A Woman In A Wetsuit Preparing To Do An Open Water Training Swim

5 Things Triathletes Can Learn from Fast Swimmers

BY Tom Epton

For triathletes there are many ways to save time and one way could be to learn to swim more like a competitive swimmer.

Most age-group athletes don’t have a background in swimming. In fact, most triathletes don’t really like swimming very much at all. Anyone who’s ever been involved in the sport of swimming will know that the life of a swimmer is a hard one. It involves early mornings most days and many days involving two sessions — not dissimilar from triathlon but without the reprieve of a long ride outside. Hours and hours staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool. There are requirements of extreme dedication and commitment to the smallest detail. It’s also probably true that many swimming coaches are still in the dark ages — certainly, in the UK I read about junior coaches discouraging their swimmers from taking part in other sports, which we know builds well-rounded and happy senior athletes. That said, there are things that triathletes can learn from the way that swimmers train. 

1. Slow Base Training 

I know that it’s probably something you’ve heard before — you’re doing your easy runs too fast. The same is true in the pool, especially for triathletes that train with masters squads. Swimmers train slowly in their aerobic sessions and polarisation of training is commonplace. This is for two reasons — building a huge aerobic base is singlehandedly the most useful thing an endurance athlete can do. Swimming slowly allows swimmers to train at higher volumes meaning they can build a bigger aerobic base. Doing aerobic sessions slowly reduces injury risk and it means athletes are fresher when it comes to completing hard sessions. Athletes should not be doing their aerobic swims too hard. 

2. Technical Swimming Proficiency

The attention to detail paid by swimmers is commendable and something that triathletes could learn from. I’m not saying that triathletes should do two-hour drills sessions but understanding that technical proficiency can save as much time as fitness gains is valuable. Saving 30 seconds in transition is just as much time as saving 30 seconds on the run course. Learning to be technically proficient in each discipline as well as in transition is something worth devoting time to as it will improve your position come race day. Technical skills training sessions typically carry less stress with them too, so can be completed under fatigue from harder sessions without having a huge impact on recovery. 

3. Strength Training

Swimmers have excellent functional strength. They train with fins and paddles and spend lots of time in the gym. Avoiding injury and increasing power through gym work can be valuable to triathletes. Whether it’s building the explosive power required to make that front swim pack or simply keeping consistent in training with diligence with ancillary work – getting in the gym will improve your athletes’ performances. Strong athletes are consistent athletes, consistent athletes are fast athletes. 

4. Leave the Watch in the Locker 

Triathletes love wearable tech but sometimes a return to nothing but a stopwatch or pace clock can be beneficial. This means an athlete must learn how various paces feel — learning to pace by feel is very important in long-distance triathlons where you may not know how fast you’ve swum until you get out. Pacing by feel is a vital skill to learn for open water swimming as it teaches you the ability to know which moves to follow and when to swim at your own pace. 

5. Efficiency at Speed and Neuromuscular Development 

Swimmers train at high speed and “overpaced” swimming is common even in training groups dedicated to long-distance swimming. This type of training improves neuromuscular connections and increases efficiency at the speeds an athlete races at. This can be applied across swimming, cycling and running with microbursts and strides being the equivalent sessions out of the water. A common means of doing this in the pool is maximum effort 50s with fins on. This is similar to completing 15-30 second strides in running.  

Swimming is an old sport and with age comes both wisdom and weird practice because “that’s how we’ve always done it.” By removing the myths and focussing on the wisdom triathletes and coaches can learn some interesting practice from swimmers. This can be applied across all three disciplines for improvements in fitness and technical proficiency leading to time gains on race day! 

Image Of Three Profile Cards Of Trainingpeaks Coaches

Coaching Business Solutions

Increase your exposure to more athletes and earn additional income as an endurance coach through TrainingPeaks.

Image1 (4)
About Tom Epton

Tom Epton is a writer and data scientist based in the South East of England. He is a founding member and principal data scientist at PyTri Ltd, a consultancy specializing in applying data science techniques to performance sports and healthcare. Tom has a first-class BSc in Physics and has worked at several well-known brands on big data and machine learning projects. Away from work, he is an elite triathlete racing a mixture of draft-legal short courses on the British Super Series to middle-distance non-drafting triathlons. Tom also offers coaching, physiological testing and endurance sport consultancy services. Email him for more information.

Related Articles