HomeSwimImprove Your Swim by Determining Your Aerobic Swimming Pace

Improve Your Swim by Determining Your Aerobic Swimming Pace

Regardless of your swimming experience, developing a solid swimming pace for your triathlon competition(s) is essential for a balanced and effective triathlon performance. And the faster your pace, the better the overall results.

What is Aerobic Pace

However, don’t get a “faster swimming pace” confused with simply “swimming fast.” When we talk of pace, we are referring to your aerobic pace, specifically a pace based on your aerobic training level. Furthermore, the faster you are able to swim at your aerobic pace and the longer you are able to maintain that pace, the better your overall triathlon performance. And in a triathlon, this means a faster swim leg without jeopardizing your upcoming bike and run.

In this article, we will show you the necessary components to develop and fine tune your open water swim pace based on your current level of swimming. This will also include learning how to design your own swim program based your specific swimming goals.

How to Calculate Aerobic Pace

In swimming, your aerobic swim pace will be a result of your average 50 yard or meter freestyle pace or your 100 yard or meter freestyle pace over a given distance. And the given distance will be determined by the particular triathlon for which you will be training.

First, what is the distance of the triathlon for which you will be training? Sprint, Olympic, Half Iron, or Iron Distance? Knowing this is necessary to determine the swim distance you must perform in order to find your aerobic swim pace. (see chart below for a break down of Triathlon distances and test swims.)

Race DistanceSwim DistanceTest Swim
PaceDivide Your Total
Time by …
Sprint Tri500-800 yds500 yds50 yd pace10
Olympic Tri1500 yds1000 yds50 yd pace20
Half Iron Tri2000 yds1500 yds100 yd pace10
Iron Dist Tri4000 yds2000 yds100 yd pace20

For example, let us say you are training for a Sprint Distance Triathlon. The swim portion of the race usually covers a distance of approximately ¼ to ½ mile. In yards, this transfers to about 500-800 yards (or meters). Therefore, your training or test swim should cover at least 500 yards (or meters). The key is to swim this distance relaxed. Not slow, not fast, but at a nice pace with which you feel comfortable. And you want record your time for this swim. After a good warm-up, begin the swim. At the end of the swim, record your total time. Then divide that total time by 10 (a 500 yd swim is made up of 10 x 50’s) and the result will be your 50 yd swim pace. Therefore, if you swam your 500 freestyle in 7 minutes and 30 seconds, your aerobic 50 yd swim pace would be .45 seconds (7.5 minutes divided by 10).  

Track Your Progress

In order to mark your improvement, once, every three weeks you want to perform this test to assess your improvement.

Once you have determined your aerobic pace, you then have a base-time to use during your swim training and specific swim sets. However, your goal is to improve this aerobic pace. 

Therefore, challenge yourself! 

Looking at the results from the example above, if you are given a set of 10 x 50’s freestyle on an interval of one minute, you should be able to hold a pace of 45 seconds per 50 with relative ease. This would also allow you 15 seconds rest between each swim. However, we want to make this a challenge so try and hold 42 seconds for each 50 yd. freestyle you perform. You will be surprised how easy it is to swim just three seconds faster per 50. And you will be even more delighted when you realized you’ve just improved your overall 500 yd. swim time by 15 seconds! 

Finally, during these specific aerobic swim sets, take note of your heart rate. Your goal is to try and keep your heart rate within it’s aerobic range during these type of sets. Check some of the top triathlon heart rate monitors.

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Hazen Kent
Hazen Kent
As a former All-American swimmer, Hazen has spent many years as a competitive triathlete and coach of both triathletes and swimmers.


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