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!Screenshot_2017-01-31-12-28-27-1.png

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 🙂

Swimming 101

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?


Posted on January 31, 2017, in swimming, triathlon. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hey Jillian. I’m no marathon swimmer but I do love being in the water and it’s definitely a top way to keep fit. Great post.

  2. Thanks for posting this! I have lots of questions!

    First – “all the livings things that call open water their home” LOL

    I have found googles that fit great and feel comfortable, but am having issues with them fogging in our warm pool area. Any tips for that? I don’t think it’s the googles!

    Breathing bilaterally is something I have been meaning to work on! When you say that, do you mean you do three strokes then right side breath then three strokes and left side? Or just two strokes and that you can do either side?

    Your posts have inspired me to try the kickboard and pull bouy (I did this am!!!). How do I practice my breathing with the kickboard. Hold my head down and practice turning and breathing?


    • Ugh-foggy goggles are definitely annoying! Anti-fog does work but if you are in a really warm pool area, fog is going to happen. They keep my pool area quite cool, so it is not so much an issue for me. One thing you can do, is quickly dip them in the water and shake them out during rests.

      Bilateral breathing means three strokes breathe right, three strokes breathe left. One of the most important parts of breathing and swimming is to ALWAYS make sure you are actually breathing. Meaning, don’t hold your breath between air; inhale on the outs and then exhale through the next three strokes completely. Use the kickboard to work on exhaling in the water. I usually go under for 5-10 seconds, and then come up for 5 seconds. I also use it on my back, arms extended holding the board above my head (flat in the water above my head) and use light kicks with tight core on my back to just work on focus while breathing. You want the breathing to become second nature, so that it isn’t something you think about while swimming.

      • Thanks for the tips! I have rinsing them out in the water and that is not helping, so I might just have to deal.

        Ahh, cool. I think it will take me awhile to get to three strokes, but I do want to learn my left side too… or is that counter productive (to work on that then work on bilateral)?

        Thanks for the kickboard ideas!

        Also, I am subscribing to comment responses but not getting the emails 😦

      • Weird- I will have to look into it!

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