Contributing blogger Troy Meyers is a certified personal trainer and sports conditioner with more than 10 years of experience. He owns Atlanta-based JockBoyLocker.com and contributes to the site’s Lockerroom Blog.
The triathlon has always been a popular sport. It’s showcased at the Olympics and it has an annual world-famous event, the Hawaii Ironman. Thousands of runners and other everyday athletes are recognizing the benefits of the total-body fitness program that triathlon training involves.
But even if you don’t want to do an Ironman, you can’t argue with the wisdom of a training program that combines running, bicycling and swimming. It’s a plan emphasizing cardiovascular conditioning, working all of the major muscle groups (with appropriate rest days for each group), building the full-body strength that many runners lack, and adding variety to a training program that might otherwise slip.
In other words, it keeps you motivated, which is always important of any training plan.
Six tips to keep in mind, plus some workouts.
Learn skills. Swimming is a skill sport-like tennis or golf. That makes it different from running, where success comes mostly from staying with it and putting in the time. You’ll need to learn proper breathing, arm position, body alignment and kick. This takes time and patience.
Take lessons. You can take swimming lessons at the YMCA, but a better bet might be connecting with a coach through a “masters” swim group, or by attending a swim clinic. (The term “masters” refers to swimmers 30 and older).
In a swim clinic, you’ll get drill work, stroke assessment, sometimes even video analysis. It might seem like a lot to absorb at first, but at a certain point, if you stay with it, everything clicks and you become a much better swimmer.
Avoid the slow stuff. Triathlon coaches warn against simply logging laps at a slow pace. The problem with this is that before long your form deteriorates and you adopt poor habits. Go with interval training instead, such as 5 x 25 meters with rests between repeats.
Increase overall strength. With swimming, you increase muscle mass in the upper body while giving your legs a break.
Improve fitness without the injury risk. You should never run hard two days in a row, but you can swim hard the day after a hard run, because you’re working completely different muscles. Therefore, you’ll be boosting fitness capacity without increasing your injury risk.
Get the gear. For swimming, you’ll need a suit, goggles, swim cap and ear plugs. The suit should be tight enough so there’s no drag.
At the beginning of each of your swimming sessions, practice the drills listed in Essential Swim Tips below. Then try one of the following workouts:
Swim 4 to 6 x 25 meters hard, with 30 seconds of complete rest between repeats. Build up to 6 x 50 meters. Always finish with several minutes of easy swimming.
Swim 2 x 100 meters hard, with a 2-minute rest between repeats. Eventually work up to 2 to 4 x 200 meters.
Essential Swim Tips
Worried about the swim part of triathlon training? Don’t be. With these simple drills, you’ll be fine.
Most runners who are considering their first triathlon are fine with the cycling aspect of the event. It’s the swimming that scares them. But it shouldn’t, as long as they know the basics.
With each drill, swim short repeats (25 meters or so) slowly and easily, and try to feel what’s described in each. Between repeats, take three to five deep, slow breaths until you feel ready to swim again without fatigue.
Hide Your Head
Why: Good head-spine alignment is essential to smooth swimming.
How: Lead with the top of your head, not your forehead. Feel water flowing over the back of your head. Look at the pool bottom directly under you, not in front of you.
Why: Balance-feeling completely supported by the water-is the essential skill of efficient swimming.
How: “Lean” on your chest until your hips and legs feel light. Your hips and legs should actually be slightly higher in the water than your head and torso.
Lengthen Your Body
Why: A longer body line reduces drag, allowing you to swim easier.
How: Extend a “weightless” arm slowly. Slip your arm into the water as if sliding it into a jacket sleeve. Keep extending until you feel your shoulder touch your jaw.
Flow Like Water
Why: Making waves or creating turbulence takes energy, all of it supplied by you.
How: Pierce the water; slip through the smallest possible hole. Swim as quietly as possible. Try not to make waves or disturb the water.