Jack Burnell swimming in a race
Training > Swim

Six pros share their swim secrets

From crocodile eyes to gym exercises and pool tools, here’s some specialist inside knowledge

Triathlon is one of the few sports where the amateurs still get to mix it with the professionals, on the same day, on the same start line.

We’ve asked a few swim, bike, run and open-water specialists to give us their top tips – just don’t embarrass them by beating them out of the water… 

Cassie Patten, 2008 Olympic bronze medallist

“A lot of people don’t realise that they’re holding their breath for long periods. Take a breath, put your face back in and say the word ‘bubble’ (or ‘bubble, bubble, breathe’, if you breathe every three strokes). By saying the word ‘bubble’ you instantly exhale without thinking and because it’s a calming word, you’re tricking your brain into relaxing and getting rid of anxiety. 

“Also, when you’re sighting, never breathe forwards. Always sight, then turn your head into a breath. If you hold your breath for long periods when you come into transition you’re probably going to be in oxygen debt, and during the first part of the bike you’ll be fighting to get more oxygen in.

Cassie Patten

“If you breathe more naturally to your right, then start on the far left (and vice versa). This allows you to see what’s happening with the other swimmers and also gives you a bit of space to move over if you get into trouble.”

Richard Stannard, seven-time world champion 

“Use a clock, stopwatch or GPS device, as knowing what times you’re swimming and the pace you’re holding is crucial to improving times.

“A common error I see at all levels is to start a set too fast. Try to negative split the main set for endurance and/or threshold sessions. I aim to get faster in the second half of the set and consider it a set wasted if I don’t achieve this.

Richard Stannard coming out of the water

“Finally, think about your technique all the time you’re swimming. It’s particularly important when you’re tired at the end of a set. Studies have shown that if you can focus on your technique throughout a swim set you’ll get faster.”

Jack Burnell, GB international long-distance and open-water swimmer

“Try not to lift your head up and spot where you’re going. The more you swim with your head up, the lower your hips will sit in the water and the slower you’ll be. It’s a fine balance, but use ‘crocodile eyes’ to sight and trust your judgement.” 

Jack Burnell

Dan Halksworth, two-time Ironman UK winner

“Take time to rest the body and then just get in the pool. It doesn’t have to be anything specific at first, but just maintain that feel for the water. Identify any weak areas and previous niggles that you can strengthen over the winter in the gym and the pool.

Dan Halksworth coming out of the water

"A good gym programme doesn’t have to include lifting big weights, but swim-specific pattern exercises will increase strength and lessen the chances of injury. Benching 150kg isn’t always the answer.”

Harry Wiltshire, Ironman triathlete and former ITU racer

“Train with a pull buoy, paddles and band. This forces you to get your cadence up and makes you strong. Use short repetitions to keep your legs high in the water and your arms turning over quickly.” 

Harry Wiltshire coming out of the water

Lucy Gossage, Ironman UK and Ironman Wales champion 

“Forget about going fast, get some stroke analysis and work on your technique for two or three months. This should pay dividends when you start adding in speed work in the spring.”

Lucy Gossage

(Images: Michael Rauschendorfer / Triathlon.org / Remy Whiting / Ryan Bowd)

What are you working on in swim training this winter? Let us know in the comments below!


 
 

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Marc Davies

Excellent and insightful, I am working on speed and stamina to get through 2.4miles sub 1hr

KG

Yeah, holding the breath... definitely something to work on.

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