Swimmer at London Triathlon
Swimmer at London Triathlon
Training > Swim

22 steps to a better triathlon swimming technique

Mario Mola's coach Joel Filliol, who also guided Simon Whitfield to 2008 Olympic silver, explains how to improve your swim with tips on everything, from breathing and wetsuit choice to technique and training

1 OPEN ARMPITS

To improve propulsion, you want to keep your armpits open when your catch hand is pointing at the bottom. That helps with a high elbow.

2 HIGHER STROKE RATE

Bands or inner tubes teach you to swim with a higher stroke rate. You can’t swim with a slow rate because pauses are too long between strokes. It’s a good training drill for open water because you don’t want long strokes associated with the pool.

3 SHORT AND SWEET

Advanced triathletes can extend drill distance but beginners and improvers should keep them short 

4 KEEP IT SIMPLE

If you need to write your swim session down on the white board or paper, it’s too complicated. Keep it simple and sweet. Do 25m lengths and have a rest. This can still be taxing for some. If so, add a pull buoy to add flotation.

ADD DRAG

You can improve propulsion further by attaching a swim parachute to your waist (Try Finis, £19, simplyswim.com). They create resistance through the water so build strength. But they’re also useful to improve body position, as well as making you aware of activating the correct catch technique. You could also drag along a sponge or wear drag shorts.

PADDLE TECHNIQUE

Paddles are great for strength work but you should also use them for ingraining good technique. How? Take the wriststrap off so the paddle – which should be just larger than your hand – is only held on by your fingers. It requires you to keep pressure from the hand to paddle through the stroke. Finis Agility paddles work in the same way.

ROTATE DRILLS

Rotate swim tools for adaptation and interest. You might do bandwork in the warm-up and pull in the main set. Or some swim parachute in the warm-up, then your main set and then more parachute at the end.

GO LONG

You won’t swim fast and be fresh off the bike if you rarely complete main sets with the same or higher volume and pace than you expect in the race. For Olympic-distance, you’re looking at around 2km; Ironman 4km or more. That said, you can break that 2km down into 20 x 100m.

MORE, MORE, MORE

It’s obvious but swim more often, even if it’s just an extra 20mins each week. Frequency is so powerful for swimming. When sessions are too far apart, you lose that day-to-day learning.

10 TRAIN SMART

Maximise time by running to the pool and then swimming. Or swim and then head into the gym for a spin session. That said, don’t swim too much after other sessions as technique is initially learnt best when you’re not too fatigued.

11 DON'T OVER THINK IT...

... and don’t under think it. So be engaged with what you’re doing in the water, and use tools to help you establish a better feel for the water. But don’t over think every stroke, and suffer from paralysis by analysis. Swimming fast is about rhythm and flow, when good technique becomes automatic.

12 UPPER STRENGTH

You must have good upper-body conditioning and you won’t get that by walking or running. Swimming and bodyweight exercises will add conditioning, which ultimately will help when training technique.

13 BAND WORK

Tubing or therabands are a great way to practise front crawl. Just doing that on its own, or before and after swimming, 2mins every day, will create good technique. We do that, 5mins every day, for muscle patterning before diving into the pool.

14 ALL ABOUT FIT

Key to wetsuits are fit and flexibility. Hike it up from the bottom and give yourself a wedgy! There shouldn’t be huge swathes of excess material. When it’s dry, you should be able to put your arms over your head without any stretch whatsoever in your armpits.

15 NECK CHECK

Make sure the neck fits properly. People’s neck shapes can be quite different, and you don’t want water coming in too easily. When purchased, this is also an area you should lube up to stop chafing.

16 LOW HEAD

It’s all too common that an age-grouper will lift their head too high, especially when breathing in open water. Head down means feet up. So keep your head low and just out of the water when breathing.

17 GET WET

Wetsuits are meant to be wet on the inside, so you can only judge when swimming in one. Ideally, you should get in the water at a OW session before you buy your suit.

18 TEST SETS

There are many ways to measure swim performance including a repeated set where you measure your time for a set distance. You can also measure stroke rate from a device called a Tempo Trainer Pro from swim brand Finis
(www.finisinc.com), which secures beneath a swim cap and transmits an audible tempo beep.

19 GROUP TRAINING

The UK’s blessed with great OW venues, so go along with a group. We do that with our triathletes, so they can practise open-water skills like swimming close to each other and drafting.

20  “CAN I KICK IT?” SLIGHTLY…

Learn how to swim with a light kick – a two-beat kick – to add balance and improve your rhythm. Short fins can help as they can provide awareness of the kick.

21 BILATERAL BREATHING

Every swimmer should have the ability to swim on both sides; it’s especially important if the sun is strong and there are big waves. That said, many find their best race rhythm comes from breathing to one side. Still, learn bilateral for sighting even if you predominantly breathe to one side.

22 LIGHT FUELLING

Many athletes swim very first thing in the morning and won’t eat anything beforehand. That’s fine but have a coffee to keep up your focus and engagement. We also have athletes with a bottle on deck, sipping on a light carb solution.


 
 

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