Many triathletes have the great goal of improving their swim over the winter, but when spring comes they are usually disappointed with their improvements especially in the open water. Why? I have picked apart several training plans and traditional, typical programs to find the most common mistakes that are slowing your swim gains during winter training:
- Not training consistently: It might seem obvious (like everything else on this list) but it is true: to swim faster and more efficiently, you have to swim but also more consistently. Swimming 2x5000m a week is great but in my opinion it would be better to swim 3×3000 Monday, Wednesday, Friday, then 2×1500 Tuesday and Thursday.
Getting into the water everyday, improves your swim because you never lose that feel for the water. I personally have found great success with 3x 3400-3800m three days a week then 2×1500-2000m on the Vasa as a warmup to my bike workouts, which are the key sessions for that day. I recognize that this is difficult for some because getting to the pool and syncing the pool hours up with your own schedule can be tough, but if you are serious about improving in the water, consistently getting in the pool is a great first step.
- Your Master’s swim program: A lot of triathletes are members of a master’s swim group, which is a great way to stay accountable, get good workouts in, and train with people who will push your speed. Masters, though, has its faults. I have found that many masters coaches assign workouts that are not specific enough to triathletes: the sets are too short; the workouts are usually not long enough; and the ratio of stroke to freestyle is skewed.
Obviously this is very much dependent on your coach and your program, so if you have found a great program which has developed your skills, speed, and endurance, stick with them. However, if you are not seeing the gains you want, going solo might be better so that you can do triathlon specific workouts.
- Neglecting your weaknesses: Winter and the offseason is the time to address your weaknesses not hone your strengths. Many triathletes though continue to do what they have always done throughout the season (500m repeats at Ironman pace or 50-100m sprints on 1min rest) without attending to the flaws in their stroke (sinking legs, lopsided breathing, crossing over, dropping elbows). Now is the time to analyze your stroke by a professional, and talk to a coach about how to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
- Skipping the open water: This is a really tough one to do over the winter because for most of us, the lakes, reservoirs, and open water swim areas are frozen over or just way too cold to swim in. If this is the case for you, wait till spring to start planning OWS, but start planning now so that you can include them the day the ice begins to thaw. If you are blessed enough to swim in warmer climates though, getting into the open water every other week will give your swim training, endurance, and skills a huge boost come spring. Swimming on a Vasa swim trainer as I mentioned before will give you similar fitness and endurance but not address open water anxiety or fears.