I am sure you have been told that triathletes and swimmers should never swim “straight,” meaning hop into the pool and go for 45 minutes to an hour without stopping. For the most part, I agree with this age old belief.
For one, swimming straight without rest or real intention is not very productive. Instead of doing 2500 meters at an easy pace, it would be better physiologically and more productive to break that 2500 into a workout with a 400 warm-up, 10×200 at race pace main set, and then a 100 cool down. With that added intensity and rest you will stress your system more than swimming long. Moreover you are able to swim with better form because of the rest between sets compared to if the main set remained unbroken. Another factor is that a straight easy set is not that exciting.
Staring at a black line for lap upon lap upon lap, is just boring and can lead to mental fatigue. Seeing a workout like this appear in your Training Peaks account will most likely lead you to just skip the workout altogether.
HOWEVER, straight swims do have their advantages, which is why I include them every so often throughout the season. Here’s why:
- Mental strength: There are no rests in open water swims and triathlons. There are no walls to hang on to and chat with friends. No clock to see your time. If you are going to have to face it in a race, experiencing it in practice is the best way to prepare yourself. Even though it is not pleasant swimming 4000-5000meters without stopping, it does prepare both your muscles and your brain for what you will experience in a race.
- Its relaxing: Sometimes, all I want to do is just go. I do not want to have to think about splits, drills, pull buoys, or what is coming next. Instead I just want to get into the water and have some fun. If I feel like throwing some intervals in every 50 or so then I will. At the end of a long workday or hard training session, hopping in the pool and just going without a set distance or workout planned out is simply relaxing.
- Measure your endurance: After doing straight sets, I may not come away with a feeling that I am getting faster per se but I do come away with the knowledge of when my form begins to break down. I know that after about 2000 meters straight my pull gets to get deeper and my right hand get dangerously close to the center line. Knowing this helps in race because at that moment, I know to focus on those parts of my stroke and prevent my form from deteriorating.
I would not recommend swimming straight to beginners but for intermediate guys and gals, it does serve some purpose. Try it out and see how far you can push yourself.