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 used this seven week programme to get swim fit in 2021 and 2022 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:
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:
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:
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.
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 .
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: email@example.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.