Triathlon: improving your swimming (VI)

Triathlon: improving your swimming (VI)

Today in our series on the triathlon we’re going to be giving 10 pieces of practical advice on how to improve your times in the first discipline of this fantastic sport: swimming:

Revising your technique: record yourself

I’ll bet you’ve never seen yourself swimming. One thing is how you might think you swim, the positions you take, your accelerations and leg-arm coordination, and even your breathing, and another thing is how you really do it all.

So record yourself to review and record your progress properly. With your mobile you can easily record yourself laterally and head-on. But you can also organise a complete biomechanical analysis.

The feedback from this work will be great for your training plans

Let them correct your technique

Normally, unless you’ve been swimming before you could walk and trained by true professionals, you’ll likely have a swimming technique with room for improvement, and you’ll likely need a little extra help.

To get this help you could go to a training centre, where a professional will help you work on your technique and guide your training in the longer-term using the best methods available. Over the long term, this will save you a lot of time and effort.

Swimming technique

The important thing is for you to get this in the water itself

Broadly speaking, try to improve your hydrodynamic position in order to decrease forward resistance and improve your arm propulsion at the same time. The efficiency of the kick or arm stroke is of lesser importance, unless it’s being performed with major errors, because what really matters is what happens in the water.

It should be noted that almost all swimmers perform a very similar underwater stroke (catch, pull and exit):

  • Speed tests: elbows almost fully extended, wrists arched in catch, exceptional hand acceleration or reduced shoulder roll.
  • Depth tests: elbows more flexed (less hand depth) during the exit, wrists more extended in the catch with less relative importance of this phase and wide shoulder roll.

Work on it error by error

The hardest thing of all is recognising the technical mistakes you make, so don’t try to correct them all at once, prioritise the 2 or 3 most important . Focusing on solving those major errors will likely make other associated errors disappear.

Trying to correct more errors than this at once will result in you becoming confused and likely ending up swimming even worse than at the start of the technical analysis

Improve your water skills

Don’t just swim, you should work on technique as part of your session. At the end of your warm-up, for example. There are a multitude of water exercises to help you adapt.

The best swimmers are able to do incredibly complex exercises in the water, so don’t stick to the typical movements or high elbow exercises in the recovery, vary everything as much as you can.

Choose a wide range of exercises including technical facilitation, coordination, awareness, analytical, contrast exercises…

Try to improve your marks

The aim is to swim faster, so evaluate your marks and progress using technical work, training practice and the changing of kinematic variables such as frequency and stroke length.

The speed of travel is determined by Speed = Cycle frequency * Cycle length. This means that for the same swimming technique the speed will increase as one or both variables increase (or one increases more than the other decreases…).

It’s very common to see inexperienced swimmers looking to reduce their number of strokes, even comparing themselves to elite swimmers in terms of strokes per length, regardless of speed, which is an error, since the number of strokes is only one of the variables in the equation.

It may also be that there is an excess of cycle length at too low speeds, which only generates an unnecessary waste of energy, it’s like running with long strides at a rate of 6min/km, which wastes more energy than running at that speed at a more logical stride length and frequency

Speeding up your strokes

Speeding up your strokes

The worst enemy for speed of movement in the water is the speed of the hands and/or feet, i.e. a higher acceleration will mean more speed and better gliding, as long as the orientation of your propulsive surfaces (hands and feet) is maintained correctly.

But the greater the acceleration the greater the energy expenditure, and that’s where the training process comes in, where you have to put effort into accelerating the movements but with the best possible technique. In the long run you’ll be more effective and able to reach a higher level.

Long series

To improve your swimming level all you have to do is practice, practice, practice, without shortcuts. You can improve a lot at first with the improvement of the technique, but if you stop persevering and increasing your practice time, the improvements will stop.

With a good volume of work you can improve your swimming efficiency, cardiovascular fitness and blood circulation. However, if you don’t master the swimming technique to perform the long series, you can use auxiliary items such as flippers, pullbuoys, fins… These will help you perform the volume of work without compromising the technique.

Practical example:

You can do 30-45′ of continuous swimming alternating 200 front crawl, 200 front crawl with flippers, 50 feet, 50 technique… And so on for the 30-45′. In this way, you can reach a high volume of optimum cardiovascular work with a lot of metres of technical quality.

Triathlon swimming

Work your front crawl kick without going overboard

To improve your front crawl kick you have to spend a lot of time in the pool (usually years), and it may not be profitable at our age in terms of the dedication-results ratio.

As your goal is not competitive swimming, in the triathlon, the front crawl kick is much less important than the good use of your arms, and you have two other main disciplines ahead of you that you need to save energy for (cycling and running).

We should aim to reach the second level within the three needed for mastery of the front crawl kick:

  • 1st level: the feet help to improve the horizontal position of the body during swimming (raising the legs).
  • 2nd level: they also help to fix the muscles in the central area of the body to stabilise it and generate more stroke power.
  • 3rd level: the feet are an important part in the final propulsion.

Increase your joint range

Flexibility should be increased to improve the mobility ranges of the shoulders and ankles (key joints in all styles). Not being flexible will limit your propulsive efficiency, making it shorter, and increase your risk of injury.

So practice specific stretches to increase these ranges (without overdoing it) and find the optimum ones for your level
Review of Triathlon Swimming

Correction of technique - 100%

Improves skills - 100%

Improves marks - 100%

Long series - 100%


HSN Evaluation: 5 /5
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About David Diaz Gil
David Diaz Gil
David Díaz Gil contributes with excellent articles in which he deposits the essence of his experience as well as scientific rigor.
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