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by Kris Goodrich

May 15, 2020

Interval training now can help you be in better cardiovascular shape once your pool opens again following the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s been about 60 days since most pools in the country shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it feels even longer. The smell of chlorine, the solitude of the water, the effort put forth in a workout, the camaraderie of lanemates are all missing in your daily lives.

You might’ve been biking, hiking, running, or doing dryland exercises to stay in shape, but will you be ready for the pool when it opens back up? With many states starting to open on a limited basis and the hope of pools opening soon, how should you prepare to get back into the water?

Swim Workouts vs. Quarantine Workouts

Unless you’re a distance swimmer who thrives on sets of 5 x 1000s, swimmers rarely do a workout for an hour without stopping at the wall. Swim workouts are designed around intervals that allow for rest breaks, and you train most of the season like that. If you’re out of the pool, you might be at a loss for how to design a nonswim workout.

Some swimmers dusted off their bikes for the first time in years and are working their way up to longer workouts with higher mileage. Running and walking shoes came out of closets, leading to workouts to get out of the house and alleviate boredom.

Although staying active during isolation is great, your method of training might play a large part in how ready you are to swim when you get back in the pool. When you’re planning your cardio workout, are you keeping that in mind?

What are your favorite swim events? Do you swim the 50 freestyle or the 1650? Is your workout structured just like your swim in the pool or is it continuous? If it’s the latter, what are some options for changing it?

Interval Training

Interval training is any type of activity, whether swimming, biking, or running, that involves a series of higher intensity periods interspersed with either rest periods or lower intensity periods. Most swimming workouts are interval training, and they can be designed to be aerobic (using oxygen) or anerobic (fueled by energy sources within your muscles).

Most workouts are designed for a specific purpose, whether it be aerobic, mid-distance freestyle, or sprint IM. Without too much planning, there are several easy options to make your land workout an interval workout and much more beneficial for getting you ready to get back in the pool.

Fartlek Training

The word fartlek is Swedish for speed play, and if you like to train like this, it can feel like you’re playing!

During any type of exercise, you go fast for as long as you want, then slow down to recover, and repeat. If you’re out on a bike you could set a goal to ride fast to the end of the block, then recover for a block, and repeat. If your goal is to ride your bike for 5 miles, you can do this as much or as little during the workout as you want. 


This workout is a little like playing but with more structure. You set your time periods for fast and easy and how many times during the workout you want to do them. For example:

Four times through: Run, walk, or bike for 10 seconds fast, 10 seconds easy, 20 seconds fast, 20 seconds easy, 30 seconds fast, 30 seconds easy

The above set would take eight minutes to complete. You can modify it by going through more times, decreasing the rest, or adding on another time (40 seconds fast, 40 seconds easy) as your fitness improves.

Swim Interval-Based Training

You’ve probably swum so many 50s that you know your swim times and intervals without much thought. If you would normally do a set of 20 x 50s on the :55, try doing a land-based cardio workout on the same interval. Increase your intensity for the same time as you would normally swim, and keep the rest or recovery period the same as well. You may find it quite challenging at first. If 20 is too many, you can start out with five or 10. Another option would be to increase the recovery period until your training improves.

Alternate Options

Although biking, running, and walking seem to be the most popular alternatives to swimming during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other great options to increase your intensity and add variety. If you have access to a jump rope, any of these interval training ideas can be done with a jump rope. No jump rope? Jumping jacks and their many variations will get your heart rate up as well. Based on your mobility and physical limitations, burpees and mountain climbers are dryland exercises that need no equipment and can be done anywhere, even when you are out for a walk.

Things to Consider

If you’re thinking about adding one of these interval training components to your workout, make sure you have properly warmed up before increasing intensity. Think of it as your main set after finishing the warm-up set.

Also, remember that your heart rate is higher on land than in the water, so monitor your intensity or perceived exertion as you continue your workout. If you’re trying to mimic your 100 freestyle, how do you feel during a hard set of 100s? Active recovery will keep your blood flowing and oxygen returning to all your muscles.

Don’t forget to cool down at the end of each workout with a period of slower intensity. Stopping and standing after periods of intense exercise can sometimes lead to dizziness, so use caution if you are prone to this.

One Final Thought

No matter what you do, your first day in the water will be both frustrating and exhilarating. Your feel for the water and time you spent training over previous months will be lost. But if all goes well, you can maintain your cardiovascular fitness, heal any lingering injuries, grow in your social friendships, and, best of all, gain a new appreciation for the sport you love.


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