Triathlon coaches hear this all the time:
“I just want to survive the swim”
“Once I get on the bike, I will be fine”
“I suck at swimming”
“I have a love-hate relationship with the water. I love it because it makes me a triathlete; but I hate it because it’s swimming”
“Thank goodness the swim is the shortest leg”
Raise your hand right now (even if you are in the office) if you have said or thought any of the above or something similar.
I would bet you have.
Hating the swim but loving triathlon is very common. If you truly want to succeed at and love triathlon, you cannot get away from the water. But there is an alternative.
An alternative that will make you a faster triathlete, love training more, and thrive overall.
Learn to love the swim.
You might be scoffing right now, saying to yourself: Impossible! But it is true. If you love the swim, then that love and joy for the water will make you a better swimmer, which will have a trickle down effect into biking since you will have more energy on the bike and on the run because less energy and mental strain will have been consumed during the first leg of the race.
Loving the swim will also make day to day training more enjoyable. You will no longer begrudge waking up early to get to the pool. Swim workouts will be easier because they will become more about loving what you are doing and less about when you can get out. Not to mention excellent opportunities to recover from bikes and runs while still improving and getting in a good workout.
Unfortunately, you cannot force love, but you can change your mindset to cultivate it. Here is how:
The first switch that must be flipped is seeing the obstacle–in this case swimming–as the way forward. Getting faster in the water definitely is a challenge. But because it is a challenge you will be stronger for it. Don’t fight it; embrace it with curiosity. Ask yourself: “How fast can I get?” But, just because it is challenging, does not mean it has to be difficult.
Part of the reason people hate swimming is that they see the task at hand as daunting. Instead, start small. If you are struggling with your swim form, it needs to be addressed 25m at a time. Doing shorter reps with perfect form has been shown to dramatically improve swim speeds without having to spend hours and hours in the pool.
A sample workout would be:
20-40 x 25 broken into sets of 5 that look like this:
Sets 1 and 2 are drills that address your specific weaknesses.
Sets 3 and 4 are regular swimming trying to bring the feel that the drill built into actual swimming.
Then on the 5th set go hard holding that perfect form into more intensity.
Repeat each round of 5 sets four times through. You can change the drill after two rounds or keep the same drill throughout.
The key is monitoring how you feel on each 25 and noting your pace and effort level. Treat each as an opportunity for improvement and make each 25 m count. From here, build to 50’s then to 100’s and beyond. When you get to an advanced level of swim skill and speed figure out your next obstacle and modify your training to meet it head on.
In the first few practices it might seem daunting to be able to swim 1500 m straight. Refocus on the process rather than that end goal. Be the best swimmer you are today and that means immersing yourself fully in making sure that 25 (or 50 or 100 or 200) is done with awareness. After each practice, monitor how you feel and look for indicators of improvement that go beyond times to rates of perceived exertion, how tired you are, being less sore than the practice before, even feeling refreshed rather than drained.
Recruiting others who are in the same position helps. Create a community of people be it on Facebook or a lane crew who are all striving to improve. You do not all have to be the same speed but everyone should want to be getting faster and have a curious and positive attitude. This type of positive environment will do wonders. People in our own TSC facebook group thrive because of the positive yet constructive feedback that they hear from others.
So by changing your mindset, approaching the goal with curiosity, starting small, immersing yourself one practice at a time, and creating a positive environment, you will foster a love for the swim that will make you a more complete (and faster) triathlete.
Tri Swim Coach