a swimmer swimming in a pool
November 30, 2022

Susan Williams


For most triathletes, the winter is a time to back off on structured training and let the body and mind recover from the rigors of racing and training throughout the Tri season.  But why not take the opportunity to make some gains in other aspects of training while still recovering?   Swimming is a great activity to focus on in the off-season reaping many benefits.  These benefits may vary from athlete to athlete based on an individual’s swim background and race goals, but listed here are 5 advantages of focusing on swimming throughout the winter.

First, what a great opportunity to focus on technique.  In the part of the season where high yardage and high intensity are not necessary, slow things down and get back to the basics.  Pick one to three aspects of your stroke that may need some fine-tuning or perhaps even an overhaul: catch, body position, underwater pull, bilateral breathing, etc.  It could also be beneficial to take a swim lesson or 2 to hone in on where your inefficiencies may be within your stroke.

Some may also find value in swimming through winter to build up a base in a manner that is fairly easy on the body.  Keeping intensity low, but building up yardage could benefit those that do not have a strong swim background and want to improve swim fitness and efficiency.  Be mindful, though, if you tend to have shoulder issues and build up the volume slowly.

For those of us that live in colder climates, it can be challenging to get out the door to train outside when it is in the single digits. Maintaining swimming during the winter is a way to stay consistent with activity even when the weather does not cooperate.  That 80-85 degree pool is there waiting for you!  Also, consider joining a master’s group to swim with for these months, if you don’t already.  What a great way to build community and take a break from triathlon-specific freestyle sets and branch out with the other strokes.

Finally, swimming is a great way to stay fit during the holidays.  With family and food abounding in November and December, take a break from both and head to the pool.  At easy to moderate paces, swimming burns roughly the same amount of calories as jogging, yet you are working a wider variety of muscles in your body.  Plus, as mentioned above, swimming tends to take much less toll on your body allowing for more frequency, therefore burning even more calories, if that is your goal.

There are so many great benefits to focusing on the swim during the winter months.  Hopefully, this can encourage those that don’t love swimming, and for those that enjoy swimming perhaps, this can give a different perspective on some of the benefits it offers.

If you are on board to focus on swimming over the winter, here is an idea of how you can plan the training to maximize your time in the pool.  Remember to start from where you are with fitness and skill level, then progress from there.

Monday-technique work:  keep swimming easy, and focus on skills;  this may be a good day to fit in a lesson

Tuesday-aerobic base building:  this is the day to reinforce the skills you worked on yesterday.  Sets will be a little longer with shorter rest, effort of about 50-70%

Wednesday-speed day: long warm-up then sets with shorter duration and more rest between.  You can put fins on for some of this to work on the kick and add more speed.

*if you are just starting your swim training, wait a few weeks before you add in the speed.  This can be an active recovery day, working further on skills

Thursday-OFF from swimming

Fri-technique/kicking work:  back to the basics with skills, keeping it easy, and add a kick set to work on the kick-vertical kicking is a fun way to do this

Saturday-aerobic base building;  as your fitness increases, you can push into anaerobic endurance with repeats between 50 and 150 yds with higher intensity and medium rest

Sunday-OFF Day

Coach Susan Williams knows that every athlete is endowed with different abilities and skills, and every athlete will have unique goals. She was inspired by the coach she had as she trained for the Olympics and transformed that experience into her coaching philosophy.  Set goals, plan steps on how to reach this goal, give your best effort with every opportunity you have (keeping in mind that this doesn’t mean you have to kill it every day at every practice!), and find success in knowing you gave it your all.

Coach Susan is an Olympic Bronze Medalist, USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and an ACE Certified Personal Trainer.

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