Going the Distance: Long Course Swimming Workouts

Training & Technique
Written by: Thomas Board at 18 April '22 0
You are reading: Going the Distance: Long Course Swimming Workouts

How you train matters. There’s no point aimlessly doing laps in the pool and hoping that quantity will equal quality when you enter a long-distance event. For swimmers who are feeling frustrated, stop spinning your wheels in the pool and think about how to train smart, not hard. 

With triathlons and open-water swimming becoming more popular every year, many swimmers are getting addicted to distance. Even for non-competitive swimmers, long course swimming workouts just make more sense, thanks to longer laps and increased endurance. These long-distance swims require a targeted training approach. Completing the 2.4-mile swim of an ironman competition in your dream time, for example, takes commitment and specific workouts

In this article, we’ll dive into long course swimming workouts to find out what they are and provide you with workouts you can try out in any pool. Some of the workouts we recommend require the use of swim training tools, but we’ll point you in the right direction of where to find them.

What Are Long Course Swimming Workouts?

Long course swimming workouts: swimmer getting out of the pool

A long course swimming workout is quite simply a workout that’s designed to help you get good results when swimming in long course swimming pools. A long course swimming pool is 50 meters, and a short course pool is either 25 meters or 25 yards. 

For a true reflection of how fast you can swim 50 meters, you will need a 50-meter pool. Despite the fact that the flip turn puts a brief stop to your swimming, you can swim two 25-meter lengths more quickly than 50 meters. 

This is because the fastest part of any stroke is during the moments following your start technique. The propulsion gained during this phase cannot be matched by swimming. Plus, there is a brief moment of active rest even during the dolphin kick phase, allowing your body to recoup before starting your stroke.

If you dream of Olympic-level competition, a 50-meter pool will give you a more accurate representation of where you are at during training. But, a 25-meter pool will still get the job done.

Our Recommended Long Course Swimming Workouts

Underwater shot of a swimmer

Long course swimming workouts should cater to every one of the four Olympic strokes. So, we’ve provided you with an eclectic set of workouts, no matter which stroke you will be training with at the pool today.

Freestyle Long Course Swimming Workout

Freestyle is among the most popular of all swimming strokes, mainly due to it being the fastest. We can all agree that fast is fun. With the right workout, you can increase the speed of your freestyle in a long course pool.

Start with a simple warmup of 250 meters (m) swimming freestyle. Then, follow with 250 meters of breaststroke.

Your main set should be all freestyle and will look like this:

  • 6 x 50m: Slow pace (one-minute rest between reps)
  • 6 x 50m: Medium pace (one-minute rest between reps)
  • 4 x 100m: 50 medium pace, rest 10 seconds, 25 sprint, 25 medium
  • 4 x 50m: 25 medium, 25 sprint (one-minute rest between reps)

If you are fortunate enough to be able to swim this high-intensity workout in a long course pool, make a mental note of a marker so that you can do the sprint sets at 25 meters.

Cool down with 200 meters of your stroke of choice.

Backstroke Long Course Swimming Workout

If you want to elevate your fitness level to new heights, try out this variation-focused backstroke workout.

Start with a warmup of 400 meters of backstroke at a relaxed pace.

Your main set will all be backstroke and will consist of the following:

  • 4 x 50m: Medium pace with clenched fists (30 seconds rest between reps)
  • 2 x 50m: Medium pace alternating between seated and double-arm backstroke (30 seconds rest between reps)
  • 2 x 50m: Flutter kick only holding a kickboard (10 seconds rest between reps)
  • 4 x 50m: Medium pace with one arm, alternating the arm every rep (20 seconds rest between reps)

This workout should have you really feeling the burn in your arms. Make sure that during the kickboard set you are holding your arms straight above your head to get those muscles working.

Butterfly Long Course Swimming Workout

There’s no doubt that butterfly requires plenty of strength and endurance. Even short distances would be considered serious aerobic exercise. This swim set is sure to skyrocket your heart rate and put your swimming technique to the test.

Start with a warmup of 400 meters non-stop freestyle at a steady pace. Then, swim the following:

  • 100m: Medium pace butterfly
  • 50m: Fast pace butterfly
  • 50m: Medium pace freestyle
  • 100m: Fast pace butterfly
  • 200m: Butterfly arms only using either pull buoy or fins

This distance workout is suited for those that really want to strengthen their arms and get in some serious cardio, too. Those swimming in short course pools will reap the benefits of the active rest while turning at either end of the pool. 

A pull buoy is ideal for the last part of this distance swim, but fins will also allow your legs some rest as the water has more surface area to push up on.

Breaststroke Long Course Swimming Workout

Last but by no means least, let’s finish with one of the less intense Olympic strokes. Since breaststroke is less strenuous than a stroke like butterfly, we’ll make up for it by piling on the distance. So, don’t worry, this swim practice will still leave you feeling exhausted.

Start by warming up with 400 meters of breaststroke at a steady pace. Then immediately start the main set (every set is breaststroke):

  • 50m: Fast pace
  • 100m: Medium pace with flutter kick
  • 100m: Fast pace
  • 100m: Medium pace with flutter kick
  • 150m: Fast pace
  • 100m: Medium pace with flutter kick
  • 200m: Fast pace
  • 100m: Medium pace with flutter kick
  • 150m: Fast pace
  • 100m: Medium pace with flutter kick
  • 100m: Fast pace
  • 100m: Medium pace with flutter kick
  • 50m: Fast pace

This workout is a classic example of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and is sure to put your body through the wringer. The quick transition from the intense fast sections and the medium pace recovery sections will improve your cardiovascular abilities, resulting in even better endurance for those long course swim meets.

Swim Where You Can

Swimmer doing some long course swimming workouts

If you love swimming, chances are you already dedicate hours of your life to the pool. Long course swimming workouts will benefit swimmers of any level, but you’ll definitely need a passion for swimming to motivate yourself to complete these distance workouts.

Remember that having access to a long course pool isn’t essential for training for long-distance swims. But it will give you a more realistic look at what you can expect when competing in a long course event. Using a long course pool will also make your swims tougher, as you will have to rely on your own momentum and pacing for longer.

Most of the above workouts can be enhanced by the use of swim training tools to really enjoy their full benefits. To find swimming equipment and swimwear that can give you the edge over your opponents and take your training to the next level, look no further than arena’s online store.


Written by:

Thomas Board

Tom is an outdoor and adventure travel writer and full-time firefighter based in Leeds, UK. He spends his free time summiting the mountains of Wales and wild swimming in the lakes of Snowdonia all year round.