Triathletes train as triathletes NOT swimmers!!

So this past weekend I started my ‘Better Swimmer’ initiative, a two part swim program for 16 persons, split over two weekends. I chose to split the swimmers into four separate groups. My purpose for doing this was so that I could keep the training extremely personal, whilst at the same time allowing for a very relaxed, cosy environment. It was a great couple of days and I am now looking forward to the coming weekend to finish off what we have already started.

Having now had some time to reflect on the weekend, one thing that struck me, and struck me hard, was how these athletes attending the swim program had been taught to swim. The first thing that was clear is that these persons were not on the course to learn to swim, instead they were on the program because they love triathlon, they are relatively new to the sport and they want to do all they can to get better. I think it is only right that they get taught things that will enable them to be more efficient and quicker in open water and triathlons. They are not training for a local swim competition of 1500m in a lane all by themselves, therefore their stroke does not need to be long, pretty and slow. Instead they are training for open water/triathlon racing, racing that will see them surrounded by 100’s of others swimmers, they will need an increased turnover, an ability to catch the water almost instantly, they do not require a long glide in the water. As newcomers to the world of swimming any long gliding phase will only result in a dead spot in their stroke, transferring this into open water will result in the athlete having a lack of stability, meaning every time their stroke gets interrupted they panic.

As a swimmer I was taught distance per stroke is key, and yes I agree for competition swimming it is. As a triathlete I have now been taught and continue to work on high cadence, instant catch and less kicking.  The difference between competition swimming and triathlon swimming is huge. Here are the key focus points I believe athletes should be working on if their focus is triathlons;

Instant catch. Forget long and slow. Avoid any pause in the stroke. Seek downwards upon entry rather than across the service.

High stroke rate. Providing you work on the catch under the water a higher stroke rate will suit you better than a lower stroke rate when it comes to triathlons and open water swimming. It will keep you stable and will not be so costly should you miss a stroke.

It doesn’t need to look pretty. What happens above the water has almost no relevance providing the entry, catch and turnover is correct. The entry doesn’t need to be smooth and it doesn’t need to be silent.

Rotation is key. Good rotation of the hip and shoulders allows for an easier increase in cadence. Remember that rotating the hip and shoulder is a unified movement.

(Can you imagine what would happen if the world did not rotate…)

Band only and fingers paddles rock! An inner tube around your ankles, with a pull buoy between your legs is a super training tool, accompanied with finger paddles, you will end up swimming faster (providing you do it correct). Swimming with a band, encourages you to swim efficiently, catch instantly and pull correctly. When you get good at it remove the pull buoy and swim with band only.

Gone are the days where triathletes train as swimmers, triathletes train as triathletes and it is very important this is implemented into the club culture throughout Denmark. Our sport is growing really fast and the number of new comers to the sport is great. I think it is only fair that we train them in the right way!

9 Comments

  1. Can you suggest any usefull drills for this Helle?

  2. I like this piece, there are many good things in it.

    I find the greatest problem is not in the triathlonclubs but the regular swimclubs where triathlets train, or people train to becoming triathlets/open water swimmers.

    Good luck with Better Swimmer.

  3. I have worked with aspiring triathletes for years…
    This is useful advice for anyone who was a good pool swimmer. For people with no swimmer’s background my advice is to remember that this advice is from a good triathlete who used to be a VERY good swimmer.
    For the non-swimmers my advice is: 1) learn stroke length first. 2) learn STROKE ADAPTABILITY to different conditions second.
    If you have the ability to swim fast with long strokes in a pool, I QUARANTEE you that once you have learned to adapt your stroke you will be faster than the guy with the propeller-like frequency and the 10cm stroke length.
    – Good luck guys

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