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Swimming for Triathletes (Part 6): Using Your Cruise Interval

By Dan Head

In the last article, we defined our Cruise Intervals. We said that our Cruise Interval (CI) is the best pace that we can hold per 100-yards over a fairly long swim, say 600 yards. In this article, we'll learn how to use those Cruise Intervals to build swimming workouts that work.

Using Your Cruise Interval

Swim training is interval training. The problem with that, however, is that if you don't have a background in swimming, you probably don't have the first clue how hard you ought to be working when you're swimming or how you ought to plan your swim training.

This is where having your Cruise Interval comes in handy.

Your Cruise Interval is your base, and in building your workouts, you want to start there. If you think of your Cruise Interval as the best pace that you can expect to hold during a set, what you need to do is add rest on top of that in order to achieve your desired intensity.

For example, let's say that you want to do a set of 10 x 100-yards freestyle. That's fine, but what kind of set is it? Is it a long, slow distance (LSD) set, or are you trying to build speed?

The answer to that question will determine how much rest you want to work into the set, and given that you have your Cruise Interval handy already, you'll know exactly where you should set the interval.

I'll use myself as an example. Since I've come back to swimming, my Cruise Interval has been consistently around 1:15. And yeah, it's been a long time since I was a college swimmer, but I still have a lot of experience in the water, and I know that I can pace myself comfortably over time.

So for me, an LSD set might involve 10- or at most 15-seconds rest between intervals.

I can do that because I know that I can swim comfortably at a pace that I can maintain, even with only a little rest between each individual interval. That in turn means that a typical aerobic conditioning set of 100's for me would be:

  • 5 x 100 @ CI +:10 (or 1:25 per 100 if I'm working hard),
  • 10 x 100 @ CI +:15 (or 1:30 per 100 if I'm doing more LSD-type work).

Of course, your personal timing and need for rest will vary, and that's fine. You may need to play with this a little in order to get comfortable with it and to learn how much rest you need between intervals.

With your Cruise Interval in hand, you can begin to get a feel for not only how hard you're working when you're swimming but also how hard you ought to be working given what you're trying to achieve in the water on a given day.

Longer Intervals

Cruise Intervals are particularly useful when planning for longer intervals. Just as you might do half-mile or one-mile repeats when training for a 10K or a half-marathon, so too are 200- and 400-yard intervals good building blocks for half-mile or a full-mile swims.

But how much rest should you take? The short answer is about the same amount that you took during the shorter interval sets. With our Cruise Intervals in hand, that makes workout planning pretty easy.

Again using my CI of 1:15 as a base, we can build the following sets of longer intervals:

  • 5 x 200 @ 2:50 (or CI +:10 if I'm working hard),
  • 10 x 200 @ 3:00 (or CI +:15 if the set is more of an LSD-type set),
  • 3 x 400 @ 5:40 (again, CI +:10 if I'm working hard),
  • 5 x 400 @ 6:00 (again, CI +:15 if the set is more of an LSD set).

As with any other kind of endurance training, you will build both fitness and ability over time, and with that, you may notice that you can be a little more aggressive with your intervals as the season progresses.

That’s good. I think you will find that it’s useful to have your Cruise Interval as a benchmark against which to measure your development over the course of a season. You may even get to the point where you feel comfortable setting one of your Key Workouts in the water. If so, give yourself six to eight weeks of concentrated swim training, and then do an 800- or 1000-yard timer.

You should see good gains in this swim versus your initial performances earlier in the season, particularly the performance during which you initially set your Cruise Interval at the start of the training cycle.

Note: The following videos provide additional information presented in this series of articles.

  1. About.com
  2. Sports
  3. Triathlon
  4. Technique & Drills
  5. Swimming for Triathletes (Part 6): Using Your Cruise Interval

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