Off Season Swim Training for Triathletes

It is now October, which means most triathletes are done with their competitive season.  Of those athletes, many will stop swimming completely as they back off of their training for the winter. Come spring time, they will surely find that they have lost much of the progress they had made over the course of the season. Instead of quitting swimming cold turkey, try these tips to shake up your swim routine and to keep you motivated throughout the winter months.

  1. Spend some time on your technique. Use the off-season as an opportunity to allow your volume to drop and put some time into improving your technique.  Practice swimming with your goggles off and your eyes closed to test your ability to swim straight. Couple that with some one-arm freestyle (with the other arm at your side), my favorite drill for learning how to balance out your stroke. This is also an impeccable drill to practice the timing of the stroke.  Also try the Faddle drill, where you swim with a paddle on one hand and a fin on the opposite foot, which promotes body awareness and balance while you’re swimming. Put some serious time in on your agility paddles to fix your catch and develop an Early Vertical Forearm – the critical difference between mediocre and elite level swimmers. Spend extra time kicking with your fins to increase your ankle flexibility and endurance. Be sure to focus on making your kick work for you, not against you.
  2. Learn how to not kick. While this may seem contradictory to my recommendation to kick more, you will also need to learn how to swim without kicking.  Oftentimes triathletes swim with fins so much during their workouts that they develop a kick-centric stroke, which isn’t helpful once they take off their fins and put on a wetsuit.  Try mixing in some swimming with a band, with and without a pull buoy, or just cross your feet.  Focus on using your core to rotate, not your kick, and practice swimming with correct form slowly before increasing your stroke rate and trying to go fast.
  3. Next, learn how to swim fast. Improving your top speed will translate to an improvement of your cruising speed. Over the off season spend some time swimming VERY fast in short bursts, ranging from 12.5 to a full 25 yards.  Try the Speed Change drill, where you alternate swimming 5 strokes fast and 4 strokes easy, and focus on reaching top speed by the fifth fast stroke.  Also, consider mixing in the occasional stretch cord set. Swimming down the pool against resistance and swimming back with assistance teaches you how to hold your stroke together as you swim fast (with the band).
  4. Keep up the consistency. Even if you want to reduce the amount of time you spend in the pool over the winter, try to maintain some kind of consistent schedule.  If you swim three times a week for an hour in-season, try reducing the swim time to 45 or 50 minutes, but staying with three times a week.  If you really want to improve your swim leg in your next triathlon, try swimming more often than you do in season, even if the workouts are shorter. Your body will have a chance to recover and the added intensity will be beneficial to your performance.


The key to sticking with swimming over the long winter months is to keep it interesting.  You’ll thank yourself once spring rolls around and you are faster and more efficient than you ended the previous year.