Training

Half-mile training plan

New to open water? Don’t worry, this training plan offers lots of helpful advice and information for beginners.

Open water swimming can be very liberating – and you don’t even have to be an excellent swimmer! As long as you can swim, and have some fitness, a half-mile swim (800 metres) is achievable.

Most people swim front crawl, as this is the easiest stroke to swim and will get you round the course the fastest, but breaststroke is fine too. We would not recommend you swim backstroke as you will not be able to see where you are going.

If you're planning to train for the Swim Serpentine half-mile event in a 25m pool, you'll need to complete 32 lengths (800m) to cover the distance.

There are a variety of training sessions and skills sets for you to try below, but if you're new to swimming, or are looking to improve, it's a great idea to find out if there are any adult swimming sessions in your pool, perhaps a triathlon club or ‘Masters’ training session. These sessions are often welcoming and a great way to progress quickly.

Often they also have a swimming coach on the pool side to provide set sessions for you, which can help with your technique and fitness.

A swimming session should consist of a Warm up, Main Set, Contrast Set and Warm Down:

  • Warm up: Gradually warm up your arms and lungs as you increase your pace over some short distances.
  • Main Set: Typically a target distance broken down into shorter distances with short recovery times to help you work on your pace. For example: the target may be 1,000 metres, so a simple session would be to swim 10 x 100 metres with one-minute rest between each four lengths (in a 25m pool). This way you can swim faster for the duration of the 100 metres than you would be able to over a straight 1,000m swim.
  • Contrast Set: After a main session the contrast set throws in some drills with perhaps some kick or stroke work.
  • Warm down: A reverse of the Warm up, reduce your speed and think about technique.

At other times you may go into the pool to complete a long distance swim – for example, to swim half a mile non-stop and time yourself.

You can try the following sample sets and drill suggestions to train for Swim Serpentine. Sample main sets include:

Big Step Pyramid
  • Swim 25m, 5 sec rest, swim 50m, 10 sec rest, swim 75m, 10 sec rest, swim 100m, 15 sec rest, swim 125m, 20 sec rest, swim 150m, 30 sec rest, swim 175m, 30 sec rest
Build Set (700m)
  • Swim 25m, 5 sec rest. Repeat three more times. Swim 50m, 10 sec rest. Repeat three more times. Swim 100m, 15 sec rest. Repeat three more times
4 x 200m Set (800m)
  • 8 x 25m (5 sec rest each length), plus 30 sec rest at end of set. 4 x 50m (10 sec rest after each 50m), plus 30 sec rest at end of set. 2 x 100m (15 sec rest after each 100m), plus 30 sec rest at end of set. 1 x 200m, plus 30 sec rest at end
Sample Contrast Set
  • 4 x 50m kick using a kick board, then 4 x 50m as 25m drill, practicing one part of the swim stroke, plus 25m swim

Sample Basic Drills

  • Single arm swim: Hold one arm out in front of you and swim only using the other arm. Think about getting a good pull through the water each stroke. Alternate arms you use for this drill.
  • Six arm switch: Six single arm strokes on one side, then six on the other. The aim is the same as above – to get a good pull through the water each stroke – but use hips when switching from one arm to the other to create a body roll.
  • Catch up: one hand is always in the water out in front of you. The ‘glide hand’ in the water stays there until the ‘moving hand’ touches the water, then they switch. This is good for lengthening your stroke for long distance swimming. It should be nice and smooth as you always maintain one hand stretch out in front of you.
  • Chicken wing: As you swim touch your right thumb under your right arm pit and left thumb under your left armpit. This helps create a high elbow when swimming.
  • Three-point touch (good for warm up and warm down): Touch three points on each stroke. 1. Catch up as above. 2. Touch your thigh with your thumb, this should be at the end of your stroke a low as you can on your leg without twisting your body. 3. Under your arm pit. With practice, this should be nice and smooth and a good way to get your stroke feeling better after a hard session.
  • Clenched fist: keep your fist clenched during the whole stroke. The aim of this drill is to use your forearm while swimming to appreciate the power your hand creates when pulling through the water. Try and keep this slow and think about keeping a high elbow throughout the stroke.
  • Kick on side: Placing your left arm in front of you, swim on your left side, kicking for one length, then change sides. The aim of this drill is to create good to balance in water and getting used to rotating onto your side when swimming.

Additional Half-Mile Swim Sets

SET ONE
Warm up Swim 200m to warm up, mixing the strokes
Main set 6 x 100m, 30 sec rest. Aim to swim the same pace for all six 100m segments
Contrast set Swim 100m as 25m kick, 25m catch-up drill
Warm down Swim 100m to warm down
  Total distance: 2,000m
SET TWO
Warm up Swim 200m to warm up, mixing the strokes
Main set 4 x 25m with 5, 10, 14, 20 sec rest between each 25m segment
  4 x 50m 4 x 25m with 5, 10, 14, 20 sec rest between each 50m segment
  4 x 75m with 5, 10, 14, 20 sec rest between each 75m segment
Contrast set 25m kick, 25m swim x 4
Warm down Swim 200m to warm down
  Total distance: 1,000m (when you feel stronger, add 4 x 100m to the main set with same amount of rest between 100m segments)
SET THREE
Warm up Swim 300m to warm up, mixing the strokes
Main set 4 x 200m with 45 sec rest between 200m segments
Contrast set 100m of any drill, 50m kick x 2
Warm down Swim 100m to warm down
  Total distance: 1,500m
SET FOUR
Warm up Swim 150m then 50m drill to warm up
Main set Swim 25m, 10 sec rest, swim 50m, 10 sec rest, swim 75m, 10 sec rest
  Swim 100m, 15 sec rest, swim 125m, 15 sec rest, swim 150m, 15 sec rest
  Swim 175m, 20 sec rest, swim 200m, 20 sec rest
Contrast set Swim 100m, 15 sec rest, swim 125m, 15 sec rest, swim 150m, 15 sec rest
Warm down Swim 200m to warm down
  Total distance: 1,300m
SET FIVE
Warm up Swim 200m any stroke to warm up
Main set Swim 800m as follows:
  Swim 200m, 20 sec rest, swim 100m, 15 sec rest, swim 100m, 15 sec rest
  Swim 50m, 10 sec rest x 4
  Swim 25m, 5 sec rest x 8
Contrast set 4 x 75m as 25m drill, 25m swim, 25m drill, 10 sec rest
Warm down Swim 200m to warm down
  Total distance: 1,500m
SET SIX
Warm up Swim 300m any stroke to warm up
Main set Time yourself over 800m. Try to keep a good pace from the start that you can hold for the whole 800m
Contrast set 8 x 25 alternate drill kick
Warm down Swim 200m to warm down
  Total distance: 1,500m