Swim notes for the triathlete


June means that triathlon season is in full swing, with people racing almost every weekend and looking to improve that PB. No doubt you will also start to spend more time out at the beach (the TTC swims at Cherry Beach) in order to develop your navigation skills, but with the strange denizens of your local pool is just as important.

Flip turns or closed turns

Maybe you have been doing triathlon for a few years now and you are comfortable in the “washing machine”, but draw a blank when it comes to doing turns in the pool.  It is time to start flip turning or closing your turns at the end of each length.  Closing your turns allows you to maintain your momentum and control your breathing, something that you just can’t do when grabbing on to the side of the pool, taking a big breath and making the turn.  How do you flip turn?  With a little practice, breath control and timing.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a little help from someone else in the pool who seems to be a natural at it for a few pointers.  If flip turns just aren’t in it for you quite yet, or on lengths where your timing is a bit off to execute a flip, just keep your head in the water, touch the side wall of the pool (not the lip) and scoot your feet around.  This closed turn will help you keep a little more of your momentum but more importantly require you to practice good breath control.

Get your kick on

This doesn’t mean grab a flutter board and start doing 200m repeats.  Rather than benefiting your swim, you’ll probably just end up being better at pushing a flutter board (although there are some obvious benefits for cycling and running that come from flutter board lengths).  Take a few moments to watch others in the pool and note how well (or not) they are kicking.  Note the slower swimmers will often have a kick cadence that mimics their stroke, slow, long and drag inducing.  Do a couple reps of 50 meter front crawl and focus on kicking small and quickly, at a cadence completely independent of your arms.  Activate your core with a little back arch and some extra stretch in your stroke and picture your feet just breaking the surface of the water.  You’ll find that your body will be a little higher in the water, and the improved hydrodynamics will pay off with extra speed. Plus your legs will be better prepared for T2 and the bike leg.

Fix your breathing

When I first got back into swimming I found it very difficult to get enough air in and would often struggle to breathe.  Bilateral breathing drills helped but I would still find myself gasping, especially as the distances climbed and the pace quickened.  Swimming requires controlled exhalation in order that you can breath deep and re-fill those lungs.  Try this escalation set, and in between breaths, slowly exhale into the water, trying to empty your lungs in the time between strokes.

50m front crawl breathe every stroke, 50 bilateral, 50 breath every 3 strokes, every 4, every 5, every 6, every 7, every 8, every 9.  At 9, you should be up to one breath per lap.  It is important not to hold your breath and for this drill and to bring the pace down to medium-slow.  It is all about the breathing.

Test yourself

Every month, at about the mid-point of a workout in the pool, do some testing.  Front crawl, 100m all out, 200m all out and 400m all out.  Write down your times using the lap clock or your watch for reference and check back in each month.  If you are sticking to your program you will either see your pace times reduced or it will become easier to do/less stressful.  Or both. For those doing longer than sprint, make your time trial 1000m.

Learn butterfly

Finally, learn how to butterfly.  Or breast stroke.  Or back stroke.  Bring some variety to your training, use some different muscle groups and just break up your workout a bit. You will be a more literate swimmer and will have some other strokes on hand for workout variety and race day tactics.

Where is that picture from? http://www.toronto.ca/archives/rules/beaches.htm


coaching for road racers, triathletes, charity riders and mountain bikers