6 Swimming Things Triathletes Should Know

>> Saturday, April 05, 2014

US Masters Swimming recently published an article called "Six Things Triathletes Wish They Knew: How swimming with a Masters Swimming club can give you an edge." I thought their main points were worth sharing:

1. Technique is critical
Triathletes know how important aerodynamics are on the bike, yet hardly think about the fact that water creates 1000 times more resistance than air. A few minor corrections in swimming form reduce drag far more than a redesigned bike frame could. A Masters coach can show you how to go faster and save energy by minimizing your bodyline as you swim.

Despite the mathematical error here (air is 1.225 kg/m^3 [at 15 degrees centigrade at sea level], and pure water is 1000 kg/m^3, which is a difference of 815.32 times, NOT 1000 times - sheesh), it makes a good point. You can "buy speed" by getting a better bike, or you could train more in the pool. (I remember reading something like 90% of a swimmer's energy is lost through drag.)

2. Swimming other strokes in workout pays off
Fast swimming requires developing a “feel” for the water. Swimming other strokes (with proper coaching guidance) helps you learn to instinctively adjust your hydrodynamics (body position, hand angles, etc.) so you know how to get around buoys, deal with waves, and get the most thrust from your freestyle pull. Olympic triathlon bronze medalist Susan Williams says, “Other strokes teach you to move through water efficiently, and balance muscle development to avoid injury.”

I can't do anything but (poor) freestyle, but this sounds like a point a good swimmer was making a few years ago. I remember hearing that even "triathlon swimmers" should make sure to push off the wall WELL and hit a good streamline because it helps you FEEL what speed is like (even though you're not pushing off anything to go fast in an OWS during a race).

3. Training without a wetsuit makes you faster
A wetsuit’s buoyancy can mitigate some stroke flaws, but you’re better off if you actually eliminate those flaws. Learning to swim efficiently without a wetsuit means you’ll use less energy on race day. “I love swimming in my wetsuit,” says Haley Benson, age-group winner at the 2013 Boulder 70.3, “but I’m more efficient because I’ve learned to swim well without it.”

Well then, I'll just have to stop wearing my wetsuit in the pool at the Y.

4. Lanemates make you stronger
Benson says, “If you want to swim faster, then you have to swim with fast people.” Not only does friendly workout competition make you work harder, but you can also learn a lot about pacing, drafting, and race strategy from swimming in an organized group. You’ll also make friends who will become great training partners.

True. I know I swim faster when there's even a random stranger sharing my lane.

5. It’s good to have some fun
Triathletes do a lot of solo workouts, which requires mental focus that’s tough to maintain throughout the season. It’s a treat to delegate the planning and feedback responsibilities to your Masters Swimming coach, so you can just immerse yourself in the workout and enjoy it. A creative workout and a lane full of friends keeps swim practice from ever becoming boring.

I've never taken a Masters class, but swimming in the past with Steve and Julia made 3000 much more possible than doing it by myself.

6. Extra eyes mean extra speed
An online tri coach can write challenging sets, and a DVD might show you proper technique, but without direct feedback, you may not recognize your own energy-eating stroke flaws, much less know how to correct them. Williams says, “Small adjustments in hand angle or breathing can mean a minute or more in an Olympic tri swim. Swimming with a team helps you identify and lock in the right improvements to gain that speed.”

Again, I've never been to Masters, but I got Andrea (the swim coach at the Y) to check my form 2 times a few years back, and her help got me from being a 2:00 / 100 distance swimmer to a 1:40 / 100 distance swimmer.

Related to all of this swimming info, I had the swim of the year yesterday!!

For a little background: I swam 4x500 on Monday. The first 500 was kind of just a warm up, and I did it in 8:05. Then I did the final 3 in 8:02, 8:02, and 7:59 (all with about a minute rest between). That was slow for me, as I can usually get them all under 8. A "good" 500 interval for me is around 7:50.

Yesterday, I wanted to do a quick 1500 tempo swim. I think I've gotten good (well, "better") at swimming short and hard, but I'm not great at sustaining speed/pain/effort in the pool. So this would be good for me. I hit the first 500 in 7:52 - much faster than my intervals on Monday, and I was STILL swimming! My 2nd 500 was 7:54, and my final 500 was 7:41!! And that was all STRAIGHT THROUGH. Those 500 splits were faster than my 500 intervals on Monday - what gives? It's like running 3x1600 at the track at 5:30 pace, and then going out and running a 3 mile tempo run straight through at 5:10 pace!

Anyway, I did 1500 tempo in 23:27, or 1:33.8 / 100 average. It's been at least 3 years (since before Henry was born) since I've had a 1500 swim like that!


Benjamin 2:49 PM, April 05, 2014  

You're right that the density of water is not 1000 higher than the one of air, but density isn't the only thing that factors into drag. If you keep everything else the same, you still have a difference in viscosity of the two fluids. Which might get you to that factor of 1000, I didn't bother to calculate it. [/nerdmode]

Benjamin 2:50 PM, April 05, 2014  

"1000 TIMES higher". Geez.

Steve Stenzel 4:52 PM, April 05, 2014  

Ahhhh yes Benjamin. My logic is flawed! They were probably close to correct to begin with. Damn it.

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