Of the three disciplines of triathlon – swimming, biking, and running – the swim is usually the one which most intimidates beginners to the sport. Most of us have done some form of each of these activities as a child, but splashing in a pool or throwing a football knee-deep in the Atlantic doesn’t necessarily lend itself to banging out hundreds of yards in a pool.
Worry not. While it will take some time to learn to swim efficiently and drop your bad habits from childhood (keep your face down!), you will begin to see noticeable improvements after about a half-dozen well-thought-out swimming sessions. But, in order to progress, you must have a plan instead of jumping in your local pool and floundering around for 20 minutes. Keep in mind that, while not strictly necessary, you will definitely progress faster under the eye of an experienced swim or triathlon coach, who will notice details about your stroke that you cannot.
Also keep in mind that, at first, swimming is TIRING! I considered myself in relatively good shape when I first joined my triathlon coach for my first swim workout in his community pool, but I’ll admit that I had to stop after each 50-yard lap to catch my breath, and after just 10 of these I declared the workout a success and went home and took a nap. Your swim fitness will advance quickly, but don’t expect to jump in and complete a 60-minute swim workout your first week.
Essentially there are three mistakes that I see beginner swimmers making:
- Lifting the head, resulting in the legs dropping far below the water surface, causing drag
- Not rotating the body from side to side. Your bully button should be pointing towards the side wall of the pool at the end of each stroke.
- Kicking from the knee instead of the hip. Your legs should stay relatively straight, with flexible ankles.
If you’re a complete newbie, it may be helpful to wear a snorkel at first so you can concentrate on your stroke without worrying about the additional burden of correctly turning your head to breathe.
Once you have gotten yourself familiar in the water and are ready to attack a structured workout, try this one:
2 x 25 yards slow-tempo freestyle. Get used to the feel of the water. It sounds silly but this takes a little while each new workout.
2 x 25 yards fists only. This is hard at first but you will get better.
2 x 25 yards front-quadrant swimming. Ditto above.
4 x 25 yards medium-tempo freestyle. Count your strokes per lap and try to be relatively consistent.
2 x 50 yards medium-tempo freestyle. Count your strokes per lap and try to be relatively consistent.
1 x 100 yards medium-tempo freestyle.
2 x 25 yards fast-tempo freestyle. 90% effort here. These are fun! Push yourself.
2 x 50 yards slow-tempo freestyle.
Total: 600 yards.
Rest 30 seconds between all laps.
Bring a water bottle with you and take a few small sips during each rest period. It’s easy to forget how dehydrated you’re getting when you’re surrounded by water.
Get out, shower, and congratulate yourself for another great workout.