As a former Swimming Coach and Learn to Swim teacher, I am often surprised when I hear about swimmers that have spent months and even years in a swimming training rut. Each week they diligently attend their hour or hour and a half long swim sessions swimming laps up and down that black line with no changes to their personal best (PB) swim times. They tend to accept that this is where they are on the swim performance ladder; stagnate, and can’t seem to get any faster.
If you have been swimming training for weeks on end, you will be in relatively good condition and more than ready to try something new. Swimming can be very boring if you let it, but it can also be a lot of fun too. If you have mastered the endurance part of swimming, it is about time for you to start focusing on improving your speed and smash that PB.
Long distance swimmers training for Triathlons or the Half Ironman, listen up because this article applies to you. You’ll be adding some “Fartlek” training to your training repertoire to increase your pace a little whilst also improving the speed at which you recover.
Fartlek is Swiss for “Speed Play”, it sounds fun and it is. Fartlek trains the body to switch gears and recruit different muscle fibres; it is often used by long distance runners to improve running speed, but can just effectively be used by swimmers to improve their times too.
During your laps you will be working at Pace 1 and Pace 2. Pace 1 is a steady long distance maintainable speed, Pace 2 is 50-70% maximum sprint speed, depending on your fitness level. As you get better these two speeds will gradually speed up. There’s four stages to the Fartlek, depending on fitness levels and your commitment, it may take a week or a month to advance through each of the stages.
Stage 1: Start your regular swim session with your usual warm up. The Fartlek session will be 10 laps. Swim half the length of the pool at Pace 1, then sprint the rest of the length of the pool at Pace 2. There’s no stopping when you finish the lap, just tumble-turn and slow down during Pace 1. Pace 1 is recovery, Pace 2 is at speed. You may need to adjust your pace so you can finish the entire 10 laps. At this stage burn-out halfway through the session is not the goal.
Incorporate Fartlek into your training at least three times a week on alternate days.
Stage 2: When you are ready, move onto doing 10 laps Fartlek training alternating each lap at Pace 1 followed by a lap at Pace 2. Remember, no stopping at the end of each lap.
Stage 3: Now you should be ready to alternate Pace 1 and Pace 2 for 10 laps, but with Pace 2 at maximum speed. It should burn and you should be breathless during recovery at Pace 1. If you’re not feeling it, push harder.
Stage 4: Really ramp things up by changing the recovery verses speed ratio. Aim for 12 laps, but we now swim one lap at Pace 1 followed immediately by two laps at Pace 2.