focused on increasing my distance and breathing control. I recently swam 1650m with about 2:20-2:30/100m pace. Should I start introducing drills now as far as using kickboard, buoys, fins, paddles, etc? I’m a bit lost.

@pschulz I understand the concern around “wasting” 250 yards on kick; however, my response is coming from a point of view that a well-rounded athlete is a better athlete. I have been swimming for 26 years, so I come from a place of strength with the swim, but constantly do work with other strokes, pull, kick sets, and IM. Being a better swimmer overall gets me a better race time.

I’d encourage you to resist the temptation that you can “waste” something as short as 250 yards. If it was 1000s of yards a week, then yeah, probably not a good use.

I’m assuming that with both the bike and run that you do different “types” of workouts - speed work, endurance intensity, track workouts, long runs, etc. In my opinion, kicking amidst a swim is no different. Variety is the spice of life (and athletes) and will do more good than harm.

Final note: I find the TrainerRoad swim plans to not be the best, so would encourage you to find some online, a Masters swim group, or from Total Immersion.

Hope that helps.

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Funny you mention the less drag part… since I find that if I just focus on not splaying my legs and pointing my toes I got that 1-2 sec speed gain /100 (yard)

Last year I did kick sets, but once the build started up and doing hard intervals 2x/week on the bike and 1x/week running, I just couldn’t do them any more and would cramp up later in the swim. I’m not sure if I gained anything from it, not like the almost immediate gains from visualizing and focusing on the kick during some normal swim sets.

personally the catch up drill is one of the best… can also function as a kick set too, but you are applying forward propulsion with those intermittent strokes. Doing them one at a time really helps to reinforce a good catch. It might take watching a video though to get a good idea of what a good catch looks like so you are reinforcing good habits.

That’s true. We spend a lot of time and money on making us aero on the bike but that is genuine free gains in the water both in terms of shorter swim times and less energy expended dragging yourself through the water just by concentrating and making yourself more hydrodynamic.

My main swim sets today were 20x100m followed by 20x50m but I did some kicking in the warm up, a few 50’s kicking in between the 2 main sets and again a few 50’s kick as part of a cool down - there’s plenty of ways to incorporate a bit of kick into each session rather than see it as the “kick bit”:smile:

I also happened to listen to That Triathlon Show podcast today which had an interview with Tim Floyd from Magnolia Masters on USRPT style swim training for triathlon which was another interesting perspective.

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I would recommend that you build most of your sessions around drills and do a moderate distance on top. One of my coaches tells us frequently that beginners (like me) always want to just hammer out a few km in the pool a few times a week and that works for a little while but it’s when we become technique focused that we see real gains after that.

What seems to work for us is doing a short warm up, followed by a group of drills focused around a particular theme (rotation, catch, breathing, kick etc), followed by a main set, then a smaller number of additional drills and a cool down, all in under an hour.

Of course, having said that I can’t help with kick at all. I think my kick on its own actually drives me backwards :rofl:

Thanks for the advice! Makes sense.

It’s also completely opposite to the Tim Floyd podcast interview where one of his explicit points that was most technique based drill work was essentially pointless unless you are swimming 1:05/100 (I think he was talking short course yards) Up util then he felt swim fitness was the significant limiter :thinking:

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Interesting. I know that 0 to 1650 is based around just swimming, and not worrying about form; that you’ll naturally become more efficient with your stroke as you build your distance. But getting to 1:05/100 without drill work seems near impossible. I can swim a 20sec 25m all out sprint. I guess doing repeats of that and eventually 50, 75, 100 and so on would get me there.

That’s pretty much the basis for the USRPT training methodology as far as my understanding goes.

Like most things the truth for most is probably somewhere in the middle with drill work. The important thing is to work on drills that improve your own swim stroke, not the swimmer in the next lane who might need something different, or just working through all the drills you can think of in a scattershot approach.

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It depends… if you’re using flippers then 250m seems reasonable. Without flippers, that’s a lot of kicking.

This is the key point. Most triathletes gain very little propulsion from the kick, so it’s mainly a case of improving your kicking to get a better position in the water.

Beat me to it, I was about to post the same thing :slight_smile: For sure, certain drills can do more harm than good. For example, if you’re an overglider, performing drills that aim to reduce your number of strokes per length is likely to make you slower rather than quicker.

@pschulz - By far the best way to know your swim flaws is to get a video analysis session with a decent coach. I had one a few months ago and it’s the best thing I’ve done for my swimming by far; I wish I’d have done it a couple of years ago. I now know exactly what I do in the water (which was very different to how I actually thought I was swimming!) and can do specific drills to target the flaws. I’ve improved more in the last month than I had in the previous year.

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Really like that podcast. I’ve got the episode you mention queued up for the commute home… I’m interested in hearing his rationale for mainly doing loads of short intervals, as that’s completely different to the CSS methodology the likes of Swim Smooth use.