Instead of going for a long/slow swim you’ll get more out of your workout at threshold effort. This translates into improved swimming and also makes sure you are working hard enough to benefit your running fitness.
While many programs use a “time trial” to get a baseline for your swim pace, often they are too long for inexperienced swimmers who do not know how to appropriately pace themselves. To get your “Critical Swim Speed” (CSS) Swim Smooth suggests doing two “maximum” effort time trials, which include a 400m time trial followed by complete recovery, and then a 200m time trial. This will give you your 100m Threshold pace to use in workouts. Use the handy calculator at Swim Smooth to save yourself the trouble of figuring out what pace to train at.
Because of the reduced load while floating through the water, a swim workout will allow you to work at your anaerobic threshold for a longer period of time and more often than you can during running – lucky you! In terms of structure and goals, the Swim Smooth website also offers some ideas for workouts and tips on swimming technique.
In my experience swim workouts are very challenging and but I am able to do more minutes of hard work than I can on the ground running. For example, one of my favorite swim sessions would be the equivalent time-wise of doing 4 x 1 mile (with only 30 seconds recovery!), 4 x 800m, 4 x 400m and 4 x 200m at my threshold pace. My lungs, heart and muscles are pumping and becoming more efficient, but my legs are still fresh enough that I could go for an hour-long recovery run afterwards. In the end, I get way more aerobic benefit from pairing a swim workout with an hour run than I did as a pure runner. So the question is, do I have proof that it actually works?
Answers and more in Part 4: “Cross training: But does it really work for running?”
Malindi Elmore is a Run SMART Project private coach. As an athlete she competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in the 1500m. She’s a 6-time National Champion and Stanford record-holder in the 800m and 1500m. To customize her 1500/mile training plan go here. To work with Malindi privately sign up here.