swim training plan for beginners

A Beginner Swim Training Plan For Triathletes

Posted Ella Villas Articles

I recently received an email from someone asking for a beginner swim training plan who has a race in 2 months (.23 miles), and is just starting to learn how to swim now for the first time.

First, I love this! I think it’s an awesome, admirable goal to set out to do this.

Can it be done? Yes, I believe this is in the realm of possibility. But it will be anything but easy.

The future swimmer asked me how to get comfortable in the water.

My answer is below:

“Getting comfortable in the water is about breathing.

One of the things to start with is simply holding your breath underwater. Start with just 10 seconds with your face in the water and looking at the bottom of the pool with goggles on.

Then move up little by little, until you are doing about a minute or so. Then start to go deeper in the water, until you can get to the bottom of the shallow end, and hold your breath at the bottom of the pool (starting with just 10 seconds).

This will help your brain adjust to being submerged in the water but being perfectly safe. Do this in addition to your lessons.

Don’t be afraid to wear fins (Zoomers are best) at this stage.

You can take them off later, but the important thing for now is body awareness, balance, and position in the water.”


So where do you start with your training plan for a triathlon swim?

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to be doing as a beginner, to be race ready:

1. Have patience with yourself. Slow and steady progress is best. Don’t expect to make major progress all at once. Go for small victories, and celebrate them.

2. Start with these two drills: Vertical kicking & kicking on your side. Although the kick only makes up about 10-15% of your stroke propulsion, without a proper kick, your stroke will suffer. You will likely sink, and your feet may act as anchors! Give it a couple of weeks of intense practice to get your kick up to speed. You can also stretch your ankles if you have limited flexibility.

3. Gradually move towards full stroke swimming. Don’t try to skip ahead and “get to training”. You will get there, and you will have a much easier time if you put in the drill work and learning proper technique ahead of time. You will need to practice, kicking, balance in the water, pull, body rotation, and of course, breathing. As you master each of these, move on to the next challenge.

4. Start with short workouts. Don’t try to be a hero or keep up with more advanced swimmers. Everyone is going at their own pace. Later, you may be able to easily swim 3000 meters. But for your beginner swim training plan, longer is not better. Your workouts early on need to consist of warm up, drills, some longer swims, interval training, and cool down. 

5. Work in intervals and speed work AFTER stroke technique. There are no short cuts. Aim for getting your stroke 80-90% of the way to ideal or perfect. Nobody is perfect, so “good enough is good enough”. How do you know when you’re ready to advance to intervals and speed work? It’s not scientific, but when swimming starts to feel “easy”. You feel like you can “swim forever”.

6. Practice counting your strokes. Just get an idea of how many strokes it takes to get from one side of the pool to the other. Be aware of how you can decrease that stroke count without sacrificing speed. Swimming for beginners is a lot about feel and getting used to the aquatic environment, so there is not “one stroke count fits all” here.

To create a swim workout for yourself, here’s a guide on structure of a swim workout we did.

Finally, here’s a sample workout to help you get started with your swim training, or mix things up and add variety to what you are doing. Once you get the hang of it, make sure you are being efficient with your swim training, and not overdoing it.

Warm-up: Swim 200 to 400 meters at an easy pace.

Main set: Complete 12 x 100 meters. For the first 25 meters, take a breath every three strokes. From 25 to 50 meters, take a breath every five strokes, and from 50 to 75 meters, take a breath only every seven strokes. Count your strokes on the last 25 meters, and see if you can bring that stroke count down with each 100 repeat.

Cool Down: Swim 100 to 200 meters easy.

And if you’re looking for specific 12-week plans, and a comprehensive swim training plan for any distance triathlon, click here to find out more.

Befriend the water!