Swimming is one of the most challenging aspects of being a triathlete. It’s a great way to recover and pile on aerobic training when the biking and running becomes too much, but actually building swimming fitness is another project altogether. Some folks spend a lifetime — or at least the better part of their first 20 years on this planet — striving to reach their potential.
You, on the other hand, only have a few seasons of triathlon in you to get as good as you can. Inside Endurance Nation, we advise you against setting out to climb the entire mountain of swim fitness, as the sheer amount of time required to improve is outside the realm of possibility. Instead, we advocate you take time off for the winter, investing the extra hours into sleep, home tasks or even active recovery from quality outseason bike and run sessions.
If you have taken time off from swimming, whether you planned it or not, here’s a road map to getting your swim mojo back.
Don’t think in terms of X yards per week, but rather X amount of work to be ready.
#1 — It’s Not About the Yards
It’s all too easy to fall into a plan that just spits out training sessions and yardage because it gives you something to do. Heck, these plans are crazy easy for coaches to write; all you have to do is add a few parentheses and the workout times/distances double! But the allure of yardage doesn’t necessarily correlate to swim fitness.
Just counting yards won’t get you ready to race. But getting back in the water will. Place your focus on building technique first, fitness second, and you’ll be on a much improved path.
On a macro level, this translates to the first 4-6 weeks of your re-entry. During this time, you are swimming 2-3 times a week and the bulk of the work you are doing is drills and mindful swimming (slow, and deliberate).
On a micro level, this translates to a regular swim warm up that you develop at the beginning of your season. This will become compressed as your focus eventually begins to switch more to fitness (anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks prior to your A race), but the focus points should be the same. This makes it easy to remember and improves the chances that you’ll actually do it.
In other words, create your own swim workout “ritual.” Think of it as the 6 or 8 or 10 steps you take every time you swim before you are ready to swim. Just like you drive to the pool, find a locker, put on your suit, shower off, pick a lane, etc…you can develop a process for good swimming prepararation. Here’s an example 500 warm up.
- Swim 100 easy, very slow pace and low effort.
- Swim 100 as 25 stroke, 25 free.
- Drill 200 as 4 x 50.
- Swim 100 easy, very slow pace and low effort.
#2 — Get Educated / Advised
Summary: Improving your swim is a serious undertaking. Doing so on your own is downright daunting. Prepare for this challenge by really doing your research; and don’t be afraid to talk to your fellow triathletes…even they have to deal with the swim!
Advice: First identify what type of “learner” you are. Some folks are highly visual, so watching videos of good swimming is helpful. Others are more hands on and need to be physically manipulated into the right position (and reminded!). Some triathletes are very intellectual and just get better by reading about proper swimming…really. A visually oriented learner could:
- Scour the inter-webs and YouTube for free videos.
- Shop Amazon for triathlon swimming video resources.
- Ask A Friend to Film You, or find a service such as The Athlete Village.
- Consider a swim workshop, from Total Immersion to SwimFast, and now even some new swimming membership websites.
- You can always go private with a 1:1 swim instructor.
#3 — Get Race Specific Fast
Summary: The temptation of many a novice swimmer is to do just what the swimmers do. So you join a masters swim group and end up banging out lots of 50s and 100s, including tons of other strokes. These are very “interesting” workouts, as in you won’t get bored, but they aren’t going to help you get ready for your race.
Advice: Your goal on race day is to be able to swim as well as you can for as long as you can. Hoping, of course, that the actual course is shorter than your current swim fitness!
- Swimming solo is just fine right now; save the adrenaline for race day.
- Include one “longer” swim set per session. Yes shorter sets allow you to maintain form, but they also don’t allow you to learn to swim tired. Get the best of both worlds by putting both into any given workout. For a Half Iron athlete, this set could be anywhere from 500-1000 yds of continuous swimming and/or pulling (pull buoy); for an Ironman athletes the distance could go up to 2000 yds.
Of course, you can also complement your swimming with a Dryland Focus, choosing to master critical skill that you can then take to the pool. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you are consistent and that you resist biting off more than you can chew. Be measured and deliberate in your approach and you’ll see results before you know it!
Please note the Swim Membership Link above is an affiliate link, so I get some of the proceeds if you do decide to buy something. I definitely recommend this course if you’re looking to change your swimming for the better in 2010. Kevin’s one of the best and his new site is very impressive.