The real beauty of triathlon is the three sports themselves. Importantly, it is the combination of the three sports that provides the biggest challenge and benefit to the athlete. Training for all three sports assists us triathletes stay in the sport longer than athletes of a single sport. Also, the combination and variation of training for three sports actually assists each of the other sports.
This cross-over benefit is a little more obvious in the bike-run components of our sport. However, swimming is the sport that brings it all together – unfortunately most triathletes don’t make this connection and see the swim as a necessary evil.
Many triathletes see swimming as just the horrible bit to get through before the race starts or something along these lines. With this mindset it is easy to see why the swim session is skipped first – far more important to get more run kilometers. Also why the swim session itself is given such little focus – just get in the pool and notch up laps. It is also why those that believe they can’t swim just can’t see any improvement even after years of trying (but not the right type of trying).
If this is you, please take this quick imagination exercise... Imagine putting your wetsuit on feeling confident and excited about the open water swim ahead. Looking out over the water to pick out the best lines to swim. Looking around to see where you will start in the group and knowing it will be the right decision. Taking off with a strong, but calm stroke you quickly find a good set of feet to hold for the first 500m and when they start to slow down you patiently wait for another set of feet to swim past. You easily increase stroke rate to pick up the new feet and settle in to a good rhythm. Rounding the first buoy you check your watch and are comfortably on track. You feel you can swim faster but know you are better served to hold the feet in front. You now have time to go through your T1 plan in your head. Sighting the beach finish you slow your arm rate down and increase your kick speed to get the blood into your legs. You swim to the beach passing competitors who stood up too early. Your wetsuit is around your waist and you feel great running up the beach to your bike. That’s a swim PB!
Swimming this way is a great feeling and will change the way you view triathlon completely. You will now be riding with better cyclists and your bike split will be faster and easier. Running off the bike will also feel better.
To run fast – you must be a stronger cyclists; and to cycle stronger you must be a better swimmer. This is the beauty of triathlon.
“So, what are the secrets of swimming?” I hear you screaming. Well if you have read this far you deserve to know the key 7 secrets of swimming.
Swim secret number 1: Feel for the water
Many of you would have heard this before. Let me tell you that for years I heard coaches yelling this and just had no idea what they were on about. Then one day I felt the water and it changed my swimming forever. How do you find the feel for the water? Front skull – both elbows at water surface level and in front of shoulders and fingers pointing to the bottom of the pool, hands moving in and out (not breaststroke). Backstroke is also useful in finding your feel for the water.
Book into our Drill Master class to learn how to front scull and ultimately feel the water.
Swim secret number 2: Swim slow to swim fast
Again many of you will have heard this before. Again let me say that when you truly understand this concept it will change your swimming for ever.
Lets say you swim between 18min and 22min for 1km. That’s 2min/100m if you take the mid-point. The majority of your swimming should be at 2:15-2:30min/100m. What! I can’t swim that slow - I’ll drown. This is the component you need to understand in order to swim slow to swim fast.
A triathlon buddy of mine has spent years getting himself super-fit. To his credit he trains hard and consistently. His bike and run have continued to improve year on nyear. Yet, he had essentially accepted his swim as a medium to to poor swimmer. Last winter I finally got him to listen and slow down. A few months later he astounded himself with the ease he now swam at a faster pace than he had ever swum before.
Swim secret number 3: Strength is critical
Water is 1,000 times denser than air – well 784 times to be precise. There are simply way more molecules to push or pull yourself through. So, you will need more muscle strength. If you don’t include both dry land strength exercises as well as in water strength swimming every week you will not improve.
Both are required yet most triathletes ignore both dry-land and water based strength components. Simple exercises shown here will improve your swimming strength. In the water you should be swimming with baggy jeans shorts or pulling a towel behind you or at least doing pull-buoy and band work or next level band only work.
Swim secret number 4: Why we swim?
When you understand that triathlon of any distance is an aerobic sport and the best way to improve your aerobic capacity is to swim you will have learnt the real reason triathletes swim. This means more time in the pool is never, never-ever, never-ever-ever wasted.
All the top level coaches work towards a rough 20-25% time allocation to swimming. So a swim 25%, bike 50% and run 25% is very common. What does your allocation look like?
If you would like help with your training planning, phases and allocation please book a chat with us or join our Endurance+ program, you dont have to join the Studio
Swim secret number 5: Swimming responds to frequency
That’s frequency, not to be confused with volume, distance or laps. Simply swimming more often will make you a better swimmer even if you keep the total time the same. Frequency ties closely into swim secret number 1 – Feel for the Water. Swimming more often will get you that feel for the water and keep it.
As a general rule never let two days go past without swimming. Or swim at least every other day. Or better yet, find a double swim day. This is much easier than it sounds if you can combo an afternoon indoor cycle with a quick swim off the bike at seacstudio.com.au (warning: another shameless plug!)
Swim secret number 6: Drills and hypoxic swimming work
There are coaches and articles out there that disregard drills and suggest you are just better to spend the time swimming. That may be the case if your event is three weeks away and you want to make sure you can finish the swim. However, if you are trying to improve your swim or your PB over a given distance then you must do your drills.
Choose drills that are simple to understand and will give you direct feedback to your stroke and improving it. Stroke analysis is required here. But in the meantime good old fashioned catchup drill is still the best.
Hypoxic swimming is simply a derivative of swim secret number 4 – why we swim. Hypoxic swimming especially in the warm-down will improve your aerobic capacity. Yes you will look stupid and you will have to slow down and swim at the pace described in swim secret number 2 but it will make you a better swimmer.
Swim secret number 7: Tumble-turn
Yes – tumble turn. Every lap of every swim. Yes, you know who you are – I am looking straight at you! You were told three or more years ago to learn to tumble-turn. But you were so focused on swimming more laps in the short swim time you had to bother with the stupid tumble-turn. There is no tumble turns in a triathlon swim right? Wrong!
Tumble-turns are critical to rule 1, rule 2, rule 3, rule 4, and yes rule 5, and even rule 6. They make every swim you do a more efficient use of your time. It teaches feel for the water, adds strength (push-off the wall), and even hypoxic building aerobic capacity as you dolphin underwater.
These two video's will help...
Short 2 min video
Longer 4 min vid with extra exercises
It takes a few concerted efforts to learn and then a lifetime to perfect so get started this afternoon.
Hope this helps. I am always happy to take your questions or your feedback in the comments section below. If you would like to get the practical application of these secrets book into any of our swim classes.