Just Keep Swimming
Although I haven’t raced a full triathlon in almost 5 years, I have kept up with the sport by participating as a relay swimmer. Swimming has always been my best of the three disciplines, and is definitely my favorite. I actually stopped swimming for over two years because my new gym didn’t have a pool; I noticed the negative affect it was having on me, so I rejoined my old gym and got back in the pool this year. It has been awesome!
When it comes to running, and much more so biking, I am the one usually asking advice. When it comes to swimming, people generally ask me. Now that we are coming into tri season, a few of my friends have reached out with basic swimming questions. I figured it made for a good time to do a Swimming 101 post 🙂
- Know how to swim!- This may seem obvious but having both volunteered at and participated in triathlon, I see all too often that not everyone who is in the water actually knows how to swim. At one event where I was life-guarding, I had to get to a guy quickly as I could see him struggling to find footing. As he grabbed my kayak, he said to me, “Wow, I didn’t realize swimming was so hard.” He then admitted he had not swam outside of a shallow end before. Ever. Ranking safety among everything else you must know that if you cannot swim, and you enter water, you could drown. Many summers ago, I wrote a whole post on this, which you can read here.
- Practice open water swims- Very likely, your swim training will mostly consist of pool work. This is perfectly acceptable but not for sole water training, unless you are planning on only indoor triathlons. Otherwise, plan to spend time in the open water. Open water consists of a lake, a bay or an ocean. In a pool, you have the luxuries of pushing off, using the lane lines for sight and being able to stand if tired. Those luxuries are gone in the open water. The open water is dark (no sight lines) and far more rough than a pool, especially in the ocean where you have to contend with waves and currents. Additionally, in a race situation there are people all around you and you have to fight through paddling arms and kicking legs. (Not to mention, all the livings things that call open water their home!) Try to find community OWS so that you get a real feel for race day. And please, never swim in open water alone.
- Invest in good goggles- Good goggles are a must have! And you don’t have to spend a lot of money for a quality pair as goggles are relatively on the cheap side. Considering what you will put out for a bike, goggles are a drop in the bucket! Each person is different so there is no one pair that fits all; the most important things are comfort and visibility. My favorites are by Aquaphere; I have both the Kaiman’s and Kayenne’s. They are both comfortable, but I tend to use my Kayenne’s more often because provide me more wider field of view and my eyelashes don’t not touch the lens even if I have mascara on. My best advice is to buy from a store with a good return policy and try out multiple pairs.
- Learn to breath bilaterally- This is the most efficient way of breathing during a swim. It is easy to get in the habit of only breathing on one side, but breathing bilaterally will help you balance your stroke. Additionally, looking left and right in the open water will help you sight better and keep in line with the swim path. As an added bonus, bilateral breathing eliminates stress on both your shoulders and hips. I was a one-sided breather for a long time and it was tough to break the habit, but once I did my swimming improved greatly. Learn this way so you don’t have to re-teach yourself later! My advice is to work on breathing techniques using the kick-board and slowly introduce the bilateral laps to your pool work outs.
- Wear a wetsuit- Before I get into this, I have to admit, I wearing a wetsuit is not my preference! I never felt I needed one because I am confident and unafraid with my swimming; I got one, and have used it in the past, because I do not have a desire to swim in freezing water without protection. There have been a handful of races wherein I am very, very, thankful for my wetsuit. Given the option, I would rather just not deal with it. However, for beginners, a wetsuit can act as somewhat of a safety net because they will keep you boyant and you can more easily float if necessary. Furthermore, because of the added boyancy, they also make you faster. That is the added bonus I definitely DO like about a wetsuit! X-Terra almost always has a sale, so I could check them out.
Are there any swimming questions you have that I did not answer?