Short, Frequent Workouts vs Longer, Less Frequent Workouts

I took up triathlon this past summer. I am a lifelong cyclist, having taken up riding a bike at age 4, and have been running off and on since age 15. I'm in my late 40s now, and I finally got around to taking the advice I got at age 16 to give triathlons a try. So, I would describe myself as highly fit and knowledgeable about endurance training, but I'm woefully lacking in skill, experience and knowledge of swimming. Since I do need to keep riding the bike and running in order to remain strong in those disciplines, I have fairly limited time to hit the pool.

Based on my experience in the other sports, if I knew a swimmer/runner who wanted to take up cycling or a swimmer/cyclist who wanted to take up running, I know what I would tell them to try in order to get the most out of the time they had, but I wonder how it works with swimming. If I could take, for example, 20 minutes 3 times a week or an hour once a week to swim, which would benefit me more?

miklcct

Comments

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    20 minutes 3 times a week doing a short warm up and then high intensity sets. Just my opinion, but I just don't think you would develop doing one long swim per week. Seems to me the tri guys that I see training try to keep doing all disciplines regularly. The other thing I notice is that they try to get in two or even three disciplines during their day.

  • molly1205molly1205 Lincoln, NebraskaMember

    Both.

    smith

    Molly Nance, Lincoln, Nebraska

  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member

    @Tri_ingAgain before just answering this, I'm curious what your triathlon goals are? For example are you doing them for fun and experience or are you competitive and want to be up on the podium and if so what level of competition do want a podium finish?

  • Tri_ingAgainTri_ingAgain Derry, NHMember

    @lakespray said:
    @Tri_ingAgain before just answering this, I'm curious what your triathlon goals are? For example are you doing them for fun and experience or are you competitive and want to be up on the podium and if so what level of competition do want a podium finish?

    Good question. Let me frame my answer in my results from the one tri I've done so far. It was a sprint, but I expect to have similar results in a half iron, which I expect to be my normal distance. I was the 4th fastest overall on the bike leg, out of 442 finishers. That was first in my AG by a lot. I took up running again 3 months before the race, so I think the 112th place is misleading. I think, once in shape for running, I could be comparable as a runner to what I am as a cyclist. In the swimming leg, I placed 296th, and felt I had overachieved, as I am a REALLY weak swimmer and that was literally my first-ever competitive swim. I have no idea what my ceiling is as a swimmer, and I haven't been swimming long enough to even speculate what my potential is. That having been said, though I am in triathlon for the fun, I am also very competitive and love to see what my limits are, so I will train more like a serious competitor than a guy who is out there for giggles.

  • Tri_ingAgainTri_ingAgain Derry, NHMember

    @molly1205 said:
    Both.

    Ha! I may well do that. What I am really getting at, though, is will I benefit more from swimming more often, or from putting in more distance per workout.

  • kejoycekejoyce Member

    A couple thoughts...

    One, the longer the triathlon, the less the swim matters if you're trying to place. I lived the triathlete life for five years or so. I'm a quick swimmer, I was at the time a pretty good cyclist, and I was a horrrrendous runner. In a sprint, I could place in my age group, if not overall. In an olympic I was a little lower down the standings. Half iron, I was out of the picture. I once had a 15 minute lead on the next woman after a half-iron swim (it was a very small event) and I wound up dead last because of the hilly half marathon. My full iron distance was just to cross the line, because even if I swam a 1hr 2.4 miles and everyone else swam 1h20min, they would all catch me in the run. What I'm saying is that being strong in cycling and running will work to your benefit.

    Two, if you are able, invest in a swim technique class or two. I used to coach swim training for triathletes courses. Most of the participants could cover the distance, but had never been coached on technique before (or it'd been a while). In the best cases, swimmers got faster after just a couple classes. However, even those who didn't get much faster were using significantly less energy to cover the same distances in the same time they were before the technique tweaks. Developing a more efficient, but only marginally faster stroke can be just as useful as getting faster - if you're using less energy in the swim you can save it for the parts you're better at later :)

    curlyevmoPasqualethelittlemerwookiegregocBridget
  • kejoycekejoyce Member

    PS you'll be a marathon swimmer before you know it... triathlon is but a gateway ;D

    IronMikeflystormsthelittlemerwookiebluemermaid9Bridget
  • MLambyMLamby Member

    I second exactly what Kejoyce says. Your swim time isn't much of a factor unless you are a very fast cyclist and runner. You can swim as fast as you want, but you will still get passed like you are standing still by the "real" triathletes once you get to the bike and run. AND, tri's too led me to marathon swimming.....can't even fathom running or cycling any more. :)

  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member

    Even though it's only March, with limited time given, at this point in the season there's not much you can do to improve your swimming before the tri season gets going. That being said, I would focus on frequency over once per week distance. Additionally, if possible work with a swim coach/instructor who is familiar with technical aspects of adult competitive swimming and more specifically freestyle body position in the water. I've been a masters swimming coach for the last 22 years and have coached many a triathlete that did not come from a swimming background. Unfortunately, none background adult swimmers, especially those that come from running and cycling backgrounds tend to have poor body position. We like to say, there swimming uphill instead of horizontally, and then they try to compensate using there legs and end up exhausting themselves in the water. For newer adult swimmers I suggest taking a look at the Total Immersion school of techniques as they concentrate first and foremost on body position and then stroke. http://www.totalimmersion.net/

    FlowSwimmers
  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongMem​ber

    @lakespray said:
    Even though it's only March, with limited time given, at this point in the season there's not much you can do to improve your swimming before the tri season gets going. That being said, I would focus on frequency over once per week distance. Additionally, if possible work with a swim coach/instructor who is familiar with technical aspects of adult competitive swimming and more specifically freestyle body position in the water. I've been a masters swimming coach for the last 22 years and have coached many a triathlete that did not come from a swimming background. Unfortunately, none background adult swimmers, especially those that come from running and cycling backgrounds tend to have poor body position. We like to say, there swimming uphill instead of horizontally, and then they try to compensate using there legs and end up exhausting themselves in the water. For newer adult swimmers I suggest taking a look at the Total Immersion school of techniques as they concentrate first and foremost on body position and then stroke. http://www.totalimmersion.net/

    Sorry, but even technique classes and squad training (although not in T.I.) didn't make me improve, and a recent 1-2-1 analysis has shown that I'm no different than a beginner, including poor body position, lack of catch, over-reaching and over-rotation, etc.

    I have then worked on those things afterwards, but I now find even 400 m is so exhausting where I was doing km's before, and the 400 m speed is only a few seconds less than my previous best time.

    I'm taking short and frequent workouts now, due to pool opening hours and also because I'm mainly working on technique (I haven't done any speed sessions since the analysis 3 weeks ago).

    Apart from getting 1-2-1 coaching (they are so expensive - more than US$100 per hour), is there anything I can do now to make me fast in a few months? I already have a squad but it doesn't help much as mentioned above.

  • Tri_ingAgainTri_ingAgain Derry, NHMember

    Thanks for the advice, everyone! For those suggesting a swim coach, I am working with one, and she is making a huge difference in my form. As for getting into marathon swimming, yeah, I am sure I will before long. I have run half marathons and ridden centuries, so really long swims are pretty much a given....

    miklcctkejoycelakesprayBridgetdpm50
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited March 15

    @miklcct said: Apart from getting 1-2-1 coaching (they are so expensive - more than US$100 per hour), is there anything I can do now to make me fast in a few months?

    Sorry to say, but no. Swimming is hard. There really aren't any shortcuts. If your technique is inefficient, increasing your swimming volume is not going to help much, and will probably just injure you.

    Marathon swimming is a journey and a process, no matter your background or skill. Slow down, take a long, honest look at yourself - where you are now, and where you want to be. You can get there if you build to it in reasonable steps. Recommend spending more time each week with a technique coach than posting on the Forum.

    slknightSoloKatieBunMLambykejoyceJustSwimj9swimgregoclakespraycurlyand 5 others.
  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaMember
    edited May 27

    @molly1205 said:
    Both.

    Definitely. Mixing it up helps a lot.

    The best method I've found thus far when training seriously is a high volume day, a high intensity day, and one relatively light day devoted to technical revisions/improvements. It's a weekly cycle, 6 days per week with one complete rest day.

    One of my goals over the next year is to do a fairly intense Lean Six Sigma analysis of my training and nutrition program. Very intrigued to see how it all turns out in the end.

    evmoangel55

    Keep moving forward.

  • swimrn62swimrn62 Stowe, VTMember
    edited May 27

    I can't give any advice, but in July there's a very nice open water race for a great cause and it's only about 90 minutes from you:

    https://www.swimwithamission.org/about-us/

    smith
  • abeabe australiaMember

    Hi Smith

    Just wondering how many kms you are getting in your 6 sessions each week - and what distance you training for.

    Cheers Abe

  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaMember

    Hi Abe:

    I'll get up to around 40k with that program. 10k + 6k + 4k x 2.

    For me, that's designed for a "fast"10k, although it can definitely be used for much, much longer distances. I think this can be used effectively up to 30k distances as long as it's consistent for a long period of time. Naturally, you can alter/adjust the program as well.

    At the moment, my actual volume is about 1/2 of what is noted above. I will not build up to that for another 8 -10 weeks. Planning to do a 10k towards the end of the season, and then use the program consistently for swims starting next year. Would've liked to do more swims this year, but due to job change and relocation, training went by the wayside more than anticipated.

    Keep moving forward.

  • abeabe australiaMember

    Nice I am liking the program I try to hit 50km - 60km (works the mental side for me) but only for 3 week blocks to get the gain then try to drop back to 30km and get all quality.

    Always good reading distances type of training that people do to reach their goals and what works better between the short and long workouts.

    Like the "fast 10km idea" I just completed a 15km swim 10km was race the other 5km was to give me a 15km

    Go fast

    ssthomas
  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaMember

    I like that program. I will keep that in mind if my current program doesn't yield the projected results. I would probably have to customize it a bit, but the concept is excellent.

    Keep moving forward.

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