Why you need to build a broader base fitness

Ignore swim speed and technique at your peril during the base phase, says coach Andrew Sheaff. Here's why he thinks both things are vital to your base training...

Man swimming front crawl

In the endurance community at large, and the triathlon community in particular, there is a lot of talk about ‘building a base’. 


The phrase refers to establishing a foundation of fitness upon which performances are built. It also refers to the types of training that are performed earlier in the season, as well as early in one’s career, that allow for improvement later on.

Almost exclusively, this refers to developing a base of endurance. Considering the nature of triathlon and the typical race distances, developing great aerobic and muscular endurance should be an integral part of your preparation.

However, if your focus is exclusively on improving your endurance, you’re leaving a lot of improvement on the table. To fully develop your foundation and your potential, you need a broader base.

Expanding your base

While endurance is an important part of your preparation, perhaps the most important part, it’s not enough. To reach your potential you also need speed and you need technique.

Just like endurance, these aspects of performance take a long time to develop, and should be included in your base building efforts.

The importance of speed

Credit: Eugenio Marongiu

Regardless of the race distances you compete in, it is still a race. The goal is to perform the distance as fast as possible, whether the race lasts 10 seconds or 10 hours.

The more speed you have, the easier it will be to sustain any given pace. As a result, having a base of speed is critical for your long-term development, just like having a base of endurance.

Rather than waiting until later in the training season to add a little speed, it should start from day one. Small dosages of speed work can make a huge impact on your long-term progress.

A couple of short sprints, a couple times a week can make a major impact and will allow you to broaden your base, including all of the factors that affect performance.

Technique is the answer

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Specific to swimming, technique is the foundation for both speed and endurance. Without technique, you’ll have neither.

Speed is limited not so much by fitness, but by how effective you are in the transferring that fitness into speed in the water. I’m sure you’ve met some very fit individuals that struggled to create speed in the water due to a lack of skill.  The faster you want to go, the better you need to be at the skill of swimming.

Just as importantly, great swimming technique is more efficient. It takes less energy, which allows you to perform the same activity for longer.

Your endurance will inevitably improve if you’re able to swim while using less energy. If you’re looking to improve your endurance in the water, technique is your best bet.

For these reasons, swimming technique should be the primary focus when building a base. It provides the potential for you to increase both your speed and your endurance over time.

Of course, as you’re doing the work to improve your skills you’ll be developing your physical fitness, so it makes sense to include swimming technique as central aspect of you base-building plan.

The foundations of great technique are body position in the water. The Passive Jellyfish and Active Jellyfish are two great exercises to get you started!


Top image credit: Corey Jenkins/Getty Images