How to maintain good technique over long distances

Swimming consistently well over long distances in both training and racing is a challenge for most triathletes. But Andrew Sheaff has a very simple solution…

Underwater view of mature female athlete swimming during workout

One of the major challenges faced by many triathletes is managing the need to swim well with the need to develop the physical fitness required to race successfully. They find that they can swim with great technique over short distances yet struggle to maintain those skills when the distances get longer.


As a result, many feel that they have to choose between one or the other – either swim with great skills over short distances or put in the work and let swimming skill deteriorate.

It’s a frustrating situation because it’s intuitive that neither option is a particularly good one. Fortunately, there’s a solution.

How does fatigue affect swimming?

There are two reasons that a someone’s skills will begin to fall apart when swimming a longer set or a longer workout. The first reason is fairly obvious – fatigue.

As you begin to get tired, it’s harder and harder to swim well, just like it’s harder and harder to perform any activity.

The second reason is less obvious. Skills tend to worsen because it becomes harder and harder to remember exactly what you have to do to swim well. It’s tough to remember what it feels like, particularly if a skill is relatively new to you.

Here’s how you can tackle both problems.

Take technique breaks 

During any extended set or workout, insert brief technique breaks. All you’ll do is perform 1-2 laps of an exercise that helps you improve whatever skill you’re working on. This serves two purposes.

It provides a small physical break that helps you get your groove back and it provides a critical reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish with your skills.

The latter is incredibly valuable because it helps keep your skills on track. As your technique gets better and your fitness improves, you can make the breaks short and less frequent.

By doing so, you’re increasing the challenge just like you would with a good training programme.

Example swim set to improve your pull

Let’s say that you’re working on improving your pull and you want to perform an aerobic endurance set. Here’s how you could set it up. This assumes that you’re already comfortable with this skill, and your goal is to learn to sustain your ability to execute it well.

  • 2 x 25m Power Pull with a buoy (see video below); take as few strokes as possible
  • 4 x 75m freestyle; solid effort
  • 2 x 25m Power Pull with a buoy; take as few strokes as possible
  • 4 x 100m freestyle; solid effort
  • 2 x 25m Power Pull with a buoy; take as few strokes as possible
  • 4 x 125m freestyle; solid effort
  • 2 x 25m Power Pull with a buoy; take as few strokes as possible
  • 4 x 150m freestyle; solid effort

Now, this is just an example to illustrate the concept. You could use any technique exercise you want depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Likewise, you can perform shorter or longer freestyle repetition depending on your current training goals.

Lastly, you can increase or decrease how often you perform the technique exercises depending on your needs. It’s a very flexible concept that can be adapted to any circumstance. Practise the skill, train the skill, repeat!


Top image credit: Getty Images