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It’s common for new triathletes to come into the sport with some knowledge of biking and running, but many people start from scratch in the pool.
Before their first big race, they need to master basic freestyle technique and build endurance to ensure they can finish the swim before the cutoff time. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong!
New triathletes often make some pretty big mistakes when they start swimming. Check out the top five most common slip-ups I see – and how to fix them!
1. Kicking Too Much
In the swimming leg of a triathlon, your goal is to finish without exerting too much effort – you want to be as fresh as possible heading into the bike! One way to save your legs is to de-emphasize your kick during the swim.
Your legs use the most energy and blood flow when you exercise, so scaling back your kick can help conserve energy for later in the race.
In professional swimming races like the 50 or 100 freestyle, you might see swimmers with a six-beat kick (three kicks per arm stroke), which adds some extra power behind the arms. But in a triathlon, you don’t need to kick that hard since you’re swimming longer distances.
Instead, try a two-beat kick (one kick per arm stroke), which helps to keep your hips in proper position, maintains balance, and drives some of your rotation.
2. Only Swimming Freestyle
When you’re just getting started, you may only be able to swim freestyle – and that’s fine. But as you start to improve, it’s important to mix up your training to avoid plateaus. And one way to do that is to vary your strokes during your workouts!
We know what you’re thinking…if your race is freestyle, why swim backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly? The answer is simple: Adding variety builds strength in new ways.
Different strokes challenge your muscles in different ways, and may even work different muscles than freestyle. Incorporating new strokes into your training helps improve your feel of the water, which is important for strengthening your pull and catch.
We aren’t saying you should drop everything and start doing crazy IM training sessions – instead, start incorporating a bit of backstroke during each workout. Try backstroke during your warm up, or swim easy backstroke as active recovery between longer freestyle sets. Learning backstroke is great for triathletes, because if you need to rest during open water races, you can just flip to your back for a few strokes to catch your breath!
For more guidance on workout structure, check out the MySwimPro app!
3. Not Doing Drills
Swimming is all about technique, and if you neglect drills in your training, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Drills allow you to focus on improving a specific aspect of your stroke, which will improve your efficiency and ultimately help you swim faster with less effort on race day.
If your race is in open water, drills will be especially helpful as you begin to practice sighting.
And if you feel that spending time working on drills is taking away from your potential to swim lots of yards during your workout, remember: Quality over quantity. It’s better to swim 2,000 yards with great technique (and some drill work) than it is to squeeze in 4,000 yards and feel your stroke fall apart.
4. Not Doing Interval Training
It’s a common misconception that to improve in swimming, you just need to swim a lot. That can get boring pretty quickly.
Let’s compare to running: You don’t train for a marathon by going out and trying to run 26.2 miles every training session. You mix up your week with tempo runs, long runs and speed work. Swimming is the same!
Instead of heading to the pool and swimming for 30+ minutes straight, try a structured swim workout with a warmup, main set and cool down. Depending on the goal of that day’s workout, you may work on building your aerobic base with longer swims on an interval that gives you ample rest. On speed work days, you might do some shorter rest 100s at your goal race pace.
For extra guidance on structured swim training, check out the MySwimPro app! Enter your best times in the app and MySwimPro Coach will create custom intervals for you for every set in your Workout.
5. Only Swimming in a Pool
When you’re training for a triathlon that includes an open water swim, exclusively swimming in a pool isn’t ideal. If possible, try to get out for an open water swim at least once per week as you ramp up your training.
If you are not able to easily access open water, going for even one open water swim before your race is helpful. It’s important to get familiar with the open water environment, including water temperature, currents, sighting, etc.
Related: How to Swim Straight in Open Water
Open water races can be very overwhelming – with no lane lines, it can become a bit of a free-for-all at the start, with lots of splashing and flailing limbs. Some swimmers end up panicking if they aren’t ready for the chaos.
If your race is wetsuit legal and you plan to swim in a wetsuit, make sure to get in a few practice swims wearing it. Wetsuits affect your buoyancy and can restrict your shoulders if they have sleeves.
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Try This 3,000m Triathlon Swim Workout
If you like this workout, you’ll find more like it in the MySwimPro app!
- Distance: 3,000 yards/meters
- Duration: 51 minutes
- 1×300 Freestyle Easy @ 4:30
- 6×50 Backstroke/Freestyle by 25 @ :50
- 4×50 IM Order* @ :55
*IM Order means to swim one 50 of each stroke in this order: Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle.
- 4×25 Fist Drill @ :30 with fins & snorkel
- 1×200 Freestyle Build @ 2:30
Main Set (2x)
- 6×100 Pull Descend @ 1:15 with paddles
- 1×300 Freestyle Build @ 4:00
1×100 Freestyle Easy @ 1:40
What tips do you have for new triathletes? Share them in the comments! For triathlon and open water focused Training Plans, check out the MySwimPro app. Enter your times and start your personalized Plan in minutes!
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