You won’t be a swimmer for long before you begin to hear the terms, ‘building a strong base’ and ‘base training’. Experienced swimmers and swimming/triathlon coaches will each tell you that it’s vitally important to increase your aerobic base, but what exactly IS a ‘base’ and how do you go about increasing it?

So, what IS ‘base’?

(common periodization formula for training)

Simply put, base training is the time of the year where triathletes/swimmers develop endurance and stamina, or to quote triathlete Joe Friel, it is when we “train to train.” If you were manufacturing a car, think of the ‘base’ phase as building the body, wheels, and engine. Adding gears and testing speed comes later in the ‘build’ phase.

So, your ‘base’ phase is literally that – it is a base or starting point for training.

The Goals of Base Training

There are five primary goals of base training:

  1. Build aerobic efficiency,
  2. Improve musculoskeletal durability,
  3. Improve your ability to burn fat and spare your carbohydrate (glycogen) stores
  4. Improve the endurance of your fast twitch muscle fibres and
  5. Create a tireless state mentally.

Goal #1: Aerobic Efficiency

Aerobic means “with oxygen” and in base training, the primary goal is to improve your ability to take in and utilise oxygen.  The more energy you can produce from your aerobic energy systems, the faster and longer you can swim.  In the base phase, both your capacity to take in and utilise oxygen (called VO2max) and your efficiency at utilising it is improved.

So, to paraphrase the entire ‘base’ phase, for swimmers all this simply means is SLOW DOWN and GO LONG. Throw sprints in the bin for now, they will not help you build stamina.

You are not aiming to improve your speeds here and no one expects you to go from ‘setting good habits’ (from our first blog), straight into being a swimmer with perfect technique who is looking to set records. Your aim here is to build your endurance, control your breathing and work on your technique during these slower, longer intervals.
During your ‘base’ phase is when I would strongly recommend that you get yourself a video analysis session so that you can target your weaker technique areas and work on improving your technique during the slower and longer intervals. Your coach will help you design a bespoke plan for improvements, show you the drills you need which are specific to you and help you write a periodisation training plan that will streamline your swim training for your specific goals.

How long should I be doing Base training?

This answer is very much dependent on your event type, your current level of fitness and how early you want to start your training. A rough guide is below

  • Sprint distance: Between 6 – 8 weeks
  • Olympic/international distance: Between 6 – 12 weeks
  • 70.3/HIM distance: 8 – 12 weeks
  • Ironman/full distance: 12 – 24 weeks

My best advice for all those new swimmers and triathletes out there is – DON’T RUSH THE BASE PHASE!

An efficient work out doesn’t mean a workout where you exit the pool completely destroyed.

Next week, we will discuss the ‘build’ phase and what this should look like.

Book your video analysis sessions with us as ensure you are starting your training journey the RIGHT way.