Finish fast and strong

Hm17

Knowing yourself and therefore when and how to kick for the finish is one thing – having the fitness, mental strength and experience to implement it is another. Training at and around your CSS pace and experimenting with pace changes, sprints and surges will help you learn how it feels and what you’re capable of. It will also build your strength and fitness and give you more confidence in a racing situation. The following training sessions have been designed to help you finish fast, whether you’re a short, medium or long distance open water swimmer.

Short Distance (for those racing 750m to 1600m)

Warm up:  200-400m FS, easy.

Build: 8 x 25m FS, increasing demand from below to above CSS. Swim the first length easier than CSS pace, second and third lengths at CSS pace, fourth length faster than CSS pace then repeat. Aim to differentiate the below, at and above CSS efforts by 3-5 seconds per length. 10s rest after each 25m.

Main set: 100m FS at CSS pace +10s rest.

200m FS at CSS pace +15s. Swim the last 25m above CSS and sprint to finish. Work on powerfully engaging the leg kick from the hips, toes pointed, knees straight.

300m FS below CSS pace, aerobic effort +15s.

400m FS pull at CSS + 30s. On the last 50m build your effort to maintain a sustained strong above-CSS pace. Aim to increase your stroke rate rhythm on the last 50m but try not to kick with the pull buoy.

300m FS below CSS pace, aerobic effort +15s.

200m FS at CSS pace +15s. Do the final 25m above CSS and sprint to finish. Check your head position is looking straight down, not forwards, on the final sprint effort.

100m FS at CSS pace +10s.

Cool down: 200m easy, with fins optional. Include some backstroke to stretch out after this session.

Total:  2400m 

Medium Distance (3km to 5km)

Warm up:  400m FS, easy.

Build:  8 x 50m FS, increasing demand from below to above CSS. Swim the first 50m easier than CSS pace, second and third 50m at CSS pace, fourth 50m faster than CSS pace then repeat. Aim to differentiate the below-, at- and above-CSS efforts by 5 seconds per 50m. 10s rest after each 50m.

Main set: 200m FS at CSS pace +15s rest.

400m FS at CSS pace +30s. Swim the last 50m above CSS and sprint to finish. Work on powerfully engaging the leg kick from the hips, toes pointed, knees straight.

600m FS below CSS pace, aerobic effort +30s.

800m FS pull at CSS + 60s. On the last 100m build your effort to maintain a sustained strong above-CSS pace. Aim to increase your stroke rate rhythm on the last 100m and try not to kick with the pull buoy.

600m FS below CSS pace, aerobic effort +30s.

400m FS at CSS pace + 30s. Do the final 50m above CSS and sprint to finish. Check your head position is looking straight down, not forwards, on the final sprint effort.

200m FS at CSS pace +15s.

Optional sustained sprint set:

4 x 400m as negative split efforts, alternating FS and pull on each 400m. Aim to ‘ramp up’ the speed on the final 200m, graduating it from fast to fastest effort. Take 30s rest after each.

Cool down: 400m easy, with fins optional. Include some backstroke to stretch out after this session.

Total:  4400m-6000m

Long Distance (10km+)

Warm up: 

300m FS, easy effort, +30s.

400m FS, negative split. Start easy, finish at CSS pace, +45s.

300m FS as 100m easy effort, 100m at CSS pace and into 100m building to faster effort. Sprint the final 25-50m, +60s.

Build: 

8 to 12 x 100m FS, increasing demand from below to above CSS. Swim the first 100m easier than CSS pace, second and third 100m at CSS pace, fourth 100m faster than CSS pace then repeat. Aim to differentiate the below-, at- and above-CSS efforts by 5 seconds per 10m. 15s rest after each 100m.

Main set:

200m FS at CSS pace +15s.

400m FS at CSS pace +30s. Swim the last 50m above CSS and sprint to finish. Work on powerfully engaging the leg kick from the hips, toes pointed, knees straight.

600m FS below CSS pace, aerobic effort +30s.

800m FS pull at CSS +60s. On the last 100m build your effort to maintain a sustained strong above-CSS pace. Aim to increase your stroke rate rhythm on the last 100m and try not to kick with the pull buoy.

1000m FS, negative split +60s. Swim first 500m below CSS pace, slightly increase effort every 100m in increments over the final 500m to finish above CSS pace.

800m FS pull at CSS +60s. On the final 100m build your effort to maintain a sustained strong above-CSS pace. Aim to increase your stroke rate rhythm on the last 100m.

600m FS below CSS pace, aerobic effort +30s.

400m FS at CSS pace + 30s. Do the final 50m above CSS and sprint to finish. Check your head position is looking straight down, not forwards, on the final sprint effort.

200m FS at CSS pace +15s.

Optional sustained sprint set:

6 to 8 x 400m as negative split efforts, alternating FS and pull on each 400m. Sprint the final length on each 400m, increasing stroke rate and reducing drag with efficient leg kicking technique.

Cool down: 

200-400m easy, with fins optional. Include some backstroke to stretch out after this session.

Total:  7,600m – 10,800m

Guidance notes

CSS - Critical Swim Speed. Effectively training at your threshold pace provides you with significant speed efficiency gains

Pacing - using the pool clock, your own stopwatch or a timing device such as a Finis Tempo Trainer or Wetronome

BB = Bilateral Breathing

UB = Unilateral Breathing

BS = Backstroke

FS = Freestyle or front crawl

BRS = Breaststroke

FLY = Butterfly

PULL = Swimming with a pullbuoy or float between your legs. No kicking. 

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Issue 42 October 2020

  • Q&A with Jaimie Monahan - marathon swimmer and Queen of the Ice
  • Autumn swim adventures around the UK
  • The science behind cold water acclimatisation
  • Reviewed: The Best Open Water Goggles
  • The often deadly history of unsupported marathon swims

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