CrossFit Swimming Workouts

CrossFit Swimming Workouts

CrossFit is an exercise method developed by former gymnast Michael Glassman in 1995. The high-intensity blend of aerobic exercise and weightlifting focuses on speed and power. Among those who adopted a CrossFit-style approach was David Salo, a well-known swim coach in Southern California who coached champions Aaron Peirsol and Amanda Beard. He pioneered the idea of using shorter, more intense swim workouts to build strength and power in the water. Lap swimmers benefit by alternating the fast and furious style of workout with longer, less-intense swims. The workouts ideally are performed in a 25 m pool or in a 50 m pool set up for short laps.


Freestyle, or crawl, is the stroke most fitness swimmers use. The shoulders and the back provide power in the water. Legs usually trail or move slowly in endurance swims, but fast, strong kicking is important in sprinting, as is good body position and technique. Warm up with a 400 m freestyle. Warm-ups are important for loosening up muscles and getting the cardiovascular system primed for fast, intense swims. Longer swim distances alternating with fast sprints force swimmers to use explosive power even when they feel fatigue. Start with a 500 m freestyle, then sprint all-out for 50 m. Repeat the pattern, reducing each distance by 50 m each time. The next distance is 450 m, followed by a 50 m sprint. Continue the pattern until you reach 100 m, and end with a last 50 m sprint.

Breathing Control

The breathing control workout combines underwater swim with above-water distances. If you have breathing difficulties or asthma, check with a physician before engaging in any breath control exercises underwater. Use fins if you need extra propulsion. Warm up with a 400 m swim, swimming faster each length. Swim six laps of the pool or 150 m at moderate exertion. Swim one length or 25 m underwater. Continue the pattern, reducing the length of the swims by 25 m each time and increasing speed each time. Finish the pattern by swimming one length at sprint speed. Remember to stop the underwater portion of the exercise if you feel dizzy or disoriented during the workout.

Swimming with Resistance

Another effective breath-control workout involves swimming with both fins and hand paddles. These tools increase water resistance. Swimming fast for 400 m jump-starts the cardiovascular system. Older swimmers should warm up with a slower 400 m. Pulling involves swimming with the upper body only, letting the legs kick slowly or just trail behind. Pull for 600 m, alternating breathing every three strokes and then every five strokes. Continue the breath-control workout by alternately kicking fast for one lap and sprinting for one lap. Paul Hutinger, an American Swimming Coaches Association Level IV coach, warns that a high-intensity breath control workout is dangerous for people with existing high blood pressure. In an article for "Swimmer Magazine," Hutinger details the hemorrhagic stroke he experienced while performing "no breather" sprints. Always check with a physician before engaging in these types of workouts.

Medley Strokes

The medley workout makes use of all four basic strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. Warming up with an easy 600 m helps you prepare for the demands of fast medley sets. Swim increasingly long IM medley sets for the main part of the workout. A 100 m IM consists of 25 m each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle, in that order. Start with a 100 m IM, then continue with a 200 m IM consisting of 50 m butterfly, 50 m breaststroke, 50 m backstroke and 50 m freestyle. Finish up with a 400 m IM consisting of 100 m butterfly, 100 m breaststroke, 100 m backstroke and 100 m freestyle. Medleys test both stamina and technique. A swimmer is only as effective as his weakest stroke. Butterfly in particular is a difficult stroke to swim when fatigue sets in.