You don’t have to swim faster to beat your best time in a triathlon

triathlon swimmer doing a face down floatYou just have to swim better than you are right now.

Many triathletes go to the pool with a soggy workout printed off the internet and a bag of pool toys like paddles, fins and a snorkel   But what most end up being frustrated  by is not knowing if their work with the drills and toys translates to better swimming.

When you begin to realize that just doing a drill doesn’t mean you’ve learned a better swim skill, you’ll start to pay attention to the quality of your training plan.

it’s better to have a specific body based focus that you can pay attention to while swimming.

Let’s take just one example.  most triathletes carry a lot of tension in their neck which impacts their streamlining, efficiency and breathing.  Here’s one way to approach improving this micro skill and improve awareness.

“25 kick, 25 swim”

Does this look familiar?  “25 kick, 25 swim”.   This is an extremely common example of a freestyle drill set for triathletes.    It would seem that the main intent is to practice kicking, right? But without further direction or a coach on deck, it’s unclear and doesn’t give you the focus you need to improve your freestyle swimming for triathlon.

Instead of “25 kick, 25 swim”, let’s add a specific thought to direct your muscles while doing the drill.

“Relax your neck” while kicking with one arm extended for 25 yards.  Stroke once to breath or roll to the sky for a breath.   Then swim 25 yards while maintaining your relaxed neck.  Does your neck feel relaxed with and without arm strokes?   

Aside from using a few more words, what’s the subtle difference between these two drill sets? The second set addresses a specific issue that impacts your swimming in both drilling and full stroke freestyle.   You see most people will tense their neck and instinctively pick their head up a bit to look ahead.  This creates tension in the neck and creates misalignment.   Both issues require more effort to swim, and create an even bigger problem when trying to breath.

Great swim practices move your attention instead moving body parts

By removing the arms and just kicking (with or without fins) you can move your attention to your neck and experiment with different levels of relaxation and tone.  When followed immediately with swimming it’s easy to compare the results of the new focus and attention to the neck.

Since new movements feel awkward and foreign, a drill set that addresses a specific thought (“relax the neck”) rather than an exercise (“Kicking”) is a supercharged way to increase your learning speed and adopt better swim skills faster.

Next time you go to the pool and are faced with a drill set, try substituting a body awareness focal point, or simply layering it on top of the drill.   Some examples

  • One armed swimming becomes “Stroke with your Left (Right) arm, while keepign the neck relaxed and the spine aligned during the entire arm cycle.”
  • Cat & Mouse drill becomes “Keep your neck relaxed while exploring how much overlap is in your stroke while playing cat & mouse. At what point in your overlap can you keep your neck most relaxed?

12 Weeks of Better Swim Practices

If you’re ready to apply these principles to your own training, my dedicated triathlon swimming plan for Olympic or Half Distance races contains 12 weeks (32 unique workouts) of practical swimming workouts just like these. Just head on over here to purchase a dedicated triathlon swimming plan to prepare you for an Olympic or Half Distance Triathlon.  

(You can apply this plan over top of any other training plan you’re currently using and just swap out the swims)