Swimming. It has to be the one thing that every Triathlete likes least about the sport, if you can find a Triathlete that loves to swim, they are probably actually a swimmer. Although it is not the most enjoyable leg of a triathlon, a coach once reminded me that it isn’t rocket science, it’s just swimming. Improving your swim can be quite easy and once you start to see the hard work pay off, you might even find that you enjoy it (but not too much). You’ll also find yourself coming out of the water less fatigued and more prepared to drop some watt bombs on the bike.
So how do you become more efficient in the water? First up, start with the basics. It is more beneficial to work on stroke development before building endurance or speed. Spend the time to do swim drill-based sessions before moving into a block of training. Do sessions that just focus on technique. This could be 3 x 2km sessions just doing drills. Once you have improved your technique and find that you can pull more water with less strokes and less energy it's time to work on improving your fitness in the water.
Secondly, you HAVE to be consistent. The only way to improve your swimming is to stay consistent with the mileage you are covering in the pool and the types of sessions you are including in your week. Throughout the week you should aim to include one endurance swim, 1 threshold swim, 1 strength swim, 1 speed swim and 1 swim where you focus on technique and recovery.
If you can, try swimming in a squad. Normally every pool will have a pretty solid adult squad filled with a mix of people from ex competitive swimmers, open water swimmers and triathletes and newbies. You can learn a lot from these groups, like you can from riding with cyclists and running with runners. Not only can you learn a lot, you will be pushed throughout the session to hit time cycles which will pay dividends on race day. You’ll also find that what is typically an anti-social sport becomes a little bit more social.
No squad? No worries, but make sure you are always heading to the pool with a plan. Have a session written out that you can keep at the end of the pool. Not only does this make the pool session way more effective than just endlessly swimming lap after lap for as long as you can, it gives purpose to the session and can normally make time go faster.
By now you should hopefully feel like the next Michael Phelps, chances are though you won’t look at all like Phelpsy swimming down the lane. If you can have someone video your swimming. It's hard to see that your swimming correctly without actually seeing yourself swim. Just like doing correctly lift techniques at the gym, you would a mirror to ensure you are doing it correctly. This should be the same with swimming. Being able to see where your hands are entering and exiting the water, will help with understanding the principles of swimming, helping your technique and your efficiency.
Lastly, race. Enter local open water swim races. A lot of triathlon swimming can’t be replicated in a pool and let’s face it a lot of us use the swim in a race as a warm up. By racing in the open water, you learn how to push yourself in the swim and practice different tactics. Practice sighting bouys, swimming continuously without wall breaks and finding some clear water among the crowds of people are all things you can work on that will help you in Triathlon as well.
Remember, at the end of the day, it’s just swimming, not rocket science. Stay consistent, join a group, have a plan and structure your swim week and you will see improvement