How to Swim Faster for Triathlon – Issue #122

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How to Swim Faster For Triathlon

Dear Friend,

I recently finished the Carlsbad Half Marathon here in San Diego and beat my best time by 4 minutes!

Thinking back to my training for this event, I did not train very hard. Most of my runs were done at below my maximum aerobic heart rate (I use Mark Allen’s 180- my age). I consistently ran 3-4 days/week with the exception of one week in December when I had a cold.

So in training runs I was averaging around 8:15-8:45 miles, even on my shorter runs. ignoring the conventional wisdom of “you have to train hard to race hard”, I was able to average right around 7:30 miles for the full 13.

The point I’m getting it is again, “no pain, no gain” not only doesn’t apply to running, but especially does not apply to swimming!

How To Swim Faster For Triathlon

The best way to slow down your swim to make fantastic gains is to incorporate lots of drills into your workout.

Today, I have included part 2 of 2 of an article from my friend Jeff David on ocean swimming techniques. Jeff was on my college swim team and has been a California state lifeguard for many years, and gives some great advice for anyone doing a race with an ocean swim.


“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Ocean Swimming Techniques (part 2)

By Jeff David, Ca. State Parks Lifeguard Chief, North Orange County

Continued from Part 1 in issue #121.

5. Get out of the white water.

You want to enter the water where the waves ARE NOT breaking. Not only will this most likely be a rip current, but it will also have less white water. You must try to swim through as little white water as possible. It doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are, swimming through white water is very difficult. You can’t pull the air churned water, and you will progress very slowly. This is where most new ocean swimmers make their biggest mistakes. They spend most of their time struggling against the current, the surf and the white water, exhausting themselves at the beginning of the race.

High step run until the water is above your knees, then use the “Dolphin technique.” The technique is named because you will look like a dolphin launching out of the water. Most new open water swimmers run until they can’t run any longer, then they fall down and start swimming in very shallow water. The idea behind dolphining is to get out of the shallows, the white water, and the impact zone as quickly as possible. To dolphin, run until the water is just above your knees, then shallowly dive forward with your arms and hands out in front of you. Grab the bottom of the ocean. Bend your knees bringing your feet up to your hands, and then jump up and forward out of the water with your arms extended in front of you. Repeat the process until the water is deep enough where you can no longer jump out of it, and start swimming.

The ocean bottom is uneven, especially in areas with surf. If you hit the bottom with your swimming stroke, start dolphining again. If it gets so shallow that you can no longer dolphin, stand up and run again, and start the entry process over again.

6. Get out of the impact zone.

Dive under any approaching breaking waves or white water. The farther under water you can get, the better. Grab the bottom with your hands. This way you will “hold” your position, and you won’t be pushed back to the shoreline by the wave. After the wave has past over you, the water will be more shallow, and churned up. Use the dolphining technique to push yourself through the shallow white water and start swimming again.

7. Get in a groove.

If there is surf, it will be difficult to see the turn around buoy. There are a few strategies to deal with this. You can blindly follow a swimmer ahead of you, but if you follow the previous entry suggestions, there may not be anyone close by to follow. Don’t bother looking for the buoy until you are out of the impact zone. Once you are out of the impact zone and the white water, you need to set a course for the buoy. Since you are out of the impact zone, the water is now deeper, and the waves will be “rolling” towards you no longer creating white water. Try to time your stroke so you breathe and look for the buoy while you are at the top of a rolling wave. This will also help you set a stroke rhythm so your arms aren’t crashing into the waves.

8. Body surf to the finish.

On the water entry the goal is to avoid breaking waves. When returning to shore, aim for the breaking waves and avoid the rip currents. The breaking waves are headed in the direction you want to go. This strategy continues to allow you to use the ocean conditions to your advantage. As you approach the impact zone, turn on your back, and do a few strokes of backstoke to watch the incoming waves. This is where timing is very important. You can miss a breaking wave by either being too far ahead of it, or too far behind it. If you are too far ahead, the wave will break on you and you will be struggling in white water after being pounding by the wave. If you are too far behind the breaking wave you will get caught in a mini rip current and get pulled back out to sea, hindering your forward progress. Sometimes it’s better to stop swimming and wait for an approaching breaking wave to help push you in. If you time it correctly, by either waiting or speeding up to catch the wave, you will feel the force of the wave lift you up. Start sprint swimming to get into the body of the wave. You will feel the wave pick you up and propel your body forward. Make your body as long as possible, arms out stretched, legs rigid, head up. When the ride is over, try to stand. If the water is shallow enough to stand, push off the bottom, and try dolphining towards shore. Watch for more approaching breaking waves. Push off the bottom to get yourself into any incoming breaking waves. When the ride is over, start dolphining again, until you can run out of the water ahead of your competition.