Don’t Neglect your triathlon swim! – By MSC Head Coach Nick Croft
Let’s get straight to the point. Many Triathletes I know totally neglect their swim prep. Swimming is not as glamorous as getting out on the bike and having all the latest high tech gadgets that go with that discipline and with many triathletes coming from a running background then getting into the swim side of things they may get a big shock as to how confined the training environment is and to repeat the words I heard often ‘find it boring and frustrating’ to say the least added with poor technique plus trying to play catch up as an adult learning to swim it sets up a lot of negativity.
The fitness, yes fitness you gain from proper swim prep will make you a better overall triathlete. Not to mention the mental discipline from the process of churning out the laps. You are fit for what you train for and having good bike and run strength / fitness will not rescue your weak swim if you are not putting in the work and have poor technique. A strong swimming foundation will provide an edge to those not putting water time in, puts less stress on the joints and leave you with more energy for the bike and run. I am talking about those who are training for performance based results. If you just want to complete and just get by and survive the swim – do 2 swims (or less) a week and struggle through parts of the bike and run due to the swim taking its toll.
The massive misconception is that due to the swim being short in comparison to the bike and run and even more so for 70.3 and IM athletes they can skip swimming and ‘bluff’ their way through. The fatigue that comes with this approach into the bike then run adds up and even if you are not the fastest swimmer or best technically – having been training in the water and fitter you will have a more relaxed and controlled swim and come our fresher and be able to have a good bike and run. If you are dropping away in the bike and run and are not putting in the work in the pool coupled with being a weak swimmer then you are probably wasting a lot of energy in the swim leg. You may be in denial. We, as triathletes treat the swim as a ‘warm up’ to the rest of the event but to truly have this as so you need swim fitness.
In my own coaching, I aim to use this as motivation to get athletes backsides in the water and in a swim squad or at least swim programming (if coaching via distance) to follow that is realistic for the fitness level and ability – if not a strong swimmer and it is your weak link get in at least 3 times a week of intense swimming and another easy / relaxed swim as recovery / practice technique using fins and finger paddles. Not enough time? There are dry land options to add to the swim training with using the likes of stretch cords, body weight routine incorporating push ups and dips and getting more flexible. A little circuit with some ab work and core takes about 20 minutes to run through 2-3 times through with cords and is a favourite of mine to use 2 times a week between swim and especially when I travel and cannot access the water as normal.
Let’s face it – we as triathletes are not training like ‘real swimmers’ but we can get some really high intensity done without the tearing up the body that in the same sense as an interval run set for example. You can work your engine anaerobically without that same stress on the body as running does. Recovery in the water is great for the body and after heavy run and bike sessions also. So, take this on board and see what a difference being swim fit makes to your overall triathlon result.