As a coach, I’m frequently asked by triathletes how they can improve their swim leg. “I’ve tried everything and I just can’t get quicker!” seems to be the most common complaint.
So with that in mind, here are my four tips to help you improve and make you faster:
Step 1: Be consistent
Consistent training is the key to success in all three disciplines of triathlon – especially swimming – as shoulder and back muscles need constant conditioning in order to adapt to the demands of swimming.
Try to maintain at least three training swims a week with quality and structure to each session. Having a specific goal for each session can really help. Endurance, threshold and speed work are the key areas to work on.
All three need to be addressed in order to improve consistently. If three or more sessions per week are not possible due to work or family commitments then even one or two sessions per week will suffice – as long as it every week!
Step 2: Use a clock, watch or beeper
Using some form of timing equipment is vital in order to gauge improvement and assess key areas which need work.
Whether you swim with a squad or on your own, knowing what times you are swimming and the pace you are holding is absolutely crucial to improving your times.
With timers now available that can be set to emit an audible ‘beep’ at just about any interval you require, it is very easy to determine improvements. You can use the timer to show improvements over a single length down to a single second with incredible ease.
Tip 3: Learn to negative split
A common error at all levels, from beginner to professional triathlete, is to start a session or set of work far too fast. Try to adopt negative splitting for the main set during endurance or threshold sessions. This means getting faster throughout the set.
This is only possible, however, if you use tip 2. If you look at my threshold session in my next article here, you’ll see I aim to get faster in the second half of the set. I consider a set wasted if I do not achieve this.
Negative splitting allows you to be aware of your pace in a race and can teach you how to start fast but not too fast and then to accelerate throughout the swim.
Tip 4: Focus on technique
Finally, you must think about your technique all the time you are swimming, particularly when you’re tired at the end of a set.
Studies in swimming have shown that when focusing on your technique throughout a swim set you will get faster repeat times.
This is hard to do, especially if you are learning the three rules above at the same time, but eventually it all becomes second nature.
I often find myself taking other people’s rep times and looking at their technique while I am swimming, whilst taking my own times and concentrating on my own technique, especially if I am trying to beat them! This level of awareness has taken a while to achieve.
When I begin to fatigue in a training set I then focus solely on what I am doing and nothing else matters. Achieving the negative split with good technique is my sole aim.
You can see a demonstration of good freestyle swim technique in this video footage.
(Main image: Rich Cruse / ITU)