As I mentioned our swim program in San Francisco, it seems appropriate to open up a discussion around swimming in the coming weeks and months. We have a large new contingent in the Purple Patch team (welcome!), and those who have been around will always benefit from a few key reminders and insights around our lens on swimming. This is the time!
It is postseason and, therefore, an opportunity awaits you to become a better athlete, using swimming as a vehicle. Now, I should mention that I absolutely detest any article that touts ‘The Top 5 Tricks’, or ‘The Best 5 Workouts To...’ So, with that framework, I am going to sell my soul to the devil and post my ‘Top 5 Thoughts on Swimming in Triathlon’. As this is an internal memo, I feel slightly less dirty, as I am not selling you anything! I do want your attention though, so here you go:
- Swimming will help you become a better triathlete. I have yet to see any athlete fail to become a better triathlete when they have embraced a serious off-season focus on swimming! Seriously. Investing in your swimming is not just about improving a weakness for many. By reducing obsession on the corrosive sport of running, and replacing it with serious investment in swimming, you do get to yield swim gains, but more importantly you develop wonderful cardiovascular conditioning, a broad range of training at all intensities and various other benefits. There is great cross-pollination from swim fitness to other sports, so lay the bedrock of fitness and you won’t regret it.
- It dials in your inner animal. Swimming with a pace clock is the most amazing feedback tool you have -- and is representative of how you should approach metrics in all sports throughout much of your training. The pool is a controlled environment (let’s say 25 meters). Every interval you get instant feedback on your outcome (time, which equates to your pace) once you complete the interval. While executing the interval, you must feel, retain awareness, and manage the sensations. You swim blind, but get feedback again and again throughout the session. Many many times. Swimmers have wonderful self-awareness because of this. It is why I am not a fan of heads-up displays or wristwatches in the pool. Just use a pace clock. This can carry over, but only if you practice and invest in awareness.
- Performance is a combination of some technique, but mostly resilience/fitness. It is a highly technical sport, but simply focusing on technique via drills and breaking down strokes will not yield any meaningful improvements if you are not fit enough -- from a cardiovascular and muscular endurance standpoint -- to sustain the technique. The mission should be to get ‘good enough’ technique, but not perfect. You then get absolutely fit as heck to retain this form in a varied and chaotic environment of open water.
- Use your toys to improve technically. Unless form is catastrophic, your greatest yield of technique and fitness is to use your limited pool time to develop both. This is where swim toys come into play, particularly aspects such as the snorkel, ankle-strap, ENEY buoy, and other tools. Each has a role to play, but the value of drills to a triathlete swimming two to four times weekly is limited in the broader scope of return on investment. Recommended Swim Toys
- Toughen up, Shirley. It is a frustrating sport, but be confident enough to give it a bit of welly! Swimming improvements are not about being precise with hand entry (drop the hand in -- don’t place it), high elbow recovery (throw the arm over, don’t make it mechanical) or which angle your pinky finger sits in the pull. Let the hand drop in, grab the water, and accelerate it back with great force. Swimming is a rhythm sport that requires a forceful pull. You can only achieve this with high fitness, but also a commitment to more water backward - fast! Don’t be soft on the water. Just try throwing a ball as far as you can, but without allowing your throwing arm to accelerate in the throwing motion. Good luck! Let me know how that goes!
Bonus: One more thing. You are not going to improve if you fail to fall in love with the process. If you approach with negativity, fear, and distaste, you are destined for personal mediocrity. If you struggle with this, acting ‘as if’ will help. If you struggle with even this, then you should search for partners, teams, and squads. It is all about power in numbers and accountability. Either way, I promise, you won’t regret taking on the journey -- and it is a journey that won’t even be measured by swim splits!