Training essentials for Swimun

As with any other multisport, training smart, rather than training hard, is important to avoid overtraining and to use the time available to its full potential. Personal trainer Merilin Sikk explains how to train effectively for Swimrun.

Swimrun training


While Swimrun races predominantly require aerobic endurance, strength and technical training will also pay a major part. Different distances will require different volumes of training and the following specifics should be included in every SwimRunners training plan:

1. Aerobic endurance training

This includes your standard long runs (normally more than 1 hour) and your long swims (anything over 45 minutes at a nice steady pace). During your aerobic training, your heart rate should be kept about 70-75% of its maximum capacity (a quick sum to determine this is 220-your age). The aim for endurance training is to increase your aerobic capacity – the ability of the heart and lungs to take in oxygen and get it  to the muscles.

2. Anaerobic threshold training

Anaerobic training uses short duration, high intensity exercise to increase your body’s ability to function at a high intensity for short periods and then recover quickly. For this type of training you would also use the sports that you are going to be competing in (i.e. swimming and running), however, compared to aerobic training, the intensity is increased (to 85-90% of your maximum heart rate) and the training session is delivered at intervals (from 1-8 minutes) with the aim to increase anaerobic power and capacity. In Swimrun, anaerobic training is important for the bursts of energy you need when you exit from the water and start to run, short bursts of power for climbing steep sections, as well as when you need to increase your speed to overtake a competitor when you go for that sprint finish!

3. Strength training

By far the most neglected area of training, yet very important for most endurance athletes, strength training ensures your muscles are well balanced, your ligaments and joints are strong and your proprioception (your muscles knowledge where you are in time and space) is spot on. There is more to swimming and running than training –  if you train incorrectly without having good strength in your body, then as the volume (the distance you train) and the intensity (how hard you train) goes up, so does the risk of injury. Spending at least 1 or 2 sessions a week doing strength training makes sure that when the going gets tough your body is well adjusted for coping with the extra strain it is under.

4. Technical/skills training

Particularly important in swimming, however, also very much needed in running, at least one of the weekly training sessions should concentrate on technique. Moving with correct biomechanics can not only help to increase speed but will also help to avoid any injuries. Joining clubs where coaching is given is a great way to achieve this. Some personal trainers/coaches also offer 1:1 video analysis.

5. Mental/psychological training

SwimRun races are often done in pairs. When going gets tough even the best friendships can crumble. Therefore whenever possible it is wise to train with your partner and find ways to help and encourage each other. Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and know when to push and when to just stay quiet! If the race is individual get used to spending a lot of time on your own. It may get boring and it will be hard, but having techniques that help to deal with the tough or mundane moments during long distance events go a long way! Give yourself a mantra or a tasty treat.

6. Transition training

Not unlike triathlon this is the discipline in SwimRun that needs practice. Running with wetsuit and swimming with trainers is not something that anyone should attempt for the first time on the race day! Get comfortable with your equipment and how to manage it at transitions. Practice entering and exiting the water in different terrains and get to know how you feel after coming out of the water from a long swim and starting to run, and going from run to water.

7. Rest

Rest is also part of the training! With two disciplines to prepare for it can be easy to get carried away and think it is necessary to train every day. Rest is an essential part of the training and is time when muscles, joints and tendons get stronger!

How to fit it all in?

Always have a plan, and make sure it is a realistic plan! For many novices the big mistake is to do too much too soon. With any multisport there is always the danger of getting carried away. While it is important to train all the different aspects of the sport, having a personal periodised plan means the training will be more effective, progressive and help to work towards the end goal without peaking too early. Don’t beat yourself up if you have to miss a session and don’t try to catch up. Just start again as per your schedule and continue as you would have.

Some of the training specifics can be brought together in one session, and not every aspect needs to be trained all year around. By training smart, not just training long you can make sure that you are fresh and fully prepared on the race day!

Written by Merilin, experienced personal trainer & MSc Sports Therapy. 20/11/2015