You’re at the triathlon starting line. As you stand in the water, surrounded by 150 of your closest friends, your heart starts to race, even though you have not. You think of all that training you’ve done. You swam hard, countless sets of KPS (kick, pull, swim). You worked so hard in the pool that you were often too tired to workout effectively on the bike or run.
The horn sounds, and you’re off! You’re swimming hard and fast. You’re at the front, with nothing but open water in front of you. And then it hits you. It’s hard to breathe. Despite your best efforts, you just can’t kick or pull as fast. You keep trying, and somehow make it to the finish of the swim. You stand up on wobbly legs, stagger across the timing mat, and barely manage to jog to your bike. With shaky arms and legs you don your helmet, amble out of transition, panting rapidly, and start riding slowly.
Is this the race you imagined when you committed to that training plan?
Triathlon training plans are generally written with one goal in mind – to make you fit and strong. But swimming doesn’t necessarily improve with fitness and strength. If you don’t focus on technique, swimming harder will tire you and might even result in slower swimming. And if you train too hard in the pool, two things can happen – you might be too fatigued to train for the bike and run, and you might swim too hard in the race.
It’s more important to swim well, rather than hard. This is especially true in a triathlon, where more time can be saved from biking and running fast than from swimming fast. But most triathlon training plans put little emphasis on swimming better or easier.
Successful triathlon swimming requires that you swim as fast as your technique allows, while still conserving enough energy to power you through the bike and run. Work too hard during the swim and your form might break down. At some point on the bike or run, those seconds you saved by swimming hard will turn into lost minutes when you’re just flat out of gas.
Successful triathlon training requires that you spend the optimal time and energy on the swim to allow hard training on the bike and run. That’s where you’ll gain the most benefit from hard work. But almost every training plan includes the standard swim training – warm up, kick, pull, swim, cool down. I’ve trained with a few of those plans, and always ignored the swim workouts. They just don’t help me swim better.
I once had the pleasure of working with a guy who had just become a professional triathlete. I asked him to swim a few easy lengths. He was clearly working hard on those easy lengths! He told me that he works really hard on the swim. He’s been known to work so hard during the swim at races that he gets sick on the bike. We worked to learn an easier way to slip through the water, the TI way. A month later, he reported that he was swimming faster and easier than ever before.
I’ve written four training plans, all designed to help you become a better swimmer. The plans are described here. Imagine this scenario at your next race after training the Total Immersion way:
You’re at the triathlon starting line. As you stand in the water, surrounded by 150 of your closest friends, your heart starts to race, even though you have not. Then you remember your training. Your heart rate slows as you visualize executing your best stroke.
The horn sounds, and you’re off! With a highly developed sense of pacing, you swim your optimum stroke rate and stroke length, honed to near perfection by careful practice and experimentation in the pool. You barely notice the thrashing swimmers around you. They are no longer important. You focus on your stroke. You allow yourself to consider that you are swimming easier than the people around you. You smile to yourself and then refocus on your stroke.
Soon, you’re at the finish of the swim. A quick check of the time reveals that you swam fast. You stand up and jog easily past the timing mat. The swim was a good warm-up. Now you’re ready for your best performance on the bike and run.