Go the Distance with a Swimming Workout to Build Endurance

U.S. Masters Swimming
by U.S. Masters Swimming
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Go the Distance with a Swimming Workout to Build Endurance

Swimming is the perfect workout to build endurance because it’s the only cardiovascular exercise that works your entire body while putting little-to-no pressure on your joints.

If you’re training for another sport or just want to increase your aerobic capacity this summer, you can build endurance and lose weight while giving your body the best workout it’s ever had.



Start your workout slowly to give your muscles an opportunity to warm up. Focus on your technique: Long strokes move you through the water at a steady pace. Depending on your swimming experience, do a longer swim (400 or 500 yards) or break it up into shorter distances, with rest every few lengths. Start slow and build your pace throughout to raise your heart rate and prepare you to swim harder.


This is the focus of your workout. It’s an aerobic set and should allow you to maintain consistent speed and heart rate over an extended time.

This is a pyramid set, in which you build your speed going up, hold it at the peak, then build more speed on the way down. Use an interval of 2 minutes per 100 yards. For example, the 100 is on 2 minutes, the 200 is on 4 minutes, etc. That means you swim and rest in that allotted time before pushing off to start the next repeat. Adjust as necessary.

  • 1 x 100 Start slow and smooth, transitioning from the warm-up.
  • 1 x 200 Build pace slowly by descending (swim the second half of the 200 slightly faster than the first half).
  • 1 x 300 Hold that pace for the first 200, then descend for the last 100.
  • 1 x 400 Swim the entire 400 at a strong steady pace (the pace you swam the last 100 of the 300).
  • 1 x 300 Keep that 400 pace for the first 200, then build a little more speed on the last 100.
  • 1 x 200 Descend by swimming the first 100 at your 200 pace, then faster for the second half.
  • 1 x 100 Swim this one at your fastest distance pace (not sprinting, but a strong, consistent speed).


Swim an easy 300 yards, broken up into 50s or 100s. Don’t skip this step! Your body needs a chance to recover from the main set. Your pace should be like what you did in the warmup, and you should focus on good technique, so your body can repeat it more easily when it’s tired.


Pro Tip: Before you start swimming hard for exercise, have a qualified coach look at your stroke to ensure proper technique, which prevents overuse injury. As with all sports: If something is painful, stop.

Want more workouts? U.S. Masters Swimming members have access to daily workouts designed especially for a range of swimmers by a USMS-certified coach.

Want to learn more? Check out USMS’ Masters Swimming 101 article series.

About the Author

U.S. Masters Swimming
U.S. Masters Swimming

U.S. Masters Swimming encourages adults to enjoy the health, fitness, and social benefits of swimming by providing more than 2,000 adult swimming programs and events across the country, including open water and pool competitions. USMS’s nearly 65,000 members range from age 18 to 99 and include swimmers of all ability levels. The nonprofit also trains and certifies coaches and provides online workouts, a bimonthly member magazine, monthly eNewsletters, and technique articles and videos at usms.org.


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