How Can Triathletes Swim Less & Get Faster At Triathlons?
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
Most triathletes get excited when they see extra swimming sessions on their training plan. Ok – that’s a LIE!
Truth - Triathletes are most EXCITED about swimming when they EXIT the water and are running to T1 much like Michele here in this awesome race pic.
When you ask most triathletes how they feel about triathlon swim training they will likely confirm that loving the swim is the furthest from the truth!
The I Suck At Swim Fix For a lot of beginner triathletes swimming is their weakest discipline - couple that with being riddled with fear - causes them to fall into the routine of thinking that they need to spend lots of time in the pool swim training for triathlons.
Why Do Triathletes Have That Swim Mindset?
Swimming, for triathletes without a prior swim background, can be incredibly frustrating – even discouraging. It is a very technical sport that requires balance, propulsion and proper hand mechanics.
Beginner triathletes and mid-pack swimmers (people who have a few races under their belt and know their average race times) ,often face the decision whether or not to increase their swim time or number or training sessions to get more efficient or increase pace speed.
Questions Every Triathlete Asks Themselves?
How much training time in swim-bike-run will bring you the biggest improvement in your overall triathlon race time?
Which is the best triathlon discipline to spend your time - the swim, bike or the run - for the typical time-crunched professional.
The typical triathlete has about 7-10 hours per week to spare for training time – spending 3 day/hours per week in the pool, plus time spent travelling, changing etc – often may not be the best use of their time.
Swim Gains Are Often Miniscule
Swim Training 3 days [45m - 90mins a workout] per week might help you knock a handful of minutes off your overall swim time on race day.
Most triathletes will realize an increase in their swim pace by a few seconds in the pool after focusing their extra time in the water.
For example Amy went from a 2:30 per pace 100 yards to a 2:12 per 100 yards on her garmin in 6-8 weeks. Sounds impressive right?
She was training for a Sprint Triathlon with a 500m swim in Lake Conroe. First year she completed the race in 12:33 mins. It was a lake swim with a 15 min time cut off.
Fast forward the next spring she decided to swim 4 days instead of 3 to increase her swim swim and improve her form.
Her thinking?? She would be fresher on the bike and not one of the last ones exiting the water.
On race day in year two - with her better form and faster pace of 2:12 - she swam the same 500m distance in 11:02 mins.
Amy gained 1 min and 31 secs from spending that extra hour in the pool weekly.
Alternatively, spending a just a portion of that time she spent swimming to focus on biking/running, may materialize a 10-15 minutes time shave off of those disciplines on race day - earning her an overall faster triathlon race finish time.
Now, knowing this bit of math - aren't you questioning which is the best use of your available time and what discipline to focuso?
We about to dish the best advice every slow triathlon swimmer needs to hear to improve swim paces & race times.
SWIM LESS & SWIM WITH PURPOSE
How Can Triathletes Swim Less & Get Faster At Triathlons?
Athletes like Amy, and many beginner triathletes - typically see very little, and sometimes no drop off in their swim times with extra swimming.
Many of the female triathletes in our tribe (some with and without a coach) reduced their swimming down to 1 -2 sessions from 3 (or often more) per week.
They HAVE HAD BIGGER gains in their overall race times just from focusing as little as an extra 30 mins in the other disciplines with their extra available time.
Kathy shared with us, using the same 12-week plan 3 years in a row, she swapped her 3rd swim for an indoor 25 mins bike interval session and improved her overall race time by 29:16 min. Her race time went from a 1:43 hrs for her local Sprint triathlon to 1: 14.
How Should New Triathletes & Weak Swimmers Train?
New to swimming, slow or weak swimmers who are worried about making the swim cut-off in races may need a different approach to their training.
Most triathletes coming into the sport are most often a strong biker/runner.
Who are used to working hard in training and seeing improvements quickly.
Unfortunately with swimming, ‘working hard’ doesn’t necessarily translate to faster times and delivers a huge blow to one's ego or moxie.
If you’re swimming hard and long with poor technique, you’re essentially training your body to get used to swimming with poor technique lap after lap, session after session and making yourself tired and frustrated.
Triathlete Swim Training Advice ⚡ SWIM DRILLS
Focus your precious pool time improving your technique.
Start by getting your swim stroke and technique analyzed with a local swim coach or get a video analysis done with a remote triathlete coach.
When Barb meet up with a swim coach - they took video of her under and over the water so they both could see & understand what was "wrong" with her stroke.
After that session - the Swim Coach prescribed her specific swim drills that will improve elements of her stroke and body rotation.
School of thought at SwimBikeRun Fun is that you will build swim fitness as you practice good technique.
After addressing the major flaws with your stroke is the appropriate time you should think about increasing the volume.
Now we are not advocating to avoid long swim/straight yardage pool swim sessions or skip out on open water practice sometime before race day - we need those training sessions.
FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE
In the beginning your training plan swim sessions should be all about technique. Once you’re able to swim 400m, it's the ideal time to insert drills & efforts that you put into your plan.
Here is a drill that Coach Kevin likes to include in our triathlon swim training plans to help us improve our feel for the water and work on our pull/catch parts of our stroke:
Answer to the question: How Often Should Triathletes Swim Weekly To Improve?
Most triathletes will benefit from 1-2 sessions weekly with a focus on good technique - THAT - is the most effective way to improve your swim.
One of those sessions should be dedicated to drills that address the flaws that are holding back your greatness and assist you with unlocking your swim speed potential.
The smoother and more controlled you can make your triathlon swim, the easier you’ll progress and the easier it’ll feel.
Check out our other Blog- 15 Triathlete Swim Workouts (free download) if you need some swim workouts you can do right away to get started or improve on your technique.
Splash Happy Friends🏊♀️