The most common discipline triathletes find tricky is the swim. A few simple tips will go a long way to improve your triathalon swim.
Supplementing your swimming training with core based exercises is a great idea writes Sundial chiropractor and triathlete Amanda Goring . Your time in the water may be heavily impacted by a lack of activation of your lower core muscles which will allow your lower body to sink in the water and therefore cause drag. Ever wonder why you see competitors with heavily muscled upper bodies get into the water, only to have surprisingly slow times and to haul themselves out of the pool exhausted? Likelihood is that their lower core muscles are not activating and so their legs drop in the water and act as a brake, leaving all that upper body effort wasted and the poor swimmer shattered.
Become friends with a gym ball and a trainer and by simply practicing a few simple core exercises to engage that lower core you will knock time off and more importantly, not emerge from the pool drained of energy. For those of you with extra time on your hands get to a Pilates class. You will be amazed at the difference in your body strength and it will strongly benefit all three phases of the race.
Each water environment will pose its own challenges when racing and the training beforehand will need to be adapted slightly to prepare you for that.
Pool based racing will be simple lengths which you will count down until the marshall places the float in the water and lets you out into the sunshine to the transition area for your bike. As tumbleturns are rarely ever allowed due to safety there is no need to discuss them. Just be prepared for the pools being both indoors or outside. I have raced in both, often at the same venue on successive years, and it always threw me when I was prepared for one and was then shown through to the other.
Open water swimming will usually involve a wetsuit and this brings its own set of challenges. The wetsuit not only gives warmth but also adds buoyancy in the water and so changes your swimming style dramatically. I always preferred open water because of this as it gave me a feeling that I would be less able to drown if I grew tired. It also made body rolling easier in freestlye. However it is almost comical to try and do breaststroke in a wetsuit so be warned!
Warming up before the swim is also so important. It doesn’t matter if you are about to head into heated indoor pool and you can see the sweat dripping off the marshalls, that does not mean that your muscles will be warmed up and ready for the swim.
Stretching alone is not necessarily the best option either. If you are about to head into a sport where you need high power and speed the last thing you want to do is to stretch the muscles out. You want them coiled and ready for action; all warmed up by doing similar actions to those which they will be about to face. So take time to do lots of shoulder windmills and standing body twists from the hips. Stretching the chest, calf and neck muscles are of course a great idea, but don’t get into that water only having done this! Many races will not enable you to have a couple of lengths practice to warm up first so keep this in mind. And of course because the swim is first it uses global or large muscle groups so you are usually nice and warmed up for the bike and run that follow afterwards.
Finally, a good swimming coach is often worth their weight in gold. Despite popular belief that you will face a man with a whistle who stands on the poolside and shouts at you to repeat length after length this is very rarely the case (thankfully those days of our school P.E. teacher have largely gone). Instead you will find an instructor who is all too aware that to tire their client out does not amount to achieveing the best from them. Fatigue may show them what bad habits you adopt when you are tired in the race but that will be adopted for the experienced swimmers who will need their technique refining. Likelihood is that they will be armed with moderately less than exciting devices such as a float, fins, buoyancy aids and paddles; any of which may aid you in perfecting your technique and helping you to avoid otherwise inevitable drowning.
Even better you could invest in several sessions in an endless pool. I cannot tell you how fascinating it is and so worth it even just to say that you have tried the whole experience. For those of you who are nervous of the water and becoming tired in a lesson, or who may be shy at the thought of a coach, you should investigate it. You swim in a small square area and currents are directed at you to swim against, which the instructor adjusts continuously to keep you swimming in one spot. If you get tired you simply put your feet down and you only ever swim for a couple of minutes at a time. And the whole session is videoed allowing you to take the DVD home and scrutinise it at home or at work at your leisure. Being very visual I found that invaluable and it helped in my training as I was able to see where I was failing and make sense of it and its impact as I swam. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
- Practice for race day. Train in the same environment (pool vs open water based) in a similar size area (e.g. same size pool), and if you can around the same time of day.
- Focus on core based exercises in the gym.
- Warming up the whole body before the swim is of paramount importance.
- Keep on top of your nutrition and be aware of the dangers of cramping.
- Invest in a swimming coach even if you are proficient at swimming, or even better sessions in an endless pool being filmed.