Train Specifically For Your Race

Entering an event and making a training plan with a goal for this event is the best way to get and stay motivated. Knowing the distance you are swimming in the event with a goal in mind helps to narrow your focus on specific training towards this goal. One thing we want to avoid is just getting in the pool and swimming up and down until you hit a distance target. Swimming 3 or 4km at the same easy pace will make you good at exactly that. Unless our goal is solely to burn fat, then a more specific structured training set will get you to your goal faster.


Say for example you have entered an Olympic distance triathlon which has a 1500m swim, and have a goal time in mind of 26 minutes for the swim. This is around 1:45 per 100m. Let’s take a look at some example swim sets you can do to train your body to be able to achieve this.


Swim set 1 – Over pace training


10 x 100m on 2:00 holding 1:44 or better for each 100m.


This set is aimed at swimming slightly faster than you need to but includes around 15 seconds rest if you are holding your target times.


Swim set 2 – Pace training


8 x 200m on 4:00 holding 3:30 for each 200m.


This set is aimed at hitting your target pace and being able to hold it for the complete distance.


Swim set 3 – Mixed pace training


4 x 50m on 1min holding 45 seconds for each 50m

Straight into a 400m targeting 7mins for the total 400m

100m easy

Rest 2-3mins

Repeat everything from the start 2 – 3 times


This set is aimed at training your body to adapt and recover from changing speed. Most open water swims will require you to change pace a few times and will have your heart rate fluctuating. This is especially true at the start. Being able to adapt to the race conditions is essential for maintaining your pace to achieve your goal.


How often should I swim these training sets?


Depending on how much time you have available for swimming you will want to make sure you are consistently doing sets like these well in advance of your event. Because everyone’s situation and training abilities are different let’s take a look at what a likely minimum or maximum training week may look like.


Minimum training week (aiming for a 26 minute 1500m)

– 2 x 1hr long swim sessions


Session 1: Pace training

Session 2: Mixed pace training


Maximum training week (aiming for a 26 minute 1500m)

– 6 x swim sessions


Session 1: Mixed pace training

Session 2: Shorter over pace training

Session 3: Pace training

Session 4: Easy swim not targeting pace

Session 5: Over pace training

Session 6: Pace training


Everyone has a different situation and a different ability. You may be training for a swim or a triathlon where you will have limited time and energy for swimming. The above article is just a general guide on how to approach swim sets for achieving an open water swimming goal.


Use the calculator below to help figure out what pace you need to train your body to be able to hold in order to achieve a specific time.



Carl is head coach at Swim360 Coach, a former Olympian and national champion freestyler. Carl now uses his skills and passion for coaching and competing in the open water.