5 Easy To Follow Tips For A Faster Triathlon Swim!

Photo Credit:  Helen Cogan

Photo Credit: Helen Cogan

Everyone is looking for that fast fix or magical pill to make them a better swimmer. Unfortunately, those don’t exist! If you want to get better you need to put in the work, but you need to put in the work the proper way. These tips will help guide you to the next level in your triathlon swimming!

1) Find A Swim Instructor To Teach You The Basics!

If you are new to swimming, you will quickly come to realize that no matter what sport you come from and no matter how fit you are none of it matters in the water. You cannot brute force your way to a fast swim. Swimming is a sport that requires a knowledge of basic technique or form. So instead of heading to the pool and flailing, find a coach to teach you the basics. Why struggle more when you don’t have to? Find a coach and learn the fundamentals!

2) Swim... A Minimum Of 3 Times Per Week!

Chances are you did not swim in high school or college so you do not have decades of competitive swimming under your belt. Once you have found a coach to teach you the basics, your next step should be to build an aerobic swim base. If you are only swimming 1-2 times per week, then it is going to take you a lifetime to get that base. A general rule of thumb is that 2 days a week is only enough to maintain where you are at. It generally takes 3 or more days of swimming per week to see real improvement. If you are swimming 3 times a week you will improve slowly over time, but for faster progress in your swimming you should aim to be in the water 4 or more times per week. I recommend using the off season and preseason to load up on swim workouts. As the season approaches, you can drop your swims per week down to 3. This allows for accelerated progress in the off season without taking time away from running and biking. Then, slower but continued gains, will happen throughout the season for your swim. Following this plan will have you more than ready for your first triathlon and you will likely see more improvement than you’ve ever seen in one season!!

3) Interval Train!

When you first start swimming, you will likely just get in and swim until all the pieces start to click together. However, you will quickly hit a plateau and swimming like that can be really boring. If you want to increase your speed then once you have the fundamentals down you need to start interval training. This means you will need to add structure to your workouts. You will do different sets on different times. So instead of doing 30 minutes non-stop, you might do a warm up, then some drills, then a main set that is like 10x100 @ 2:00 holding goal sprint triathlon pace or effort, and finally a cool down. Sets like this will start forcing you to pick the pace up and work harder. Since you are getting rest after each effort, your technique will not completely fall apart. Think of pool interval training like your track workout for running. You are swimming in a controlled environment in which you are going to do efforts the same pace or faster than your race pace. You are training your body to go faster! This will not only build significant aerobic capacity but it will teach you how to move your body at different speeds. Most importantly though, it will challenge you and make your workouts fun. This does not mean to remove those long slow swims completely. If you are swimming 3 times per week, then at least two of your sessions should incorporate this type of training and the third can be your long slow distance day. It is time to make your workouts fun again, add in interval training!

4) Kick, Kick, Kick!

Just about every single triathlete in the world dreads kicking. I have heard just about every excuse why they think they do not have to kick. Unfortunately for triathletes, improving your kicking will make you more efficient balanced swimmers. When kids learn to swim, the first skill they learn is kicking, because it is the foundation of swimming. If you can’t kick, it is very difficult to improve your body position in the water which means you are constantly working against the water instead of letting the water work for you. It won’t just help you in the water, kicking has benefits outside of the pool. It is a great active recovery exercise that will allow your body to flush out the lactic acid without putting more stress on your bones and joints. This will speed up your recovery time which means you will be able to attack your next bike or run harder than you would have without kicking. It also builds leg strength, boosts aerobic fitness and improves your ankle flexibility. These factors will improve your overall race and will also help prevent injury. Start thinking about the kick as training for your bike and run legs instead of how much you hate it or don’t need it. Once you do this you will start reaping the rewards in all 3 sports!

5) Find A Way To Love The Swim

This is arguably the most important item on the list. Swimming is a mental sport which means having the right mindset is crucial to an athlete’s success. Most triathletes who have no background in swimming initally hate it because it is hard and it is frustrating. No one likes being bad at anything or struggling. I believe this is why many newer triathletes come to the sport with the mindset of I just need to get through the swim to make it to the bike. This is a mindset that sets an athlete up for failure or just a bad swim experience. With this thought process, that triathlete will never reach their full potential because they are basically ignoring an entire leg. Triathletes with this mindset end up struggling through the swim. They have used up so much energy not drowning that their bikes and runs suffer and the overall experience is terrible. The swim is going to be a struggle no matter what. When you are a good swimmer it is a struggle and when you are learning to swim it is a struggle. These are different struggles but if you are going to sacrifice all this time and money to do a triathlon, you should do it properly so you achieve the result you want. Instead of looking at it as “I suck at swimming”, embrace the suck. Be okay with sucking because you won’t be bad forever. Chances are if you start to try to enjoy the swim after 3 to 4 weeks of working on your swim, it will start to become easier. Each workout you will find that you are improving and you are becoming less worried about drowning. You will see rapid improvement just by going to the pool with a good attitude and by not getting frustrated. It means there is a ton of time you can drop with relatively little effort compared to the bike or run. If you are a decent biker and/or runner, then you are probably biking and running 5+ days per week for anywhere from one to eight hours per day. You are working your tail off to drop 15-30 minutes. If you are a subpar swimmer, you will train 3 days per week for 45 minutes to an hour per session and you may drop 15-30minutes. That certainly seems like a much better return on your investment. So if you are one of those athletes who goes to the pool thinking about just swimming to get to the bike or if you hate swimming because you are bad at it, shift the way you think. Embrace sucking and be happy you have so much room for improvement. The amount of time you can drop in the swim will take significantly less effort than your bike/run and you may find that you actually love swimming!

Final Thoughts

Now (the offseason/preseason) is the time to take action! You have a few months to really clean up your stroke and put in the time to get faster before your bike and run volume really pick up. This list will help provide you with some guidance. If you are already embracing most of the tips on this list, then you are probably doing pretty well. If you are stuck and there is something you aren’t doing, give it a try and see what happens. These topics can be very complex so I urge you to put your questions in the comments section. I will answer them to the best of my ability so that you have the best triathlon swim to date! Good luck and just keep swimming!

Remember, Successful Swims Are Built With Endurance!

Craig LewinComment