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Determining Your Aerobic Swimming Pace
Determining Your Swim Pace is crucial to real swimming improvement

Hazen Kent - Tri-Newbies Online

Regardless of your swimming experience, developing a solid swimming pace for your triathlon competition(s) is essential for a balanced and effective triathlon performance. And the faster your pace, the better the overall results.

However, dont get a "faster swimming pace" confused with simply "swimming fast." For when we talk of pace, we are referring to your aerobic pace, specifically a pace based on your aerobic training level. Furthermore, the faster you are able to swim at your aerobic pace and the longer you are able to maintain that pace, the better your overall triathlon performance. And in a triathlon, this means a faster swim leg without jeopardizing your upcoming bike and run.

In this article, we will show you the necessary components to develop and fine tune your open water swim pace based on your current level of swimming. This will also include learning how to design your own swim program based your specific swimming goals.

In swimming, your aerobic swim pace will be a result of your average 50 yard or meter freestyle pace or your 100 yard or meter freestyle pace over a given distance. And the given distance will be determined by the particular triathlon for which you will be training.

First, what is the distance of the triathlon for which you will be training? Sprint, Olympic, Half Iron, or Iron Distance? Knowing this is necessary to determine the swim distance you must perform in order to find your aerobic swim pace. (see chart below for a break down of Triathlon distances and test swims.)

Test Swim
Pace Divide Your Total
Time by ...

Sprint Tri

500-800 yds 500 yds 50 yd pace 10
Olympic Tri 1500 yds 1000 yds 50 yd pace 20
Half Iron Tri 2000 yds 1500 yds 100 yd pace 10
Iron Dist Tri 4000 yds 2000 yds 100 yd pace 20

For example, let us say you are training for a Sprint Distance Triathlon. The swim portion of the race usually covers a distance of approximately to mile. In yards, this transfers to about 500-800 yards (or meters). Therefore, your training or test swim should cover at least 500 yards (or meters). The key is to swim this distance relaxed. Not slow, not fast, but at a nice pace with which you feel comfortable. And you want record your time for this swim. After a good warm-up, begin the swim. At the end of the swim, record your total time. Then divide that total time by 10 (a 500 yd swim is made up of 10 x 50s) and the result will be your 50 yd swim pace. Therefore, if you swam your 500 freestyle in 7 minutes and 30 seconds, your aerobic 50 yd swim pace would be .45 seconds (7.5 minutes divided by 10).  

In order to mark your improvement, once, every three weeks you want to perform this test to assess your improvement.

Once you have determined your aerobic pace, you then have a base-time to use during your swim training and specific swim sets. However, your goal is to improve this aerobic pace. 

Therefore, challenge yourself! 

Looking at the results from the example above, if you are given a set of 10 x 50s freestyle on an interval of one minute, you should be able to hold a pace of 45 seconds per 50 with relative ease. This would also allow you 15 seconds rest between each swim. However, we want to make this a challenge so try and hold 42 seconds for each 50 yd. freestyle you perform. You will be surprised how easy it is to swim just three seconds faster per 50. And you will be even more delighted when you realized youve just improved your overall 500 yd. swim time by 15 seconds! 

Finally, during these specific aerobic swim sets, take note of your heart rate. Your goal is to try and keep your heart rate within its aerobic range during these type of sets.

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