Ironman Swim Training Plan – Don Fink 30 Week Training Schedule

Be Iron Fit book coverThe Be Iron Fit time efficient training plan has been my go to plan for the past 10 years in preparing for any distance racing and it also includes a detailed Ironman Swim Training Plan within its 30-week training programs. This can be taken in isolation if you just wanting to complete a long distance swim or it is perfectly tailored to be part of a full ironman training schedule if you are preparing for a specific event.

I have used this plan as a Beginner when completing my first ironman, as a pure swim plan when trying to increase my distance for a swim event, or just as a general guide to building a structured training plan for myself for individual events. Currently I am training for Ironman Copenhagen so again am I utilizing the full 30-week plan.

The following is a breakdown of the main elements on the book which I hope you will find informative, whilst giving emphasis to the swim training and the swim sessions that it includes. I will also include some personal feedback on how I have got on with these sessions and also where I have adapted them to meet certain circumstances and time restraints. I hope that this will be of help if you are looking to set up a structured training schedule be it purely for swimming or full ironman or long distance triathlon events.

The Main Contents of the Book

The Be IronFit book is now in its updated third edition (2016) having first being published in 2004. It is a very popular choice, especially with first time ironman triathletes as it breaks down what can seem a daunting prospect into easy to understand and manageable steps. The book itself is constructed into 17 chapters, each detailing a specific element of ironman training that are an informative read in them self. Together they build into a comprehensive training partner covering all aspects of ironman training that I and many others have found as an invaluable partner in attaining our ironman dreams.

I won’t highlight every chapter, but for me the main areas I always revisit are Time Management, Heart Rate Training, Essential Workouts, Swim and 30 week Training Programs, Equipment Tips, Diet Planning, Race Strategies and Goal Planning. I will now give an overview of these in more detail.

Be Iron Fit Book Back cover

Swim Training Programs

The Training Programs in the book are of a 30-week duration, broken down into three ten week phases (Base, Build and Peak). Also, there are three levels of training program depending on which competitive level you are trying to reach and the time you have available to train. Importantly, each program includes seventeen swim workouts with five or six of these designed specifically for each of the three phases.

Therefore, I find it easy to build a structured swim training plan purely taking the swim schedules from the book, but you might also find yourself taking other aspects of the training plan if you want to increase you aerobic capabilities, body strength or technique which all helps in tackling open water swimming and those longer distances.

The three training levels in the book are:

  • Just Finish: This is a program built for people who are just looking to finish an ironman race. As such it is not as time-consuming as the other two plans and it contains two swim sessions per week of about 1,600 meters each in weeks 1-10, 2,400 meters in weeks 11 – 20 and finishing off with ten weeks of approximately 2,500 meters. The swim sessions themselves are broken up into warm up and cool down, technique based drills, and then the main swim session which is split into repeats of lengths and rest times all designed to build up you swim endurance. There are also eleven Bonus Swim Sessions that can be used to replace one of the planned sessions during the Build and Peak phases of you training that are geared specifically towards open-water swim practice and longer distance swimming.
  • Intermediate: This is a program if you feel that you have a little more time available for your training than the Just Finish program. The swim sessions are structured in exactly the same way as the previous program but are of a longer duration and distance, and as such are at a higher intensity so overall aerobic fitness and good technique will be of importance here. The distances are 2,500 meters in weeks 1-10, then 3000 and 3500 meters respectively.
  • Competitive: This program is for those you feel they want to compete at their highest possible level and as such have the time available to attain the levels of fitness required. For full ironman training this equates to an average of 12 hours per week with a peak week of 20 hours. Whilst this might seem an unattainable amount of time to set aside for training good time management techniques come into their own here. I have written about these in more detail in a time management guide and when you employ these within you daily routines you may well be surprised about how much time you can actually make available. The swim sessions are again structured in the same way as the other programs with the distances the same as the Intermediate, but again there is a further step up in the intensity levels of the sessions.

The following is an example of some swim sessions from the book.

Be Iron Fit Swim Sessions example

There is also a swimming technique section that covers the main requirements for a good and powerful swim stroke, whilst not exerting too much energy. This covers among other aspects the Body Position, Stroke Mechanics and Reducing Turbulence in the water and includes a good set of swim drills that are easily included within the Training Programs.

As mentioned earlier there are other area of interest in the book that I use in order to build into a complete training plan, including nutrition and time management. I will now go into these in slightly more detail to give a taste of what you can expect if you are looking at the information within this book as part of you training setup.

Time ManagementTime Management stopwatch

This is the most important part of the book for me apart from the training and swim sessions as it breaks down how to manage you time efficiently in order to meet all you objectives I have written about this in more details on a separate post but in essence it shows how to break you week down from the initial 168 hours which would normally include work, family time, rest, etc and then how to schedule the remaining time to meet you training needs.

Some areas it covers are:

  • Train in Time, Not Miles
  • Indoor Training,
  • Lunchtime Workouts
  • Prearranged arranges Swimming Session i.e. with an existing training group.
  • Early Morning workouts
  • Kit and nutrition preparation for the next day(s) training
  • Setting up a training diary

Heart Rate Training

Heart Rate training logo

This section involves advice on how to set up effective heart rate training so that you train at the correct duration and levels of heart rate activity. It shows how to calculate you maximum heart rate and then takes this into account when setting the sessions in the training programs. Using this technique will ensure that you train within the correct heart rate zones to avoid the wasting of precious energy levels and do not waste time “junk training”, therefore not achieving the full benefit of you training program.

The majority of training for distance events including distance and open water swimming would be utilizing the Aerobic energy system that uses oxygen and stored fat to power physical activity for prolonged periods, with the Anaerobic energy system that uses glycogen (stored sugar) to power physical activity for shorter periods of time. Getting these levels wrong and for instance training too much at the Anaerobic levels or to early at the wrong level before building up you fitness base can lead to burn out, so for me it is a very important area to understand.

Essential Workouts

This is more tailored to specific Ironman training and covers the essential workouts that are basic units of the 30-week training programs, but if you are training for longer distance or open water swims you might find it useful to build some of these into you weekly training schedules in order to build up you overall body strength and fitness. Also, by introducing some of these into a swim program can break up the monotony of just swimming week in and week out. The essential workouts described in detail within the book are:

  • Once per week Long Bike Ride and Long Run
  • Transition Workouts
  • High Intensity Runs and Rides
  • High-rpm Bike Spin Sessions
  • The Swim Sessions described earlier
  • Rest Days (very important)

Equipment Tips

Swim goggles and ear plugsThis section offers advice on the equipment required for each sport within the triathlon, with a detailed section on essential swim equipment including goggles, wetsuits and swim-aids that I have expanded on in a previous post.


Diet Planning

The book contains a detailed but also easily understandable section on diet planning for use during the training programs and also whilst taking part in events so that all you nutritional needs are met to power you training program.

Personally, I have always seen diet planning as a minefield with many competing theories and strategies as to what is the best and any visit to the internet or books on this subject was always apt to always confuse me. I have now found that the Diet Planning chapter in this book, whilst not written by a nutritional expert but based on the author and other triathletes personal experiences, is as good a guide as I have found and as such I have found easy to introduce into my training programs without spending hours fretting about the subject.

Race Strategies and Goal Planning

This area covers strategies on how to get the best out of you races or events, be them full triathlon, ironman or just swim based, and how to plan other events in order to build up for you main race or events of the season. Also, how it is important to set you goals at the start of any race season or training program so that you have something to aim for at the end, allowing you to judge how you plans are proceeding and whether they may need tweaking to attain you goals or indeed if you need to reset you goals. I think the saying is “Failing to plan is planning to fail” and I know from personal experience that this is certainly the case.


So is this a good Ironman Swim Training Plan?Be IronFit Original Publication

It’s my personal opinion after many years setting personal training plans for triathlon, ironman, or other swim based events that the Don Fink Be IronFit book is a quality product and a sound investment as it covers the complete range of subjects required to set up such a plan, more importantly one that is attainable and will allow you meet you goals.

The way that the book is laid out, with separate easy to read chapters covering the individual elements required in setting up such a plan, but also incorporating a very detailed 30-week training program set for different levels of fitness and training times available really takes the guess work out of the process. This makes it the go to guide for me personally and many other swimmers and triathletes that I know.


I hope the above helps and please feel free to leave any comments below.

Happy Swimming!

Open Water Swimmer



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