FAQ & Glossary

Below is a list of questions that as a swimmer and coach I’ve heard frequently from triathletes regarding swim training.  This is by no means an exhaustive list and as your questions come up feel free to post them to the comments section and we will add them, because if you’ve thought of it I’m sure someone else has as well.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to be fast to participate in this Swim Program?

Absolutely not!  The layout of the workouts in this program will have a Beginner, Intermediate, & Advanced level to them.  The point of this and any swim program that you may participate in is to improve your individual swimming proficiency.


I have not been swimming for 3-5 months and am out of shape.  Is this program something I can do?

Sure, if you are careful and honest with yourself.  The first couple weeks of the program will include some general base training to ease people back into the water and to prepare everyone for the workouts to come.  The program will include a test set in the beginning to judge current swim fitness and to set your training zones for the remainder of the program so the workouts are appropriately challenging for you to improve.  There will also be a test set at the completion of the program to help you judge your improvement throughout.  So, in other words, this program should be a great opportunity for you to get back into shape and/or see some improvements in your swimming depending on where you’re at.


What if I miss a workout? Should I make it up the next day?

Well I think the question really should be, “What do I do WHEN I miss a workout?  Let’s face it, most of us have a life outside of triathlon whether we want to admit it or not.  Something is going to come up whether it is family, work, injury, sickness, or simply life happening.  There are a lot of factors that can go into answering this good and seemingly simple question.  Typically,what happens when we as athletes miss a session, we try to cram more training into a smaller time line. Generally, this does not work out too well.  Even if you can get the training sessions done they are often of poorer quality.  So, if you think you can get the session done in a timely manner and continue your progression, you can do that. Or you could just skip it and join back where you were.  Or you could pick up where you missed in the schedule; you’d just be a few days behind. Ultimately, we created this program to provide a guide for people.  Feel free to adjust it to best serve your needs.


Do I have to do flip turns?

Being able to do flip turns in the pool is NOT a requirement to be a triathlete or to be able to improve your swimming ability as one. However, if you are going to do more than one triathlon a year and are going to make a commit to improving your swimming proficiency learning how won’t hurt and may even improve your enjoyment during swim training.


I can swim but have no experience with swim training. Is this group a good idea for me?

While we’d like to help as many people as we can, even our easiest swim group expects a baseline of swim technique. You’re obviously welcome to try but these workouts expect a basic level of swim technique and fitness.  I’d start smaller and work your way up to our sessions. They’ll still be available later so you can do a bit more background work before starting these yourself a bit later.


If I am swimming freestyle in a triathlon, why do you include other swim strokes in the training sessions?

There is no doubt that freestyle should fill the majority of your swim training load.  It is the stroke triathletes use in their races, by and large, and improving fitness in freestyle is the focus of this program.  That said, swimming is the most technique driven of the three disciplines.  Including off strokes allows a swimmer to develop a higher level of awareness of the water, skill in body positioning and the ability to use their body for forward movement.


What equipment, aka “swim toys”, should I have?

Beyond the obvious of appropriate swim wear and goggles, I would recommend you have a minimum of a small kick board and a pull buoy to train with.  As your swimming improves and you feel the need to add some more variety to your training you can choose to add fins, hand paddles and a swimming snorkel.  If you choose to get hand paddles though, pay very close attention to the stress on your shoulder and discontinue use if you experience any prolonged shoulder pain.



B-3: Breath every third stroke on Freestyle so that you alternate breathing on both the right and left side.

Back: Backstroke.

Breast: Breaststroke.

Build: Start off each interval slowly and increase the speed steadily until the end.

C/D: Cool Down.

Catch-up: Freestyle drill where one hand remains at the top of the stroke until the stroking hand returns to the top of the stroke or “catches up”.

Choice: Any stroke, drill, kick, pull, or combination as you like throughout the interval.

CP: Critical Pace.  Overall, critical pace sits within your Zone 4 range so if you are anywhere within that zone, you are on the right track.  Vo2 max swims are quick but would require longer recovery intervals to allow them to done consistently.   Both the vo2 max and critical pace interval sets are not easy but should not be terrible hard either.  It will take a certain amount of practice to consistently be able to swim your critical pace, but over time you will the effort required to swim in this training zone.  See an example below of how critical pace is used in training.

DPS: Distance per Stroke. Work on maximizing the distance each arm pull propels the body in an effort to reduce the number of strokes per length of the pool.  Count the number of stroke you take per length.

DESC:  Increase speed of each interval in the set.  For example, on a set of 6×50 Free, each 50 is faster than the previous one.

Drill: Stroke technique or efficiency exercise that emphasizes one aspect of the stroke. Unless specified you can do the drill of your choice.

Easy: Zone 1 or Active Recovery type effort.

Fly: Butterfly Stroke.

Free: Freestyle (Crawl).

FTIP: Fingertip Drag Drill which focuses on high elbow recovery by dragging your fingertips along the surface of the water during the recovery portion of the stroke on Freestyle.

I.M.: Individual Medley. Swim interval as ¼ Butterfly, ¼ Backstroke, ¼ Breaststroke, & ¼ Freestyle in that order.

Kick: Kick only, no arms.  Kick can be done with or without a kickboard.  If a kickboard is not used try to kick in a streamlined position on your stomach, back, or side with as little arm movement as possible.  Arms can be streamlined in front or alongside your body.

M/S: Main Set.

Max:  Maximum effort.  All out maximum effort, no holding back.

Mod.: Moderate effort. Zone 3 or tempo type effort.

N/S: Negative Split.  Swim the second half of the interval faster than the first half.

OWS: Open-Water Style Stroke.  Type of Freestyle characterized by shorter strokes and quicker turnover rate.

Pull: Swim with a pull-buoy.  If hand paddles are used care should be taken to not put too much strain on your shoulders.

R.I.: Rest Interval.  The amount of rest to be taken after an interval, such as (:25 R.I.), which means to take 25 sec. rest after each swim.

Race Pace: The pace you plan to swim during competition.

Repeat: Repeat the set for the designated number of times indicated. For example “Repeat 4 times” or “4x”.  Unless indicated otherwise no additional rest should be taken between sets.

S.I.: Swim Interval.

Stroke: Choice of swim stroke other than Freestyle.

T-Pace: Threshold Pace calculated from the test sets.

W/U: Warm-up


Critical Pace Example

Example of how to read critical pace and/or vo2 max swim paces.  Below is an image of the swim zone chart similar to the one you by emailed Coach Jason from your test results.

CP Chart

This athlete has a calculated critical pace of 1:31 per 100.  For critical pace swim sets, they would be in zone 4 which is noted here as threshold.  These splits are for 100 so if the sample set called for 200’s, you should shoot to complete the 200 between 3:00 and 3:04 (2 x 1:30 to 1:32).  If the set called for vo2 max/zone 5 pace, you would complete those between 1:24 and 1:30 per 100.

If you’re not familiar with pacing swims like this, your first few attempts might not go perfectly.  Don’t worry about that, keep trying and you’ll have it down after a few sessions.