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 swimming!

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