Swimming is a unique form of human movement in that even the best swimmers in human history can hardly hit the speed of a brisk walk. That’s mainly due to the tremendous amount of drag that water places on objects moving through it. There is also the fact that the water you’re moving through is the only thing you have to push against for propulsion.
Both of these facts combined make swimming the most technically challenging and technique dependent event in a triathlon. With that in mind, much of your time spent in the pool will be focused on improving your technique, however, the only way to find out which aspects of your stroke need to be improved is to have someone watch you swim. Do a little research to find a master’s swim group in your area and drop into a practice; most master’s coaches are happy to give feedback on your stroke if you ask them to. If you don’t have a masters group, contact the coach of your local youth swim team and ask to set up a stroke critique session. You certainly don’t need to do this every week, but having your form critiqued in the first week, and then every few weeks after will go a very, very long way.
We understand that this is not possible for everyone, and this plan is structured to help you improve your efficiency in the swim regardless of input from anyone else. We have included plenty of useful tips and drills to ensure you’re ready to rock it come race day! Just like running and cycling, you need to set your training zones. In swimming we like to think in terms of split times per 100m. During your test you will also be counting your strokes. What you should notice is that during your 50m effort your stroke rate will be lower than the last 100m of your 500m effort. Your stroke rate and speed are strongly correlated, so counting strokes per lap can help give you a reference point of pace during those longer efforts.
OPTIMIZING YOUR TRAINING
Practice sighting and swimming in a straight line.
»» Open water is best—it will help alleviate your fears
»» If you can’t find open water, swim in the pool with your eyes closed.
»» Lift your head up slightly every 3-6 strokes and look forward (“sighting”) on the wall or fence of the pool ahead of you.
• Swim in your wetsuit on occasion…even at the pool (rinse well after).
Swim Equipment you will want for training:
- Swimsuit and a wetsuit if you need one on race day
»» Ensure a tight fit with no leaking
»» Apply an anti-fog solution (baby shampoo and spit work just as well as special anti-fog solutions)
»» Two pairs; one clear and one tinted
- Swim cap
SWIM TRAINING AIDS
Flippers (or fins) - Training with fins can help improve your ankle flexibility, body position in the water, cardiovascular conditioning, and the propulsion from your kick. They can also help relieve stress on the shoulders if you need some reprieve from time to time.
Kickboard- Using a kickboard during a kick set allows provides balance and stability, allowing you to concentrate on developing strength and power.
Pull buoy- A flotation device held between the thighs to hold the hips and legs high in the water. Swimming with a pull buoy provides several benefits: improves body position and alignment (especially helpful when performing swim drills), reduces heart rate, respiratory rate, and overall effort/stress, and allows the legs to rest while putting more emphasis on the arms.
Swim paddles- Used to develop upper body strength, as the paddle increases the surface area of the hand, which works the back, chest, arms, and shoulders. Paddles can also be useful for helping athletes develop certain aspects of the stroke, like the catch phase because the paddle allows a better “feel” of “grabbing” the water.
RACE DAY PREPARATION
The most important thing you can do for your race happens before it. Be prepared for anything and everything.
»» Bring two pairs with you that you have worn before race day (tinted/clear)
»» Make sure they fit comfortably and do not leak
»» Use an anti-fog solution
- Lubricant for wetsuit
- PAM works great, but can nullify your warranty. Water-based lubricants are wetsuit safe.
- Spray around your neck and armpits to avoid chafing, and your forearms, wrists and calves to help you get your suit off faster.
- Swim cap
- The race will provide you with one to wear on event day, but it’s a good idea to have an extra one that you can layer underneath for warmth, or buy a neoprene one for especially cold water.
- While you may swim with your goggles over the top of your cap in the pool, you may want to consider changing this for racing (but don’t forget to try it in practice first!). With the thrashing that comes with swimming in a group, it is not uncommon to have your goggles knocked off in a race. If you have your goggles over top of your cap, they can fall off and be easily lost in the water. If you put your goggle straps under your cap they will stay on your head.
- Familiarise yourself with the course and listen to the pre-race briefing.
- Swim to warm-up for 5-10 minutes, if possible and do some bursts of 10-25 yards at nearly full effort at the end of your warm-up.
- Finish ~5 minutes before the gun goes off if possible. If the water is cold, don’t avoid the warm-up, it’s actually even more important! If you don’t get in before the start, it will be a rude shock to the system and you’ll have difficulty controlling your breathing and heart rate.
READY, SET, GO!
- Line-up appropriate with your ability—faster swimmers in the front, slower swimmers at the back or on the sides of the group.
- Find yourself some space—in the middle and three to four rows back are bad places to be…there is no safety in numbers, only chaos!
- Stay calm and relaxed—don’t fight the water.
- Start strong but settle into a comfortable pace after the initial starting “sprint”
- Breathe early and often
- Sight frequently
»» Buoys are not always the best place to sight because of the splashing water (if you make the swim pack) so picking objects like houses, trees, and so forth that are easy to spot can be better to aim for. Generally speaking though, if you’re in the midst of the splashing, it’s highly likely that you’re going the right direction and don’t need to sight as often as if you were swimming alone.
- Draft on the feet or hips of another swimmer to save energy
- Most importantly, keep calm and Suffer on!
EXITING THE WATER
- The transition from water to land is not easy. Blood rushes from your arms and head to your legs and can make you light-headed.
- Make sure you kick a bit harder in the last 200m to get your legs primed
- Stay low and push forward
- Stand up and run only when the water is knee-deep
- Don’t trip—lift your feet over the water (you practice high knees for a reason!)
- Stay calm as you exit the water; don’t sprint all out to T1
- Removing your wetsuit:
»» Practice in advance
»» Unzip your wetsuit and pull it off your arms as you run to transition and let it hang around your waist
»» Take it all the way off in transition—step on the legs and tug your feet out, or pull it down to your calves and pry it off with your hands