Improve or ignore swimming?
A few weeks back I went to a swim camp with my club SPIF Triathlon. It was really a great set up with two extremely knowledgeable swim coaches and a great program with lots of technic as well as some really hard sets. I really learned a lot!
”Who wants to be fast in the water?”
Some triathletes think that I have a past as a swimmer – but any real swimmer would see in 5 seconds that I am just a triathlete trying to stay alive in the water.
My background is not in swimming its rather in skiing, skateboarding, martial arts, rock climbing and windsurfing. When I decided to start with triathlon at the age of 26 I joined a local swim group to learn to swim freestyle and was lucky to meet a coach that got me to learn the right technic first – even if I could only swim 25 meters at the time. To this day I never do a swim session without working on technic and I think the importance of always further developing and marinating technic is the main difference with biking and running. Sure, you need good technic in those sports too – but I think everyone knows what I mean and we have all seen people with a pretty dodgy running technic pull off a <35min 10k but I am sure that no-one has seen a swimmer with poor water position and bad efficiency do a <18min 1500m.
My experience is that if you have a decent technic you can very easily do the 3,860m in 50-55min without to much effort. If you dont have it – you can work your little heart out and finish the swim in >70min.
Swimming requires much more thinking and focus than running and biking and many triathletes I have seen who have a tendency to just go hard have real difficulties getting under an hour in the ironman distance swim. As a consequence they lose patience and start going around justifying that the swim is so small part of the race and it would take so much time to get faster that I rather spend the time on bike and run training. Its easy to favor the sports that are more fun (the ones that you are better at).
Here are a few reasons I think its important to get the swimming right:
- If you are effective in the water you will not only gain 10-15 minutes – you will also get out of the water without to much fatigue.
- If you are fast in the swim you will get out with faster people and not having to pass so many as if you have a big difference in bike speed compared to your swimming – you will not have to do hundreds of intervals to follow the drafting regulations.
- You can practice and improve your oxygen uptake when you practice 3-5-7-9 breathing – something that you will have advantage of in all three sports. (can also be practiced running or biking but I find that using duct tape over your month is less practical than simply reducing your alternate breathing rhythm in the pool…)
- It’s more fun to be decent at all the tree sports that comprice a triathlon than to really dread (suck at) one of them.
- Get a swim coach to work with you – there are many really good ones nowadays and just a few sessions can have big impact if you listen and continue with the drills to improve your technic.
- Join a club who has a swim coach and ask for advice on your technic – focus on one improvement at the time, get it right and move to next improvement.
- Add a few extra sessions of swimming per week as recovery training. Those sessions are purely pleasure and you should only work on drills and the other strokes than freestyle – to get more comfortable in the water. I find that swimming, as a recovery session, is much better than complete rest.
- Get working on your ankle flexibility – most of us who run and bike a lot have ankles that dont extend much more than 90°…. Get them to 180° and you will reduce substantial amount of drag.
Good luck and swim smooth!