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Beginner Triathlete: Swimming

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It’s honestly so wonderful having a handful of friends giving triathlon a try! But usually the thing that holds back a lot of newbie triathletes is the swim! Swimming for sport seems to be intimidating for a non-swimmer. It is understandable since the transition to getting into cycling and running seems to be less daunting than drowning. In this blog I will talk about some general recommendations to get started on your triathlon journey!

Gear

All the toys involved with swimming can be expensive but the must haves are:

  • A comfortable pair of googles (my favorites: Roka or Speedo Vanquishers)
  • Swim cap (I prefer silicone since I have so much hair)
  • Swim suit (no brainer here but I would recommend the Speedo Endurance brand- those suits don’t wear out as soon as some of the other brands. I have also liked the Jolyn brand!)
  • Deep Conditioner: I added this to the list because the more you swim the more that chlorine is going to fry your hair!

The extras:

  • Kick board: I personally love kick sets and drill work with a good kick board
  • Paddles: Pull work will be your best friend for that stroke
  • Wetsuit: Sleeves for the cold open water swim (OWS) sessions. They are also great to help you float if you are not a confident swimmer. (& Body glide for your wetsuit application)
  • Buoy: This attaches to your waist when you OWS so you can be sighted for safety reasons

Extra extra but totally not necessary:

  • “Unicorn” Snorkel: This is for the purpose of working on breathing and stroke technique
  • Fins (Or Flippers as non-swimmers call them): Great for speed work and kick cadence
  • Drag suit: You can buy a specific drag suit or do what I do: where normal clothes items on top of swim suit (t-shirt, tennis shoes, basketball shorts) or wear your old stretched out swim suit on top of your new one to add drag!

Form

This is always a loaded question on how to best work on form for swimming. Personally I am so thankful for my swimming background but even being an experienced competitive swimmer I really appreciate the days to work on form. This includes high elbow drills, water entry focus, single arm pull, breathing form, rotational form, reach focus etc. Drill work allows me to slow down and refine my form to later get faster and more importantly avoid injury.

  • The biggest take away with this is that it’s not necessarily all about the yardage you are getting. Don’t kill yourself with distance, make sure it’s good quality form and the distance will follow.
  • Investing in a swim coach/triathlon coach for this purpose is so helpful to analyze your form and tailor workouts to your weakness
  • Other option is to film yourself under/above water and analyze your stroke yourself for feedback but personally the coach is my way to go
  • Dynamic stretches: This is often neglected but as you pick up our yardage in swimming it is so important to warm up before getting in the pool. That is for any over head athlete not just swimming. Including some band work in flexion, extension, D1 and D2 patterns, or band work with swim stroke practice can help with a shoulder impingement, bicep tendinopathy, rotator cuff prevention.

Pool swim to OWS

  • Simulate OWS in the pool by practice sighting drills in a polo position (Tarzan) -Meaning your head is above the water and you body is only slightly slanted as you swim. Doing this for multiple reps for 25 yards will get your sighting skills strong paired with a recovery 25 swim (normal).
    • Another drill is to not push off the wall when you do your normal work outs since you obviously don’t have the wall as an advantage in a lake or ocean.
    • Swimming with your eyes closed is also beneficial to get the feel for OWS
  • Another way to simulate OWS in the pool is to recruit friends to thrash you in the water. Swimming 4 people down the length of pool as you fight to get to the end is a great intro to OWS and to your racing skills. In triathlon with an OWS it is not surprising to get elbows to the face, kicked in the ribs, or people swimming on top and over you. (Most of the time on accident- sometimes on purpose!)
    • A second way to get friends/teammates involved for OWS simulation is to have your friends line up along the side of the lane and kick excessively while you swim through their “waves.”

  • Finally when you sign up for an OWS triathlon, make sure you get a couple of practice out in a body of water with the company or teammates or friends making sure you are safe. You do not want your first OWS to be on race day! This may mean Kayak support or staying closer to the beach/entrance and following that path in the water vs swimming out to no where. Make sure you have a highlighter color buoy to be spotted. Practicing your OWS drills will pay off in this setting!

Swimming is my absolute favorite of the 3 disciplines! There is so much more to swimming than what I spoke about in this blog. This blog post merely scratches the surface of swimming in triathlon. Overall don’t get too worked up about the swim because at least in a long distance triathlon, the top swimmer isn’t always the winner of the triathlon. The swim won’t break you as much as people believe it to! If you have any specific questions in regard to swimming for triathlon don’t be afraid to comment or ask!

 

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