by Pro Triathlete Alex
This year, my first year racing as a pro, I dedicated myself to focusing on draft-legal triathlon
as much as I can. It’s tough to do as there aren’t many draft-legal races to compete in in the United States. I got my first taste of what it would be like in mid-March at the Clermont ITU Pan Am Cup
. I was blown away with how fast these guys can swim!
In the swim of a a draft-legal triathlon, it’s not just that you lose some ground and can then make it up by pushing hard on the bike—you are all alone while the packs ahead can work together and pull away.
A handful of seconds too slow out of the water can quickly turn into a handful of minutes by the end of the bike leg in draft-legal triathlon. This can make draft-legal triathlon extremely frustrating, especially for a guy like me who is a decent bike rider. However, my struggles continued even in the non-drafting races that I entered. The swim prowess of the professional guys is phenomenal. Not only is the swim extremely fast, it’s a washing machine the whole time. You have to have the ability to come back if someone grabs or pulls you.
So after getting my butt kicked in a couple races, something had to change. I created a very swim dedicated plan with the help of my coach, JJ Bailey of Zoom Performance. Lacking a swim background, I needed to really increase my swim frequency to develop proper form. Easy spin recovery bike rides were replaced with easy swims. I went from swimming 4–5 times per week to swimming 9 times per week, while gradually building my yardage. It was a long process and it took several weeks before I really began to see improvement. Then everything just sort of clicked. My times in the pool significantly dropped and it reflected in my racing. Now I couldn’t wait to get into the water and put the hurt on my competitors.
If you feel like your swimming could use a boost, or if you just don’t seem to be getting any faster in the water, try following these pointers:
• Focus on increasing frequency first and distance second.
By decreasing the time between swim sessions you can develop a much better feel for the water, allowing you to become more efficient.
Only after you’ve improved your form should you increase your distance. There’s no use in reinforcing bad habits!
• Watch proper swim stroke videos and visualize it.
Find slow-motion videos of Olympic swimmers or other stroke analysis clips on YouTube. Watch these before you swim and focus on copying their form.
Even better, get your swim stroke analyzed with video. You can see what you’re doing wrong and monitor your progress over time.
• Join a local swim group.
By getting out of your comfort zone and swimming in a group, you can fuel your competitive fire racing others instead of just racing against the clock.
• Buy some new toys.
There are lots of various swim tools on the market: fins, paddles, and more. All of these can help you develop proper stroke mechanics and increase your swim strength.
By following these steps, I was able to elevate my swim enough to stay with the pack in my World Cup debut in Edmonton. At Life Time Tri Minneapolis I was even able to lead the second group into T1. Hopefully soon I’ll be hanging onto the lead group. Getting onto the bike knowing that the leaders were close and there were plenty of racers behind me, gave me a huge mental boost of power to hammer the bike.
Remember the swim takes the most time to see results. With the end of the season coming up quick, this could be a great time to give yourself a boost to finish off the year on a high note. Or if your season is winding to a close, consider a swim-focused off-season training block to start 2014 off like a fish. Focus on your swim now and reap the rewards later!