swim training for a Triathlon

Swim Training for A Triathlon

Whether you're an experienced swimmer or just starting out as a beginner, we're here to help you achieve your goals! We have dedicated ourselves to provide you with the best tips, techniques, and training strategies to help you improve your swimming skills, build endurance, and become a stronger, faster swimmer for Triathlons. Swim training for a Triathlon isn’t an easy thing, far from it, but we’re going to take you through all the details of a Triathlon swim so you can smash your next event!

How long is a Triathlon swim?

A triathlon swim is one of the three disciplines of a triathlon race, which consists of swimming, cycling, and running. The length of a triathlon swim varies depending on the event you enter. There are different types of triathlon races, which are Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, and Ironman, each with varying distances for the swim section.

  • Sprint Triathlon Swim: A Sprint triathlon is the shortest triathlon distance, with a typical swim distance of 0.47 miles (750 metres). This distance is suitable for beginners and can be completed in around 15 to 20 minutes with a good pace and technique.
  • Olympic Triathlon Swim: An Olympic triathlon is the next level up from the Sprint distance, with a swim distance of 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres). This distance requires a higher level of endurance and can take around 30 to 40 minutes to complete.
  • Half Ironman Triathlon Swim: A Half Ironman triathlon is a longer distance triathlon, with a swim distance of 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometres). This distance requires a lot more training, energy and endurance, and the swim can take anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes to complete.
  • Ironman Triathlon Swim: An Ironman triathlon is the longest distance triathlon, with a swim distance of 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometres). This distance requires a high level of endurance, strength, and training from you, the swim can take around 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete.
Swimming in a Triathlon

How long does it take to train for a Triathlon swim?

The time it takes to train for the swim in a triathlon varies depending on your current fitness level, experience with swimming, and the length of the triathlon swim. For those who are new to swimming, it may take several months for you to build up the necessary endurance and technique to complete a triathlon swim. Beginners may find it difficult to go out and train in a public pool or body of water due to confidence. However, ZEN8 can help you there, by using our unique swim trainer to train, you can perfect your technique from home!

For an olympic triathlon swim, which is 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles), we’d recommend that you should train to be able to swim this distance comfortably, and like anything, the more you do the easier it becomes. To do so, we’d suggest starting with shorter distances and gradually build up to the full distance. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on your fitness level and commitment to training. Training 3x a week with our swim trainer and 3x per week in the pool is the perfect synergy to get the best workouts in and train your body for your triathlon event. The focus of these sessions needs to ensure you’re building endurance, improving technique, and practising open water skills such as sighting and navigation.

Additonally to regular swimming sessions, cross-training activities such as strength training, cycling, and running can also help improve overall fitness, but you’ll need to be doing the latter two when training for a triathlon. We've given more insight into the other two legs of a triathlon here.

How often should you train for swimming a Triathlon?

For a Sprint Triathlon, which has a 750-metre swim, most beginners will need at least 8-12 weeks to prepare and train for the swim. This time frame can vary depending on your current fitness levels, but it is best to start training at least 12 weeks before the race to allow for a gradual build-up of fitness and endurance. During this time, you need to aim to swim 2-3 times per week, gradually increasing the distance and intensity of your workouts.

For an Olympic Triathlon, which has a 1.5-kilometer swim, the majority of athletes will need around 12-16 weeks to train adequately. During this time, you should aim to swim 3-4 times per week.

For a Half Ironman Triathlon, which has a 1.9-kilometer swim, most athletes will need around 16-20 weeks to train adequately. During this time, you should aim to swim 3-5 times per week.

For an Ironman Triathlon, which has a 3.86-kilometer swim, most athletes will need around 20-24 weeks to train adequately. During this time, you should aim to swim 4-6 times per week.

It's important to note that these time frames will almost certainly differ depending on your personal situation, whether that be fitness levels, working hours or family time. As we’ve said, if that’s the case we have a solution for you, our unique swim trainer for at-home workouts!

Training your Swim Technique

How to train your swim Stroke

Focus on your body position: Maintaining a streamlined body position in the water is essential for reducing drag and improving efficiency. Focus on keeping your body straight and parallel to the surface of the water.

Incorporate drills: Drills can help you improve specific aspects of your stroke technique. For example, you can practise the catch-up drill to improve your arm extension, or the fist drill to improve your pull technique.

Use equipment: Equipment such as fins, pull buoys, and paddles can help you isolate and train specific aspects of your stroke. For example, using fins can help you work on your kick technique, while pull buoys can help you focus on your arm pull.

Work on your timing: Timing is crucial for an efficient stroke. Practise your timing by focusing on the catch and pull phase of your stroke, and work on syncing up your arm and leg movements. You can also use our very own ZEN8 swim trainer to train at home! Take a look at our video showing the best way to use the swim trainer for improving your swim stroke.

Increase your distance: Gradually increase the distance you swim while maintaining proper stroke technique. This will help build endurance and further improve your technique.

Seek feedback: Getting feedback from a coach or experienced swimmer can help you identify areas for improvement in your stroke technique. They can also provide personalised advice on how to improve your stroke and overall swimming technique.

How to train your swim catch

Start with proper hand placement: The catch begins with proper hand placement. Your hand should be positioned with your fingers facing downward and slightly outward, with your thumb pointing towards your thigh. Your wrist should be slightly flexed, and your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle.

Focus on your forearm: Once your hand is properly positioned, focus on engaging your forearm muscles to generate pulling power. To do this, engage your latissimus dorsi (back muscles) by squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Practice drills: Incorporating catch-specific drills into your training can help improve your technique. One drill to try is the "finger-tip drag" drill, where you drag your fingertips along the surface of the water to practise proper hand and forearm positioning.

Use equipment: Using equipment such as paddles, pull buoys, and resistance bands can help you develop your catch by adding resistance and helping you focus on your technique. You can also use our very own ZEN8 swim trainer to train at home! Take a look at our video showing the best way to use the swim trainer for improving your swim catch.

Increase your distance: As you improve your catch technique, gradually increase the distance you swim while maintaining proper form. This will help build endurance and further improve your catch.

Seek feedback: Getting feedback from a coach or experienced swimmer can help identify areas for improvement in your catch technique. They can also provide personalised advice on how to improve your catch and overall swimming technique.

How to train your swimming pace

Determine your current pace: Before you start training your pace, you need to determine your current pace per 100 metres/yards. You can do this by timing yourself for several laps or using a swimming watch.

Incorporate interval training: Interval training involves swimming at a set pace for a certain distance or time, followed by a short rest period. This type of training can help you improve your speed and endurance. Start with shorter intervals and gradually increase the distance and pace over time.

Use a tempo trainer: A tempo trainer is a device that beeps at regular intervals to help you maintain a consistent pace. Set the tempo trainer to your target pace and focus on keeping up with the beeps.

Incorporate speed sets: Speed sets involve swimming short distances at a faster pace than your normal pace. This type of training can help you improve your overall speed and performance.

Work on your technique: Improving your stroke technique can help you swim more efficiently, which can help you maintain your pace for longer distances.

Track your progress: Keep track of your pace and the distance you swim to monitor your progress. This can help you identify areas for improvement and adjust your training accordingly.

train your swimming pace

Pablo Dapena Gonzalez - BMC Pro Triathlon Team
Credit: James Mitchell

Dryland Swim Training for a Triathlon - FAQS

swim trainer workout

Max Neumann - BMC Pro Triathlon Team
Credit: James Mitchell

Triathlon Workouts

Beginner Triathlon Workout for a Triathlon

Below are three differnt workouts for training for a triathlon, all workouts are from our Head Coach Kieran Lindars. Kieran is a top-level coach and triathlete and has a high amount of experiance. 

For anyone looking to get into triathlon or those who are yet to find a training plan that works for them, this is a great place to start. The most important thing at this stage is being consistent. That is why for this layout, compared to the other layouts, it’s very vague.

Training shouldn’t be too specific and should always be fun and enjoyable for the athlete, just get out and train! Athletes should be very open to how their body is reacting to training in order to avoid injury and also seek coaching support to have experience by their side. When I coach athletes who are training 5 to 10 hours in a week, I try to get them to target one session a day.

This makes training simple and double training days often require more experience and training history of the athlete in order to be successful. If you have a rather hectic and unpredictable work cycle, sticking to a training layout may be difficult. If this is you try your best to keep as consistent as possible and make sure that you do not go under a cover. Remember that consistency happens over months and not days or weeks. An easy way to help with time crunched athletes is getting quality out of your sessions over quantity. For example the ZEN8 Swim Trainer is a perfect way to reduce the total time of getting in that swim session whilst also maintaining the high level of quality.

beginner triathlon workout

Top Age Group Triathlon Workout for a Triathlon

As you can see this layout is very similar to the base training layout. The only real difference is there are a lot more targeted sessions and total hours trained. It is also a lot more common to have double training days and even triple training days depending on that particular athlete’s specific needs. Before explaining any further with this layout, it’s important to know that we are starting to look at a layout that is only really possible, especially at the top end, to be obtainable by those that work part time or are in fact full time athletes. This is why in my opinion the high end age group category/ borderline pro is one of the hardest categories to compete in because your time demands are being pushed and pulled from so many different angles.

Below I have included some key sessions that I feel every athlete should give a go and are key components of my own training schedule.

One of the hardest things to get right is making sure that the hard sessions maintain their quality as you also undertake a lot of sessions and a lot of training hours. If the quality is deteriorating in your main sessions you may need to reduce your overall volume of the week as your body is not recovering. One of the biggest improvements that I made over the last year was actually removing a session from my training load so that my body could recover better and therefore I could grow as an athlete faster.

top age group triathlon workout

Pro Triathlete Workout for a Triathlon

At this point it is clear that a full-time job is no longer an option. When you get to this level of training there will always be huge variety between different athletes. There are some top-level athletes who trained a lot less than this and there are also others who train a lot more. This divide typically depends on whether an athlete needs more help with their endurance or their speed. More intense sessions require you to be more rested going into them and to have more rest after them meaning the overall volume tends to be lower compared to if you are doing a lot of long and slow miles. Some athletes are also genetically built differently. I can just handle higher training volumes. Lots of new research also shows but if you are a female, your training from week to week should also take into consideration your menstrual cycle patterns.

At certain points in your cycle, the hormone levels in your body can be higher or lower which not only affects your ability to undergo sessions, but can also affect things such as your bone density which can put you at a higher risk of picking up injuries such as stress fractures.

Most athletes training at this level will be doing double if not triple sessions a day and rest days are never really fully off. Most top athletes will have a “day off of leg recovery day” but they are still likely to swim in order to keep the body mobile and the blood moving through the body. Because these athletes have more time, they will also be able to undergo a lot more recovery work such as stretching, mobility and conditioning training.

pro triathlete triathlon workout

take a look at our unique zen8 swim trainer


Lucy Buckingham - BMC Pro Triathlon Team
Credit: James Mitchell




  • Core & Back Activation
  • Body position booster
  • Upper Body Strength 


  • Encourages a good catch
  • Improved Body position
  • Quickly Build Stamina


  • Targets Swim Muscles
  • Better Body Control
  • Swim-like position


  • Reinforced Skeleton Structure
  • Antibacterial Mesh
  • Built to last