Designing a Swim Workout

Swim workouts vary depending on your skill level, your fitness goals and how much time you have but there a few constants in any swim workout. Building a swim workout is like building a pizza and there are some essential ingredients. A pizza isn’t a pizza without a crust, sauce, and cheese and a swim workout is not a functioning, safe workout without stretching, warming up, and cooling down.

Below is a sample to use when you are trying to build your own swim workouts that specifically cater to your individual swimming needs and goals.

1. Stretch

Use this time to get good stretches in your upper and lower body. It’s important to stretch out parts of your body that you are going to be using such as your arms and calf muscles. Injury is much more likely to occur if you have not done a few pre-swim stretches!

2. Dryland

Depending on the length of time you have for each particular work out you can devote anywhere from 5-30 minutes to doing a few dryland exercises. If you are short on time skip to the core strengthening exercises such as planks and pushups.

3. Warm Up

Warming up is just as important as stretching. Those who are familiar with yoga: refer to your swim warm up as your first pass at downward dog – it gets out any kinks and sets the tone for your practice.

A traditional warm up has at least two parts:

      1. Kicking

      2. Swimming

It is best to start with a base of 100 yards for each and adding mileage as you seem fit for your particularly goals and also according to the time you have at the pool.

Kick: Feel free to use whichever kick you prefer. If you want to you can alternate your kicking between breaststroke, backstroke, etc. Also to keep things interesting you can alternate between kicking easy and moderately every other lap or as you see fit.

Swimming: Traditionally the warm up portion that includes swimming almost always consists of front crawl. Front crawl is preferred due to its flowing nature and the ability to overemphasize the movements, but if you are keen on using breaststroke as a warm up stroke you can make the switch since it is also a flowing, easy, relaxing stroke.

4. The Set

Depending on what you choose to work on for each particular workout your main set will vary. Usually sets are broken into a few different categories. They either consist of drill work, endurance work, or sprint sets and each speaks for itself.

Drill work concentrates on technical skill and stroke work and is essential for the success of a swimmer. It can concentrate on one stroke (such as back crawl) or can cover more than one.

An endurance set typically includes swimming a ladder or longer yardages mixed in with some breaks. Endurance sets are designed to help you build stamina in the water. Endurance sets that are on timed intervals are designed to build stamina and speed.

Sprint sets usually consist of swimming x amount of yards in x amount of time, the time leftover is used for resting. Sprints are usually geared towards shorter distance swims, but don’t let the small distance fool you – it’s still hard work!

What kind of set should you be engaging in? Well it does partially depend on your goals, but almost every swimmer (beginner or otherwise) should be swimming a combination of the 3.

Remember you can’t swim far or fast if you aren’t swimming correctly and that’s where the drill work comes in. As far as concentrating on endurance or speed it depends if you are training for a race or just getting in cardio so listen to your fitness goals and your body.

5. Warm Down

A warm down is equally as important as a Warm Up. At the end of each workout you should take at least a 200 yard cool down stroke, either using front crawl or breaststroke. For endurance sets increase your Warm Down yardage. This is not an area to cut corners!

If you compose a swim workout that is made up of these 5 components you will be well on your way to swimming success! If you have any questions or would like some suggestions for personalized workouts shoot me and email at Stay tuned for some specific swim workouts!

Looking for some examples of dryland exercises?

Looking to decode some of the lingo used in this post?



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8 responses to “Designing a Swim Workout

  1. AWESOME!!! I really need to get myself to a pool sometime soon! I always love the workout I get from swimming and it is nice on my joints! 🙂

  2. Thank you for this post!!! As I’m just getting into swimming, I’m loving this. What would you recommend for a first time swimmer who is also taking is SUPER easy (because of my stress fracture recovery)? And I mean beginner as in I have NO idea how to do anything but doggie paddle….

    P.S. I got the chia seeds yesterday, thank you so much!!!

  3. hey girl-
    first of all i love your blog! it’s pretty hard to find other swimmer bloggers so i jumped for joy when i found yours!

    just had a few thoughts for ya. i love the fact that you help people break down a swimming workout, no matter what their fitness level is. you have amazing tips! my only thought was that i feel like stretching is better utilized by the body AFTER a workout. if you stretch beforehand, your body isn’t warm, and it’s pretty easy to tear muscle fibers. since swimming muscles use dynamic energy, sometimes stretching can zap your energy stores, too, before a workout.

    i am by NO means an expert, and don’t mean to disagree with you in any way! just wondering about your thoughts (13 years of swimming makes me curious about other swimmer’s experience!). keep up your lovely blog!
    – rebekah

    • Thanks for the comment Rebekah! Usually with kids we do stretching & dryland before and thats just to get them in the habit of doing it period. For me personally I stretch before and after all exercise. I know a lot of swimmers do the same thing, or work on parts of their bodies before & then different parts after.I dont really have an expert opinion on the topic either. I would bargain to say that most college/olympian swimmers use their warm up as their stretch and then do a full stretch out after.
      Something I will definitely look into! Cant wait to check out your blog!
      Im glad there are more bloggers that swim – I feel like whenever I do a swim post I hear crickets! Haha!

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