Swim paces seem off | 80/20 Endurance

Swim paces seem off

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    Jay Furnas

    Hi David,

    I’ve been using 80/20 plans/zones since last year in preparing for multiple triathlons and I love the detail you guys put into the book and plans as well as the effort you make to answer questions. No matter my swim fitness, my swim paces have always seemed REALLY low compared to perceived effort. I recently did both the 400/200 test and a 1000TT and both have me in the range of 1:40-1:42 per 100 yards. That gives me a zone 1 range of 2:01 to 2:16 per 100, and a zone 5 range of less than 1:36 per 100. I have tried to swim at the zone one pace and feel like I’m going to sink because I’m barely moving. Likewise, while 1:36 is a difficult pace to maintain over an interval of several hundred yards, it does not feel “hard” at all over the 25-100 yard range. Is this normal? I’ve found the cycling and running zones to match their descriptions (or possibly be even harder) but all the swimming zones seem way lower than what I’d expect. If I’m being honest I find myself swimming more off perceived effort than pace as a result of this . Is there a reason why I’d find it so easy to swim at the moderate and hard paces over short periods of time, or am I just a slow swimmer that can fake it for short distances but that gets exposed when upping the interval length?

    David Warden


    Thanks for posting. You’ve tried both the 1000 and 400/200, which is the first step so I’m sure your threshold is right.

    We can fix Zone 1, 3 and Zone 5 easily.

    – Feel free to add fins or pull buoy to your Zone 1 work to maintain an easy pace without sinking.
    – For Zone 5, remember it’s anything above 1:36 for you. You can go at a 1:10 per 100 pace for Zone 5 for those 25-50 yard intervals. As long as you can maintain whatever pace you choose consistently for the workout, go bonkers.
    – Zone 3 is right on because you’ve done the 1000 meter TT. We know that’s your that’s your maximum pace for 20 minutes because…that’s actually your maximum pace for 20 minutes. Therefore, Zone 3 intervals of 3, 5, 8+ minutes for a pace you can maintain for 20 is perfect Zone 3.

    So, this just leaves Zone 2 and 4. Zone 4 is mostly easy to fix: go as fast as you can maintain for all Zone 4 intervals. If that happens to be Zone 5 on paper, but you can consistently hold 5×200 meters in low Zone 5, then make it happen. “Hard” is hard in the 80/20 system. Sure, I like to sprinkle in some deliberate and distinct Zone 4 and 5, but you can slice up the 20 of 80/20 any way you want and get very similar results.

    That leaves Zone 2, which is actually the most important zone. 35% of your swim time will be Zone 2 in our plans, and if you end up drifting into Zone X, you’re back where your started before you found 80/20. We could say, “use perceived effort” except that we know that athletes’ perceived effort is terrible.

    The tiebreaker is this: Zone 2 can’t be to low. It can be too high, but can’t be too low. Therefore, I recommend that you stick with the 1:50-1:59 range (or whatever your formal Zone 2 from your test). If it feels too slow, it’s probably perfect.




    On the notion of the 1000M time trial. Haven’t done one, but I’m guessing a 1000M time trial for me would fall in the 15 min range as opposed to 20. Does that still make it reasonably accurate.

    David Warden

    B, yes, I’d use the average 100m/y over 1000 as your threshold even if it takes just 15 minutes. It’s a bit of a stretch against our normal protocols, but somehow it still works for swimming.


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