OSS Swim Couch to 5K

A seven week programme to get fit for a summer of swimming

Niall Meehan

Whether you want to reinvigorate your swim practice or reignite your swimming mojo The OSS Swim Couch to 5K will help get you there.

The tens of thousands of swimmers who have already used this seven week programme to get swim fit can’t be wrong. Take a look – in under two months you’ll be swimming strong. 


Welcome to our Swim Couch to 5k seven week training programme. 

For every session in your weekly programme the warm up and cool down will be the same – a 9 minute WARM UP and a 3 minute COOL DOWN. Use them as time to clear your mind ahead of swimming: concentrate on being streamlined, propulsive, pulling with your hand and forearm, gliding through the water and swimming effortlessly.

WARM UP: Before you get in the water try several minutes of dry land arm swinging to jump start your warm up. If you find it hard to put your face into cold, open water, dab some water on your cheeks and back of neck before you enter which will help remove the shock reflex.

Once in the water, use the first 9 minutes to warm up, consisting of the following:

  • 6 minute easy swimming – get in, get acclimatised, get your face in, and settle in to an easy front crawl. If it takes longer than 6 minutes to settle down in the cold week, take longer, doing a few strokes face in, a few breaststroke, as you need till you are ready for continuous front crawl. For safety, get your body in and acclimatised before submerging your face (even in a wetsuit).
  • 3 minute performing 10 strokes fast 20 strokes easy to actually start to warm up. Stretch the long slow easy strokes out and feel the difference to the faster more hurried strokes. This is a great way to elevate your heart rate.

COOL DOWN: 3 minute easy cool down swimming. If safe to perform where you are, double arm backstroke is a great way to unwind your front crawl (FC) focused shoulders.



Every week you will be asked to do 3 sessions: 

  • Fitness
  • Endurance
  • Technique – each week we will introduce a simple drill, which is a way of highlighting and practising one aspect of the freestyle stroke 

Every session is designed to be so simple you can write them on the back of your hand. They all start with the same warm up and cool down (so you can do that bit from memory) and then the programme can be written on your hand with a sharpie. Use a waterproof watch. 

This programme starts with short 30 minute sessions that can build to 75 minute sessions if you are keen to aim towards 5 km. It is flexible – fitness levels will vary, as will access to pool time and ability to withstand cold. Always get out if you’re cold, and stay in if you want to add 10 minutes longer, according to your own ability.

Pool space limited? Forgot to book a lake spot? Substitute a land fitness training session for one of the water sessions at any time e.g. 20 minutes of rowing, running (even a walk run mix) or cycling. 

At any time, pause and repeat a week if you need to, or add in a fourth session if you’re enjoying it.  Getting to 5 k in 7 weeks is a push: think of your overall distance covered within the 3 sessions, and aim for 7-10k per week in the last few weeks. 


So how do you swim 5km given the final training set is only 50 minutes? Think of The OSS couchto5K more in terms of the overall volume of training sessions, 21 in total, which will lead to 40-50km in the water. Do not underestimate what your swimming can achieve if you significantly improve your swim technique and overall level of fitness.


This is a seven week programme for front crawl swimming that can be done anywhere: lake, lido, indoor pool or sea, and in a wetsuit or skins. The programme suits:

  • People with a basic level of front crawl, that they wish to brush off and extend.
  • Pool swimmers starting their first season outdoors.
  • Returning open water swimmers.
  • People wanting to work on their front crawl, through guided drills.
  • Anyone who wants to extend their swimming stamina – whether it’s improving upon a PB for a 1 mile challenge or the Ironman 3.8k.

This programme has not been designed for swimmers using breast stroke or other swimming strokes – it’s for those who like to power-out in the water using front crawl.


Niall Meehan


Before starting in the water you may choose to focus on setting up a weekly fitness habit on land. The aim is to move your cardiovascular fitness up a notch, building shoulder strength and flexibility. There are also some simple exercises to help prepare you for getting in the water.

Aim for three sessions a week, four sessions is ambitious and will speed up your fitness gains, two will contribute if it’s all you can do. If you do have time to access a pool, you could include the water work and just repeat each week until you feel comfortable.


During the work in the water we will be practising ‘drills’, specific exercises that highlight and practise elements of the front crawl stroke. If you can’t get to a pool yet, you can still get familiar with these drills and rehearse mentally – purposely rehearsing these skills and drills in your mind’s eye will help programme your body for performance once back in the water. 


If you are intending to complete your 5k in open water (rather than a heated pool), then you are looking at colder, open water, temperatures, and part of your journey over the next 7 weeks is going to be acclimatisation. See the ‘Survive’ section of the website for tips on kit, cold acclimatisation, and use The OSS social channels to ask questions of others, The OSS Facebook Group is full of other swimmers who will give you answers.

Work within your limits: if you are cold, always get out, get dry and get warm: do not endanger yourself by completing  the swim session. You are responsible for your own safety, so be careful. See the 8 questions Winter Swimmers Ask About Cold, and Understanding Hypothermia


  • Easy front crawl, for warm up/cool down and relaxing after any harder efforts.
  • Medium – a solid effort but sustainable.
  • Fast front crawl – a best effort but never so much you lose control of your technique.

Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society, is the author of The Outdoor Swimmers’ Handbook available in The OSS shop, which includes more information on swimming better, from stroke work to weatherproofing your stroke for open water.


You are aiming to develop a long, relaxed front crawl through this programme: minimum effort, maximum streamlining. This kind of easy, long distance front crawl is so fluid it is like taking a long walk, and you can go on for hours. YouTube is awash (see what we did there) with swimming videos that help you visualise how that will feel in the water, and there’s a beautiful similarity in the grace of both competitive and recreational swimmers. 

Here are a few OSS team favourites: 


We hope you enjoy building your swim fitness and confidence. Do let us know how you get on! Join The Outdoor Swimming Society Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and use the #swimcouchto5k to share your progress and stories. Or email us: hello@outdoorswimmingsociety.com.

Dan Bullock is head swim coach at Swim For Tri (SFT). Dan has been coaching since 1990 and is a former triathlete and open water swimmer who has helped thousands get fit and faster, from their first novice open water swim to The English Channel. He has been the National Masters Open Water Champion repeatedly since 2008. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


The Swimming Teachers' Association

We are delighted that this swim programme has been taken up and shared with over 12,000 swim coaches across the UK by the STA.

Kate Rew and Dan Bullock