by Charles Garabedian
With all the money, time, and effort that's put into bike and run
training, it eludes me why many multisport athletes don't work this
hard at their swimming. To begin all you need a swimsuit, a pair
of goggles, and a place to swim, usually the local YMCA will do.
If you compare the cost of swim equipment to your running or biking
stuff, I think you'll find the swim expense nominal. Monetary issues
aside, it also bothers me that triathletes don't train like swimmers,
if they did that goal to get a couple minutes faster on the swim
leg would come true.
Many triathletes come from a cycling or running background. When
training for the bike or run most athletes do both distance and
speed workouts. Typically speed workouts are done once a week, maybe
twice when you include both sports and this is sufficient for running
or biking; unfortunately this is not true for swimming. Consider
this: Comparing the distance ratios of the three sports in a triathlon,
the swim makes up only two to three percent, yet time-wise it can
represent almost twenty percent of the race. In many cases just
a few seconds is the difference between getting that IM or WC slot
or not, finishing as a middle of the packer or on the first page.
So how do I become a faster swimmer you ask?
Swimming fast requires constant intensity work. If you're one of
those people who swim twenty to thirty minutes, get out, and figure
you've had a worthwhile swim -- it's just not enough. Since the
swim's distance is so short you'll need to be able to pace yourself
at a very fast tempo, and the only way to accomplish that is to
swim in intense aerobic and anaerobic states in training. Workouts
should include sets that will push you to, or faster than your pace
for the race distance. For example If you are swimming a set of
10x 100, at the finish of each 100 you should be breathing hard
but not gasping for air; the recovery should only be ten to twenty
seconds depending on your ability. If you're swimming a set of 4x
300, then you should be breathing at a moderate rate and have full
control of your breathing with the rest in this set not over forty
seconds. Some athletes think the rest period is too short compared
to biking or running intervals, but that's not the case. These short
rest periods are essential because swimming doesn't require as much
energy compared to running intervals. Therefore, shorter recovery
keeps your heart rate constantly in the 80 - 85% of your maximum
heart rate zone - similar to a race day effort. Sets with short
recoveries make it harder to maintain the same pace and technique,
closer to what you'll need to do on race day.
Perfecting technique is the most beneficial enhancement one can
make for efficient swimming besides speedwork. There are so many
subtle variations of swim mechanics with freestyle, yet we can all
find our own best form with a little patience. Everyone has a unique
style, and by working on technique substantial improvements can
come. So how do I improve my technique? Well, if there are any swim
coaches or teams in your area you could ask the coach if he or she
could look at your stroke and tell you what you could do to improve.
You could have a friend film your stroke and critique and review
it yourself, or mail it to a coach to review it and make some constructive
comments. For the amount of money we spend on equipment (a bike,
etc.) that makes us a few seconds faster, a little money spent on
coaching can make us more efficient in the water and less fatigued
before the bike and run.
Consider joining an organized group to swim with. Most towns have
a masters swim program, and if not, there are always at least a
handful of people locally that swim competitively. If there's a
masters team try it out, the teams usually have a range of competitive
swimmers in the pool simultaneously separated by speed in lanes.
Swimming intervals with a masters group is a lot more fun than doing
it solo. Swimming with a group pushes you to a new competitive level.
When you're mentally frustrated it's great to have people around
helping you push through these mental and physical hurdles encountered
while training at an optimal level.
Take the time and effort to be a more efficient swimmer. Happy