Winter swimming sets

Winter Triathlon swimming question: Scottish winter here and I’m prioritising bike fitness via Sweet Spot build programmes. Question relates to maintaining swimming during the next 2 to 3 months before embarking on the excellent TR Training Plans. (I don’t want to do Training Plan schedules now as I will get bored of them by the time spring comes)

Masters club swimming is not an option.

I could do 2500 to 3500 meters per session.

  1. How many swim sessions per week to maintain current swim fitness.

  2. Ideas of what these sets might look like.

  3. Anyone got a 3 month winter base swimming programme?

Just listened to a great podcast this week that discussed this: specifically prioritizing bike fitness during the winter with sweet spot intervals, but working to maintain / improve swim and run performance intelligently.

The recommendation in the podcast is to basically prioritize technique with drills and form practice. No particular training plan, but identify (either alone or based on a one-off or infrequent swim coach consultation) what drills you need to focus on and do them, alongside endurance effort laps.


Checkout Tower26 and Swimsmooth.

The “bad news” is three per week is the general consensus. But that said my experience is that swim fitness comes back pretty quick. 1 or 2 will keep me pretty good, plus it’s good recovery training. :+1:

I’m a few weeks into a winter of swimming and a few of my go to sets which I’ve been repeating most weeks are (all with 800m WU and drills and a bit of easy swimming as a cool down)

  1. 4x(4x100m 15 sec RI into 1x200m Pull + Paddles 30sec RI)
  2. 400m; 2x50 kick;300m; 2x50m kick; 200m; 2x50m kick; 100m; 2x50m kick
  3. Pyramid of 25m; 50m; 75m; 100m; 125m; 150m; 175m; 200m and back down again
  4. 15x (100m swim; 50m Pull 15 sec RI)

If I’m short of time or I’m swimming after a hard run or ride I’ll jump in and do 20 or 25 x 100m Pull to give my legs a rest.

That’s just a few sets I’ve fallen into doing but there are loads of other sets you could do as well obviously. I agree with @JoeX - I find that 3 swims a week is good to maintain but more than that to improve - for me anyway. I’ve used the Swim Smooth plans before which are pretty good but haven’t felt the need to subscribe for a while now.


Thanks for this Joe…I’d built up to doing some solid swimming and now finding it hard to ‘let it go’. But thats part of triathlon I suppose.

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Thanks mate…this is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Some prescriptive sets to try out.

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No problem.

There’s nothing inherently special about those - just a bit of a pattern I’ve fallen into. There’s plenty of ways to play around with swim sets to break them up and make them vaguely interesting!

The first one was my main long swim building up to IM’s last year. I started off running through the 4x100/200 3 times and building to 6 times though for a 3.6k main set. At the moment I’ve been doing the 4x each week and trying to get them quicker.

Have you considered regular swim lessons?

I’ve never done them to be honest, but I’m tempted.

What I’m really after is a pool I can use my GoPro in without being convicted of some sort of crime. Cameras are banned in my gym’s pool, it’s a pain in the rectum.

Can you get someone to film your stroke so you can analyse it yourself?

I recently went for a 90 min video analysis lesson with a Swim Smooth certified coach. It was awesome, really informative. Relatively pricey, but the best money I think I’ll ever spend on swimming.

Even if you were able to film you own underwater footage the big challenge is analysing what you’re seeing. It’s not as simple as trying to copy the footage of elite swimmers like Ian Thorpe. In fact, one of the biggest faults in my stroke was caused by me trying to swim like the elites (but without their flexibility!).

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Hello. I live in Finland where the winter is long and dark. I’ve done Triathlon now for 4 years, mainly olympic & 70.3. I agree that you shoul prioritize TR for now.
For the swimming I would recommend the following:

  • 2 times a week/ 45-75min quality. If you can do only one longer session, the second can be a shorter session just to retain feel for the water. This helps you come spring and daylight again:-)
  • tempo and sweetspot with endurance mixed, I would not place to much focus on technics. Keep it simple and technique comes along.
  • sessions could be:
  1. Warm up 300-500m, 5-10*100 intervals (tempo/sweetspot/treshold, negative split), wd 200-300m.
  2. the warm-up/down is included: start doing 20-30*100m with 15-30seconds rest every 100m. Speed is moderate/medium (up to you). This is a good endurance session and you can vary your speed accordinly. You can have e.g. a longer rest every 5/10 sets.
  3. As session 2: 20-30* 50m. start immediately with the sets. Speed tempo/sweetspot/treshold (proceed moderate/ medium/ mad).

You can vary all the sets by your feel and progression, e.g. do 10 * 200m. You can tolerate intensity in swimming almost every workout, unlike bike & run.
If you do 2 sessions a week then don’t ’waste’ time on too much drills. But you can incorporate technique into the sessions. you can do e.g. above mentioned session 2 and 3 like 5* fins, 5* paddles,5* pull buoy, 5* whatever combination, etc. Of course much depends on your triathlon distance as well and your overall plan.
Consistency! It’s tough during the winter- I know. hope this gave you some idea or thoughts.


Thank you very much for this Lasse. I am in a similar situation with a long winter here in Scotland (not as bad as your Finish winter I suspect). I like your post very much.

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Thanks for linking to this, Matthew! I was wondering how to start putting runs back into my schedule, and this has been really helpful.

Okay, here’s my favourite set at the moment donated by a friend elsewhere.

200m FC @2:00/100m
200m alternating 25 breaststroke, 25 back
200m as 4x 50m PB increasing RPE 6,7,8,9 counting SPL
200m as 8x 25m hard off 30s

n x 100m at 1:38-1:40 +10s

200m as 4x 50m PB decreasing RPE counting SPL
200m alternating 25 breaststroke, 25 back
200m FC easy

Great link, thanks.

Reminds me of the three C’s training principle.

Consistency. Consistency. Consistency.

Quite a few coaches are advising against the SPL type drills now (assuming you’re counting SPL to try and get a lower number), especially if you’re going to be swimming in open water.

It’s a good point, but it’s helping me to focus on the pull and a full stroke - I’m not targeting a stroke rate.