From the BarryS Coaching Training Library

3 Keys to Improve Your Triathlon Swim

by Mike Jotautus

By training your weakness as a triathlete, you get to race your strengths more effectively.

At TriMasters Swimming we match our season and training cycle according to the North American triathlon season.

At the time of this writing it is early October which signals a transition to the off-season. Most of our athletes are fresh off of a season-ending A race and we always encourage a couple or few weeks of recovery and downtime. Time out from highly-structured weekly plans and workouts, and time out from the pressures of an impending race day or goal event.

The off-season, however is merely a time to shift gears and not drop training all together. For the lifelong highly competitive swimmer or athlete, this is not news. But in my experience of working with Age-Group triathletes the vast majority did not compete in their youth on an elite level - whether it be a competitive high school sport, club team, or NCAA collegiate team.

For the majority of Age-Group triathletes swimming is the weakest link in the sport, and for this reason we encourage triathletes to put focused energy into improving their swim in the off-season.

Over the course of a 12-month year, we take a three-pronged approach to either a) start a new age-grouper off on the right foot, or b) help the experienced age-grouper level-up their swimming next season.

Here's a breakdown of the specific elements of swim training we focus on with our coached athletes:

Fall/Winter: Improving Stroke Mechanics

The Fall/Winter off-season starts with detailed video analysis of the athlete's stroke mechanics. From an initial underwater filming session we can identify their Top 3 mechanical or technique elements to focus on for the upcoming block of swim-specific training. This typically includes elements such as:

  1. Low sinking legs
  2. An inefficient catch & pull
  3. Inability or inefficient bilateral breathing,
  4. Out of water functional strength, mobility and motor control
  5. A consistent practice schedule
  6. A simple swim test to measure the athlete's general fitness

In swimming we emphasize that volume creates fitness and frequency creates skill. Since swimming is by far the most technique-dominant sport of the three sports in triathlon, this period is the time to hone the athlete's skillset - this is best accomplished by routine practice and repetition.

Winter/Spring: Pacing and Threshold Training:

In the Winter and Spring we begin to dovetail in training that improves fitness alongside of skill. The key strategy during this phase is to implement consistent and focused lactate threshold-based training. The purpose of this is for the athlete to learn pace awareness and how to avoid the tendency to start too fast.

It is also encouraged that athletes train in a group training setting such as our Swimming group sessions. It's a great opportunity to develop camaraderie with other triathletes and create accountability for yourself with your cohorts and the coach. It's also an environment where you'll push yourself harder than you would if training alone. If you want to level-up your game, this is the place that will help you do it.

Sprint/Competitive Race Season: Open Water Strategies and Skills

The late Spring brings with it some early season races and the need to prepare for Open Water swimming. Since triathletes still spend most of their time training in a pool, we start incorporating Open Water techniques as early as late February and early March. Setting up a successful race season involves:

  1. Testing equipment; wetsuits (full-sleeve, sleeveless, swim shorts…personal preference and based on individual needs/mechanics)
  2. Developing effective sighting technique
  3. Improving open water navigation
  4. Exposing athletes to varying open water conditions
  5. Regular (weekly) open water group training sessions
  6. Simulating real open water and race conditions often

To summarize; we always try to impress upon athletes that the off-season is not the time to for the triathlete to forget about the swim.

When it's too cold to ride or run outside get yourself to the pool to take your swim skills to the next level. This will later give you more time freedom for the bike and run when it matters most. When most of your peers are freaking out on the lakeshore before that first race you'll feel calm, collected and confident in your swimming skills.

Remember, by training your weaknesses you get to race your strengths more effectively.

See you at the pool!

– Coach Mike


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