Being able to quantify your swimming sessions in terms of time and / or heart rate will certainly maximize the productivity and the benefits gained from that session.

Unfortunately quantifying intensity / velocity and recovery is not always that easy. How do I know if I am going to fast or not fast enough? What intensity should I be swimming a 400m interval at versus a 100m interval?

This simple Maximum Heart Rate (HRmax) test will not only allow you to set your Heart rate zones for your swimming sessions more accurately than using the old 220-age formula, but will also give you a better idea of the swimming velocities you should be aiming to swim at for different Interval distances.

You will require the following to complete the test:
  • Heart rate monitor (with a stop watch)
  • Stop watch
  • 50m pool (ideally)
  • A volunteer to record your information
The Testing Protocol :

Use the Freestyle stroke for this test as this is the stroke to be used in Triathlon.Be sure to have your heart belt tightly secured to ensure it does not slide down when you push off the wall.

Warm up:
  • 200m swim - you choose the stroke - Swim on the 3:30 (meaning if you finish the 200m in 2:49, you have 41 seconds of recovery time).
  • 200m - Freestyle - Swim on the 3:00
  • 200m - Individual medley - Swim on the 3:30 (if you can only swim one or two other strokes over and above Freestyle i.e. breast and back, then cycle through them).
  • 200m - 50m kick + 50m swim X 2
  • 100m - increasing your speed over the 100m - Swim on the 1:45
  • 2X50m - 15m hard and 35m focus on increasing the Distance Per Stroke (DPS).
The Test:
  • 100m build through the 100m to fastest speed by the end of the 100m.
  • Recovery Interval - 15 seconds
  • Record time and Heart rate upon completion of each of the 100m.
  • Repeat X 2
  • 100m Race Pace for full 100m
  • Recovery Interval- 15 seconds
  • Record time and Heart rate upon completion of each of the 100m.
  • Repeat X 3
  • 50m Race Pace
  • Recovery Interval - 10 seconds
  • Record time and Heart rate upon completion of each of the 100m.
  • Repeat X 4
  • This protocol is aimed at producing a maximum heart rate response toward the end of the test.
Cool down:
  • 400m swim down, allowing the bodies various physiological systems to return to normal levels.
Information analysis:

Resting Heart rate:

Calculation of your resting (waking) Heart rate (HRrest) will require you to take your heart rate as soon as you wake up, on 3 consecutive mornings.

Add the 3 scores together and divide by 3 to get the average. This is your HRrest.

HRrest = 45b/min

Calculation of Heart rate training zones:

We will make use of the Karvonen Formula to determine your training zones. It will require you to use the following equation:

HRmax-HRrest(% of max)+HRrest


Your tested HRmax = 200b/min
Your measure HRrest = 49b/min

50%: HRmax-HRrest (0.50)+HRrest = 200-49(0.50)=49 = 124.5b/min
60%: HRmax-HRrest (0.60)+HRrest = 200-49(0.60)=49 =139.6b/min
70%: HRmax-HRrest (0.70)+HRrest = 200-49(0.70)=49 =154.7b/min
80%: HRmax-HRrest (0.80)+HRrest = 200-49(0.80)=49 =169.8b/min
90%: HRmax-HRrest (0.90)+HRrest = 200-49(0.90)=49 =184b/min
100%: HRmax-HRrest (1+HRrest = 200-49(1)=49 =200b/min

Calculation of swimming velocities using time:

From the recorded times for your final 100m and 50m interval, you can now estimate what your times and recoveries can be for various sets.


Let us assume that the time you swam for your last 100m was 1:50, and the time you swam for your last 50m, was 52 seconds.

You can work off the following times in your training session (keep in mind there is a certain margin of error dependent on the number of sets and reps you do in the session):

50m - Swim on the 50sec - 60sec
100m - Swim on the 1:55 - 2:05
200m - Swim on the 4:00 - 4:10
400m - Swim on the 8:10 - 8:20

These numbers are merely extrapolations from the times you achieved during the test.

The purpose of this test is set a baseline of data for you to compare you progress against.As you improve your swimming fitness and swimming economy, you will start to see:
  • your interval times coming down
  • you will be able to work at a higher Heart rate, for longer, with less fatigue
  • your energy expenditure during a training session will be less because your body has become economical.
In 12 weeks, after implementing your training plan, redo the test (keep everything exactly the same: Same day, same time, eat + drink the same things before etc).

This is where the fun really begins, because you can compare Test 1 to Test 2 and see the improvement.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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