Sink or Swim – Learning to swim a Triathlon

So I’ve never been much of a swimmer. Okay I know the basics but have never done any competitions and certainly didn’t train. Now with my new triathlon endeavors I want to learn to swim. Up until 2 weeks ago I could easily do the breast stroke for a bit but could only do the front crawl for maybe 25 meters – that’s one length of the pool. After 25 meters of front crawl I was out of breathe. After 4 visits to the pool I’m swimming 50 meter lengths pretty well and do about 10 lengths with 15-30 second breaks between laps. I think my detriments stemmed from poor technique. I had three issues:

1. Panicked when I had my head underwater.
2. Had trouble breathing and definitely didn’t know what getting in to a rhythm felt like.
3. Would get tired very quickly.

Off I went to learn on my own how to swim. First I looked on the internet. I came across this great YouTube video that showed how to swim and was all about swimming without stress. The most helpful exercise was side balancing. When I did this I realized that I can kick and move forward while keeping my mouth out of the water to breathe. Knowing this helped me know that I can simply stop using my arms and take a break while still moving forward and get some air. Detriment #1: overcome.

There were two tricks that I found to really help. First was learning to breathe. This article talks about leaving your head in the water so that it pushes the water away from your face and leaves a pocket to breathe in. Check it out here.

Second trick was Thumb to Thigh. This helps create a long swim stroke and encourages follow through. Basically the stroke your arm should extend all the way so that your thumb hits your thigh before exiting the water. I say this to myself as I’m swimming. It also helps to slow things down. Detriment #2: overcome.

Apparently swim clubs train in high heart rate zones but a smart triathlete wants to be fast and exit the water with a conservative heart rate so that when you hop on the bike you’re starting from 10-20 beats per min less than you would if you were going all out. This should give you more energy and a better time on the bike which is the longest event. Check out this great article.

Next I needed a plan. I bought the book Training Plans for Multisport Athletes by Gale Bernhardt which is really awesome. It has a great recap of how to train, types of training (aerobic/anaerobic… What?), VO2 Max (What?), nutrition and other great things. One of the great things about this book is that it has plans for people without much time in the week, plans for people with an event coming up soon and also plans for people who have longer periods of time to train. I’m following the 6 weeks to an Olympic Triathlon plan and the first swim is 10 lengths of 50 meters. Hard for a newbie like me. Detriment #3: overcomING

Practice, practice, practice… Or should I say practice SMART.

With my goal of doing two Olympic tris this summer with a half ironman in the fall I’m confident that with time I’ll be able to do the 1,500 m and 1,900 m that’s required.

Weekday swims are 5:30am starts and Sunday mornings at 7:30am. I don’t swim any longer than 30 mins at a time.

Happy swimming.


6 thoughts on “Sink or Swim – Learning to swim a Triathlon

  1. I like this post – it is great that you are trying different ways to improve your swimming. Let me know if there is anything we can help with. I have the same book you mentioned above and I think it is a great place to start, but its just a starting point. Check out this post I wrote on floating, I think it is something you could probably benefit from:

    I’d rather see you work on some more drills and basic skills before worrying about 10 x 50s. Best of luck! You’ll get there~

    • Thanks so much for the comment. I don’t have much time so my workouts are restricted to 30 mins in the pool. Can you recommend a good beginner work out and let me know what I can expect to gain from it?

      By the way love your blog, great story.

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