Working at Thanyapura, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to work with a number of Tri-athletes of all different ability levels…from the novices preparing for their first triathlon to the pros. I like the challenge that Triathlon swimming presents because the approach is very different from pool swimming.
In a pool race, the athletes push as hard as they can. Once the race distance is completed, the event is over. With a Triathlon, it’s just the first leg. Since most Tri-athletes have come to the sport from a cycling or running background, the swim portion tends to be the most challenging. As it is also the first discipline in the race, that poses some unique challenges. You want to get through the swim quickly, but you also need to conserve as much energy as possible for the bike and run. Swimming fast is all about efficiency so the good news is that any small gain made in this area will lead to bigger gains in energy conservation. So even a small drop in swim time should translate to bigger drops on the bike and run legs as well.
How to do that? Get stronger? That’s a popular approach. I’ve seen legions of athletes in the pool swimming with paddles (some the size of kickboards). But I think that is missing the point. If strength were the key, then Arnold Schwarzenegger would have more gold medals than Michael Phelps. That’s not to downplay the use of paddles, or minimize the importance of strength, but improving/using both in swimming should be done in moderation.
So if increasing strength isn’t the answer, what is? Improvements in stroke technique have a much bigger and longer lasting impact on swimming performance than gains in strength. As a triathlete, you’ll get plenty of aerobic work from your cycle and run training (even doing drills in the pool will have some small aerobic benefit).
Now that the Challenge Laguna Tri-Fest weekends are behind us, its time to start looking at what gains you can make in your swimming. My word of advice for you: work smarter, not harder! See my article in 2 weeks for more…!
Thanyapura’s Aquatics Head Coach