3 Efficient Swim Workouts for the Winter

3 Efficient Swim Workouts for the Winter
By Jennie Condon

I think it’s safe to say that no one in the Portland metro area got 2024 off to quite the start that we might have hoped. But now that we can’t get our exercise speed-skating down the streets anymore and the pools are warm, clean, and inviting again, it’s time to get our winter workout on!

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just getting in the pool and swimming for 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes, there are certainly ways to make your workout more effective and increase your fitness.  Most swim workouts are built around some degree of interval training, which we know from plenty of other sports actually increases calorie burn and muscle gain over just straight out aerobic work. Plus - and I say this as a swimmer! - it can be pretty boring to just swim a single stroke back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Pre-written workouts let us increase our strength, see our improvements, and avoid boredom all at the same time.

Instructions for understanding the Workouts

Terminology: Before diving into the workouts below, let’s talk about swimming terminology for those who aren’t experienced swimmers already. Competitive swimming features four strokes: freestyle (front crawl), backstroke (back crawl), breaststroke, and butterfly. Within those strokes we have a pace: fast, slow, or moderate - all defined as relates to your speed, not Michael Phelps’. We also have an action: we can kick (with or without a kickboard), pull (swim with a buoy between your legs using only your arms), or drill. Drills are designed to hone in on specific parts of the stroke and practice those by over-exaggeration. You can find some suggested drills for each stroke on the poster next to the showers on the main pool deck. You can also use some other forms of equipment, but for the basics we aren’t going to address paddles, chutes, fins, etc right now. This is partly for the sake of simplicity, but also because any of those items are more likely to cause injury if used incorrectly or with poor technique.

Modify the Workout: Also, most people reading this are going to be adults, and the beauty of being an adult is that you get to modify your workouts as needed to fit your skill set and desires. Don’t tell my swimmers this, but I never swim butterfly in my workouts now, substituting either a butterfly drill or dolphin kick on my back wherever it comes up - because I just don’t like swimming butterfly. I also don’t pull, because I have a bad shoulder and don’t need the extra torque on it. Wherever the workouts say something that you don’t know how to do, can’t do, or makes you think about giving up swimming forever to contemplate doing - just substitute in something similar or a different stroke!

Intervals and Clocks: Finally, for those who have never used a pace clock before: pace clocks are those clocks on our main pool walls with the green digits that continuously count up the seconds and minutes each hour. (Fun fact: we try to keep our pace clocks set to the correct time, so the minutes will be the correct minutes past the hour. If the clock says “30:00” then it’s something:30 - you just have to have a rough idea of what hour it is in the day.) Swim intervals are written as “on” or “@” [time]. That time represents the amount of time you have to swim the distance and rest before swimming the next one; thus if you are swimming 50s on the 1:30, and it takes you forty-five seconds to swim, you get forty-five seconds of rest. If it takes a minute and thirty seconds to swim you get…no rest. In general, you don’t want to be getting no rest. For fitness swimming purposes, you want about 15-20 seconds of rest between each effort if it’s easy or moderate effort, and somewhat more if it’s a fast set. (For competitive swimming, you will sometimes see much longer and much shorter intervals, depending on what the workout is trying to achieve.) Know what time you left the wall for each swim, and you will know how much rest you get to keep the workout effective and be able to see your speed improve over time.

Our workouts below are written to be about 40-45 minutes long with moderate intervals aimed at fitness swimmers without extensive experience, but again, you should adjust as needed.

Workout #1
Warm-up: 200 swim + 100 kick
4 x 75 as 25 kick/25 drill/25 swim (alternate freestyle and non-freestyle by 75) on 2:30
4 x 100 freestyle swim, descending (each 100 faster than the one before) on 3:00
200 easy kick, any stroke
4 x 100 non-freestyle swim, descending on 3:00
Warm-down: 100 swim + 100 kick
Total: 1700 yards

Workout #2
Warm-up: 300 free; mix kick, swim, and drill
6 x 50 choice, kick down/swim back on 1:30
3 x 200 free negative split [second half of 200 faster than first half] on 4:30
6 x 50 choice, drill down/swim back on 1:30
Warm-down: 200, mix swim and kick
Total: 1700 yards

Workout #3
Warm-up: 150 swim + 100 kick + 50 pull
400 free, focusing on even pace and long, quality strokes
4 x 50 choice (same stroke for all) build (each 50 starts slow and ends fast) on 1:30
300 free pull, focusing on maximum distance per stroke
4 x 50 choice (same stroke for all) fast on 1:30
200 free kick, focusing on long legs & even tempo
Warm-down: 200, choice swim/kick/mix
Total: 1800 yards

Happy swimming!