Triathlon swimming is one of those frustrating sports.
While you might be extremely fit when it comes to bike and run triathlon training sessions, your swim might well be a different scenario.
The problem lies in the fact that water is 1000 times more dense than air, and for this reason efficiency is the key to a smooth, fast and ‘effortless’ swim.
So in today’s post I hope to help you make your triathlon swim both easier and faster with two simple considerations.
Two Simple Triathlon swim technique drills
1. Swim And Push Your Buoy Down
Imagine the buoyancy in your body is in your chest where the air is kept. If your chest therefore floats it will become high in the water and consequently your legs will ‘sink’. Think of it like a fishing float, with the cork floating and the weight sinking.
Sinking legs means extra drag, so one of the easiest ways to get better at swimming is to get your legs high, with your butt just at the water surface. By pushing your buoy down into the water (the cork on the float), your legs that were previously sinking will rise up.
Wondering how to do this? Just swim normally and focus on pushing your chest down into the water. Forget what you might have been told about looking straight down and instead look at 45degrees forward.
Push your chest down into the water – swim downhill as described by Terry Laughlin – to ensure your body position is level. Now you’ll feel your legs rise to the surface, and you’ll feel that your butt is just at the surface. Try this swimming downhill and see how you feel.
Now your legs are at the surface they are out of the way and you won’t need to kick them frantically to keep afloat. They’ll just be able to rest there and you can maintain propulsion with a gentle kick from the hip in time with your stroke rate, either kicking every stroke or every other.
2. Catch-Up Swim Technique Drill
Next up is making yourself long, and as a result ‘hydrodynamic’. Performing what is known as ‘catch-up drill’ will ensure at least one arm is out in front of you at all times, and so your body will be longer and more hydrodynamic.
Push your leading arm out in front of you, as if trying to get it through a sleeve. Now, no matter how much you want to go for the next catch stroke just wait with your aim outstretched. Once your following arm has finished its push phase, let it exit the water at the hip and ‘catch up’ with the leading arm.
Once both arms are stretched out in font of you this is the time to glide and begin the next catch phase with the first leading arm. Take your time on this and slow down the catch, pull and push phase of the stroke. Now count your strokes per length to aim for a reduction.
In your general swimming, aim for 90% catch up – meaning wait with the leading arm outstretched until the following arm is just about to enter the water before beginning the next stroke. This will be a good practice and combined with swimming downhill will make you much more efficient in the water and able to conserve energy for your bike and run. Try them and let me know your strokes per length.
I hope these two drills help you, and take a look at this video where Trudi adopted these two very simple drills and saw a massive improvement in her swim efficiency in the space of an hour or less.
Prioritise Your Priorities
When it comes to prioritising your training, swimming could very easily swallow up hours of your time with minimal gains.
While these two triathlon swim technique drills are useful, if you want big gains in triathlon fitness, you should spend more time on your bike and run as these are likely to reward you in the biggest fitness and time savings in a race.
This is especially true when the proportion of the swim becomes less in the longer half and full Ironman distance events.
In a nutshell, keep your swim training smart, focus on the easiest element of your technique that will give you the biggest gain in efficiency and speed (these two drills transform most of my clients very easily), and be aware not to get too anxious about your swim technique as it could lead to frustration, tension and a reduction in performance (trust me I have been there).
If you want more guidance and support you are welcome to join the Project Tri team on this website.
I also have a free resources that you get when you sign up for my newsletter – in the side bar of this page. You’ll get a triathlon training guide , it’s free and it will cover five steps to helping you improve your triathlon at your own pace. Sign up, and happy training, Nico.