Many triathletes have a love/hate relationship with the swim.
If you’re lucky enough to come from a swim background, it comes naturally and with seemingly little effort.
But if you haven’t grown up in swim squads, or it’s been a few years between regular and more serious dips, then it’s definitely something you need to work on a bit more to feel confident and competent.
No matter where you currently sit though, there are some keys to elevate your swim performance.
Consistency is key, plain and simple. The more sessions you put in, the better your outcomes on race day.
If you’re racing in open water (as most triathlons are) then make sure you get type that practice in. It’s not just the choppy water and navigating but staying on feet, practising porpoising for entry/exit and getting whacked around by some teammates are critical.
As convenient as the local pool may be to get your volume in, swimming with your head up into headwind chop is a far different beast to following that black line.
Make it spicy
There’s no point always jumping in and turning your arms over easy – races are hard – and especially that red line to start the race as you try to find some clear water. Throw in some sprints to build speed, and include some really tough sessions – something like a 100m hard followed by a 400m solid race pace. Repeat this 3 times with a long rest in between – it’s a tough set but great race replication.
Speaking of spicy…
Throw in some butterfly.
Yep, it’s hard, but guaranteed it will make you strong for less time spent in the pool. If you can pull out a decent (mini) butterfly set there is zero chance that you will be swimming poorly. For those without a swim background, learning butterfly and other strokes can help develop a ‘feel’ for the water, utilise other muscles, help with mobility, and will make life more interesting in the pool.
Practice the small things
Tumble turns may not feature in an open water swim – but trust me – if you can’t tumble-turn you are making your swimming life that much harder and squads will be much less fun.
Learn the lingo
While not strictly related to swim performance, knowing how to read the unique language of a swim set on a whiteboard (abbreviations, brackets etc) will give you confidence to spend less energy deciphering and more energy actually swimming, and at the very least you’ll sound like you know what you’re doing.
I can’t tell you how many non-swimmers I have watched who make their life hard and are easily adding 10 secs per hundred by their inability to properly lift their arms above their head and get into the most basic of streamlines.
This isn’t about making up time off the wall, but if you don’t have this basic range of motion in your shoulders and lats, then you aren’t taking full advantage of your strength. It’s literally free speed. Including even 10 minutes of shoulder, lat and pec stretching a few days a week will make more difference than you can imagine.
Get strong and play with toys
Swim paddles and swim buoys can make swimming easier (or faster) but used properly they will also build strength. Plus using a few pool toys is a good way to break things up and maintain interest in a longer swim set. Just don’t overuse them or rely on them – as soon as you feel you just can’t do a set or session without a pull buoy or paddles – you know you’ve gone too far.
Here's a punchy little set suitable for most levels of swimmer, make it as hard as you want by upping the intensity of the tempo and sprints.
400 mixed easy
4 x 100 IM
3 x [ 4 x 50 (25 hard 25 easy)]
400 FS with pullbuoy and paddles, tempo]
(1 min rest in between sets)
200 mixed easy.