3 ways to expend less energy in the water but go faster

Posted Chris Articles

Triathlon swimming is all about increasing your speed while decreasing the amount of energy required to do so. Beginner swimmers are incredibly bad at doing this. Most of the time they expend more energy and get slower! They might do a 50 m sprint and feel like they went all out only to see a 5 second increase to their speed. Or in the open water, they feel more exhausted at the end of the swim leg despite swimming slower.

This can be very frustrating for triathletes. Especially those who come from a cycling or running background where typically the more energy and effort you put into an interval, the faster you will go. So to reverse this trend and actually get faster with less energy, try these three points:

  1.  Work on body position. When beginner swimmers try to swim hard typically they begin to fight the water. In doing so, their head comes up, their legs and hip sink, and their arms thrash about. And none of that extra effort is actually propelling them forward because they are compromising their form. To go faster with less energy, you have to optimize your position first. You need to get yourself in the most hydrodynamic position possible so all the energy goes to pushing you forward. A good position requires you to be horizontal and narrow in the water. A good drill to build the feeling of this position is the 6/3/6 drill. Here you kick on your left side for 6 kicks, take 3 strokes. Kick on your right side for 6 kicks, take 3 strokes, and repeat. Another good drill is the dead man’s float. You simply float on your stomach while adjusting your position to stay horizontal.
  2. Improve your breathing. Holding the breath is another way to waste energy. Typically swimmers will hold their breath under the water then exhale and inhale all at the same time when rotating or lifting their head to breathe. Not only will this mess up the timing of your stroke and your body position, it will also make your brain freak out and make you fatigue quicker. All of which will cause you to slow down but use more energy. Instead, focus on relaxing your breathing. A relaxed breathing pattern where you exhale with lots of bubbles under the water and then take a quick but deep breath will allow you to hold a better body position and use less oxygen and thus go faster with less energy demands. Even when going hard, still focus on exhaling underwater to keep you relaxed and on form.
  3. Accelerate through the pull. Many novice swimmers have a mono speed pull in which their pull and recovery phases are all the same gentle speed. By doing this, they are losing most of their front end power. When told to go hard, the pull is where swimmers should be exerting the energy. A good drill to build this acceleration is the catch up drill and when doing it, really focus on speeding up that high elbow catch throughout the pull phase through the hip then recovering super easy over the top of the water.

By improving and focusing on these three areas, you will be able to increase your speed while decreasing your effort–a win win.

Coach Chris, TriSwim Coach