“Helpful tips on how you can improve your Triathlon swim. Read it now!”
Does this sound familiar?
You’ve done your laps at the pool diligently all winter long and have gotten into rather good shape; the best shape you’ve been in, in years! Sure your swim technique may not be the best, but still, you’ve done the work and can confidently swim a mile in the pool with no problem. You’re looking forward to your first Tri of the season. The gun sounds…
• Scenario #1. Fifty yards into the swim… “Oh my God the water is cold. Crap, my goggles just fogged up. I can’t see anything except the blinding sun. Oh, God, there is a lot of thrashing going on around me! That jackass just kicked me in the face. OMG the water is cold, even in this new wetsuit, which by the way is tightening around my throat. I can’t even extend my arms. The Velcro strap is tearing away my flesh. I can’t breathe! I need air… #*!#%*…. I’m going to drown. PANIC. Where’s the life guard? Get me out of here.”
• Scenario #2. Fifty yards into the swim… “I am so glad I warmed up. I fixed those foggy goggles and readjusted my wet suit; I got my heart rate up and my blood flowing. I am really feeling the buoyancy of this new wet suit. I am flying by all the rookies out here. There’s the first buoy. It’s time to churn.”
#1. Avoid panic by warming up.
Panic, a frequent complaint in open water swims, happens to some of the strongest and ablest of swimmers. The best way to prevent panic is to get an adequate warm-up. The swim warm-up is the most disregarded of the essential pre-race activities. Unfortunately, the nature of the venue or the size of the field sometimes prevents triathletes from warming up, but if at all possible, get in, get moving and get acclimated to the cold. Not only will you get your cardiovascular system ready for the impending start, but you can test your goggles and wetsuit for mechanical problems.
#2. Swim horizontally in a streamlined manner – Water presents incredible resistance. To minimize this resistance (drag) you need to be as straight as an arrow. Your toes should be pointed and legs should be high in the water and close together. Keep your knees and ankles bumping each other while they float behind in the slipstream created by your head and torso. #2. Swim horizontally in a streamlined manner – Water presents incredible resistance. To minimize this resistance (drag) you need to be as straight as an arrow. Your toes should be pointed and legs should be high in the water and close together. Keep your knees and ankles bumping each other while they float behind in the slipstream created by your head and torso.
# 3. Don’t kick so furiously. Please stop kicking, especially with bent knees (bicycle kick). A powerful kick will certainly help good swimmers swim faster, but without good technique, kicking will slow you down, deplete your oxygen, and, ultimately, make you hate swimming. I tell struggling swimmers to stop kicking altogether and to practice with a pull buoy to improve your horizontal position and to eliminate your legs from the equation. Almost immediately, you will notice that it’s much easier to swim without the added resistance of thrashing legs and with the extra oxygen normally lost to them. Once the proper horizontal position is achieved, try to develop a proper kick which begins at the hips with propulsive forces traveling down the leg like a whip. It’s OK to use fins, but I recommend the longer fins rather than the short ones. Your knees will bend some, but the less so the better.
#4. Rotation – Just as in swinging a golf club or baseball bat, the power stroke in swimming is driven by rotation of the hips and is transmitted through the entire body from toes to fingertips. In addition to making it easier to breath because your head rotates with your body out of the water, the hip (and shoulder) rotation powers the underwater stroke where propulsion originates. When your right arm begins the pull, your right hip and shoulder should rotate out of the water powering the stroke. If you are swimming “flat”, without rotation, you will have less power and your body will naturally bend sideways at the hips to assist arm recovery creating more drag.
#5. Eliminate the arm crossover – An efficient “catch” initiates the power stroke. It should begin directly in front of your shoulder, not in front of your head, or worse, in front of your opposite shoulder. First problem: crossing over causes lateral movement of the hips which destroys your streamline, and 2nd, during the power stroke with a crossover, you push water sideways rather pulling and then pushing water from directly in front of you to directly behind you. The opposite problem, equally bad, is pulling too wide. During a proper pull, the path of your thumb should trace your midline. Do this with a slightly bent elbow, fingertips pointing down, but do not cross over the midline.
#6. Keep your head aligned with your spine. Triathletes who struggle with swimming complain that their legs sink. And they do! To overcome this, work on proper head position and use a pull buoy. Push your chest down. Your eyes should be looking straight down at the black line, not where you are going. (Open water swimming requires some additional visual skills – see below). The water line should be on the crown of your head, not on your forehead. Keep your forehead in the water at all times and keep one goggle in the water during the breath. More at The Top Ten Ways to Improve Your Triathlon Swims