The Importance Of The Swim

I hear a lot of people (coaches and athletes alike) state: "You can't win a triathlon in the swim, but you can lose one in the swim". 

I've heard numerous athletes declare: "I just need to survive the swim".

I disagree with both statements. As a coach these are the first things, should an athlete of mine say such a thing, that we remove from the conversation. You can indeed win a triathlon by having a good swim. Just as you can win it by having a good bike, or run. But you have to be strong across all the disciplines to ensure that your good swim effort holds up at the end. 

Just surviving the swim? That's a great way to lose time, waste energy, and ensure you have a harder bike and run leg than is necessary.

In regards to the sport of triathlon every discipline is important. Wasted energy on the swim will impact you later in the race - not only being more fatigued on the run, but adding to your overall time. Having a weak bike leg is time lost that you must make up on the run. Or, of course, being a weaker runner requires more effort on the swim and the bike.

Instead of making concessions you should work on your limiters. Going back to the original premise, if you're not a strong swimmer you should work with a coach to ensure that you are as efficient as possible - working on your stroke mechanics and energy systems as necessary.  Just as you work on your form and speed on the run and power on the bike, you have to do the same with your swim. Otherwise you're losing time and wasting energy.

And, as a point of reference, my last triathlon race win? Fastest swim. Fourth fastest bike. Third fastest run. So, contrary to popular belief, yes you can win a triathlon in the swim leg.

The lesson here? Work with your coach to improve your swim. Or find a coach who will. Don't accept mediocrity in regards to your swimming.

On Writing Workouts

During all of my various coaching certification clinics the discussion around the creation of workouts was covered in detail. The main points of interest?

  • Specificity
  • Energy systems
  • Athlete understanding of goals of workout

Of course the importance of a good warm up, cool down, and dynamic stretching, was covered as well.

Let me clarify: Did we cover 'everything' in granular detail? No. You can't cover everything in a weekend-long clinic. You need to continue your education beyond the initial course. But, all that said, the three points above have been resonating with me lately. Why?

I'm seeing too many triathlon coaches prescribe workouts that have no specifics around energy systems, and no way for the athlete to know what the goal of the workout is. In some cases guaranteeing that the athlete do nothing but train their body to run long and slow on race day. A couple of examples that I've seen (posted online) lately:

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It's Never Too Late To Learn

I was at the pool a couple of days ago -  getting in a short workout of my own - when one of the managers of the aquatics center stopped me in the middle of my set. He said: "Hey Dave, can I tell you something that I'm seeing in your stroke?"

Now, I'm a good swimmer. And I'm pretty comfortable with my stroke. But this gentleman has been around the swimming community for a long time. His wife is the head coach of a college team here in Colorado Springs. And he did his own share of swimming back in the day. So I knew he must have seen something.

He told me what he saw (it was something my left arm was doing during the recovery phase of my stroke). I made a change, and immediately felt a difference. He then commented: "Yep, that was it. Looks much smoother." I swam a little more and could tell there was definitely a positive change that was made. I thanked him for his input.

The message here? Always be open for constructive feedback. You never know where good advice might come from, and it's never too late to find ways to improve your performance.

Training Nutrition Facts and Fiction

Some time ago, I wrote an article about how training for a triathlon was not a diet. There's a fine line between maintaining a healthy training and racing weight and an unhealthy weight. And this topic is gender neutral. Men and women alike are equally susceptible to an unhealthy diet and nutrition plan whilst training for an endurance event. 

Using myself as an example, my worst race occurred when I weighed the least. It was very early in my triathlon 'career', and I was at a goal weight which I though would help me perform better. In truth I was under-weight, as I was spurned on by all they hype around "getting lean" and "losing an extra few pounds for the next race".

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Swimming Stroke Rate and Distance Per Stroke

I've heard many a triathlon coach tell their athletes that reducing their stroke rate in their swim is one of the telltale benchmarks of swimming improvement. It can be. But it's not that simple. And all too often I've witnessed these coaches focus so much on reducing the number of strokes their athlete takes per length in training that they neglect to consider their distance per stroke, pace, and the overall impact of a low stroke rate in an open water setting

You can't talk about stroke rate without looking at distance per stroke. Period.

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