It’s pretty easy to spot who the strong swimmers are when you’re watching a triathlon. Their technique is efficient, they know how to navigate currents, and their endurance in the water truly makes them stand out when you see them running toward the bike transition.

But what is it that makes seasoned swimmers that much better at the swim portion of a triathlon? Are they training differently? Does it matter how long they’ve been a swimmer? Is it their gear?

Let’s dive into the reasons in our new video!

1 – Technical Skills:

It’s all about technique, technique, technique. If you don’t have the right technique in swimming, you’re going to totally gas yourself out if you try to muscle it and only rely on your endurance.

The most accomplished swimmers glide effortlessly through the water, their movements streamlined and efficient. Whether it’s the crisp entry of their fingertips, or the fluid extension of their strokes, technique is king.

Because water is 800x more dense than air, a small improvement in stroke technique can have a big impact on how efficiently you move through the water.

If you’re training for a triathlon, you simply cannot just rely on your duration or distance of your swims to help you to swim faster. You really need to incorporate structured interval training into your workouts, and add variety throughout your sets to work on drills that improve your technique.

Whether you’re swimming 1-2x per week, or 8+ times per week, make sure you always focus a good portion of your workout on drills to improve your body positioning, stroke, kick, head positioning, or rotation.

The 3 Strokes & 6 Kicks Drill helps you balance your freestyle stroke and improves your coordination. Take three strokes, then balance on your side for six kicks. Repeat for the given distance (usually 25 or 50 yards/meters)

Focus on driving the rotation with your hips and legs rather than your arms and add a pair of fins to help keep your body position high.

Related: 5 Freestyle Drills for Beginner Swimmers >

2 – Starting Swimming at a Young Age

Many swimmers begin their journey at a young age, learning to navigate the water even before they can walk.

This early exposure to swimming can be a game changer in building your feel and comfort for the water. Since technique is so important in this sport, those years of stroke repetition can really help swimmers develop a dedicated practice.

In contrast, triathletes often come to swimming later in life, missing out on the formative years of skill development.

Related: How To Train For Your First Triathlon Swim >

3 – Structured Interval Training:

Many triathletes struggle with the swim because they aren’t sure how to train for it. The swim is just like the bike and run: You need a training plan!

You should not just swim continuous freestyle back and forth.

The right plan will challenge you and ensure you continue to progress in speed, endurance and technique. It should build up your volume and then taper down as you get close to race day.

Ideally, you’ll be able to fit in 2-4 swims per week, along with your bike and run training. If you’re in need of a swim training plan for your triathlon, download the MySwimPro app! You can sync pre-written personalized workouts to your Apple Watch, Garmin or Wear OS smartwatch.

Check out our plans designed for building endurance and open water racing:

Try This Triathlon Swim Workout!

This pool workout will help prepare you for your open water swim on race day!

Distance: 1,700 yards/meters (1x main set) or 2,600 yards/meters (2x main set)

Warm Up

  • 1×300 Freestyle easy
  • 4×50 IM order
  • 1×200 Pull

Main Set (1x for beginners, 2x for advanced)

  • 4×75 Freestyle (middle 25 work on sighting)
  • 1×400 Pull or Swim
  • 4×50 Freestyle fast

Cool Down

1×100 Freestyle easy

Related: “How I Use MySwimPro to Train for Ironman Triathlons”

4 – Add Variety and Equipment to Swim Workouts:

Swimmers have access to a wide variety of training equipment, from fins and paddles to snorkels and resistance tools.

When you pair these pieces of equipment with the consistency of training in a controlled pool environment, swimmers can really target specific aspects of their technique and strength training during their swim workouts.

In contrast, triathletes who only swim continuous freestyle in the pool or open water, really miss out on the advantages of training with resistance equipment, or incorporating a variety of speed and heart rate zones that come in structured pool workouts.

Related: What Happens When You Only Swim Freestyle All The Time

5 – Measure Your Progress:

In the pool, swimmers have the luxury of detailed tracking and measuring stroke efficiency.

When swimming with a smartwatch, standardized distances and controlled conditions (like a pool) facilitate more accurate readings of speed, stroke efficiency, and endurance.

Triathletes, on the other hand, contend with variables such as open water currents, waves, and water temperature, making it difficult to gauge improvement over time.

6 – The Joy of Swimming:

Ultimately, the joy of swimming fuels swimmers’ success. A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer, and the passion for the sport shines through in every stroke. Whether gliding through the pool or conquering the open water, swimmers revel in the experience, finding fulfillment in the water.

While some swimmers take to open water with full enthusiasm, others have a tough time transitioning from the calm, controlled pool environment to less predictable open water.

Whether you’re worried about big waves, scared of unknown creatures lurking below you, or aren’t comfortable with low visibility, it’s normal to feel nervous during your first few open water swims. 

But don’t let these fears keep you from trying triathlons or open water swimming at all! 

So, whether you’re a seasoned swimmer or just dipping your toes in the pool, remember to swim with a smile and enjoy the exhilarating experience of moving through water with grace and speed.

Related: How to Get Comfortable Swimming in Open Water

Train For a Triathlon With The MySwimPro App

If you’re training for a specific open water race, we recommend starting an open water-focused training plan that will help you build endurance and speed for race day. Check out the MySwimPro app to get a personalized plan for open water races, ranging from 1,500 meters all the way to a 10k! 

Commit to swimming three to four times a week to see the best results.

And while it’s helpful to swim in open water when you can during training, you can absolutely train for open water races in a pool. You can practice sighting and bilateral breathing and add in longer sets that help you build endurance.

Start your personalized training plan in the MySwimPro app! Click here to get started.

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