The major differences between Triathletes and Swimmers

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triathletes and swimmersTriathletes and full time swimmers take very different approaches to the same sport. It is sometimes hard to believe that they can share the same pool let alone be on the same Master’s team in peace. Some differences are comical some just make sense because of each athlete’s race specific goals. Nevertheless there are a few items we can both agree on.

I have interviewed several triathlon coaches, swim coaches, and athletes, as well as doing some observational, snooping myself to compile this top ten list of similarities and differences:

  1. Yardage: When triathletes are calling it a day, swimmers are just finishing the warm up. Most age group triathletes swim on average 2500-4000m and practice 2-3x times a week, while many swimmers (non collegiate of course) are doing 5000-6000+ in one session sometimes twice a day.
  2. Drills: Triathletes dedicate much of their yardage to drills while swimmers usually include them in the warm up if at all. When 90% of your workout is drill and zone 2 efficiency work, you know you are a beginner triathlete (<– nothing wrong with that when you are first starting and in fact it’s encouraged)
  3. Toys: Triathletes love their toys and like to use/depend on them a bit more than is recommended. Swimmers use toys like paddles, pull buoys, and fins for very specific purposes. As one coach said “A snorkel? What’s that? This isn’t scuba…” Triathletes may want to be a little more selective in their use many coaches think.
  4. Nutrition: According to many coaches from both sports, swimmers and triathletes LOVE their carbs. While there is a growing movement in both sports to reduce carbohydrates, many athletes continue to chop up clif bars and put it in their morning bowl of cereal (I am not making that up) or top their bagels with gels. At least we can break bread together.
  5. Morning practices: Yep, neither athlete can escape the morning alarm clock either.
  6. Racing: Given the recovery speed of swimming, swimmers can race almost every weekend without problems. Triathletes though, especially those who race long course, have to scrape their pennies and race only a few times per year.
  7. Off season: Competitive swimmers really do not get an off season. When winter indoor season ends in April and March, summer swim league is heating up. Many swimmers only take a few weeks off before launching into another race filled season. Triathletes have a definitive off season usually taken in the northern hemisphere around October through February where they focus on training with little to no racing.
  8. There are more strokes out there than freestyle: Triathletes like to stick with freestyle, while swimmers–even those who swim long distance freestyle–mix it up for at least one set per workout. Something triathletes might want to look into.
  9. Shaving legs: this seems common in both sports even though the only benefits might be psychological.
  10. Jammers vs. speedos: Triathletes tend to stick to their jammers while many swimmers like to don their multicolored speedos and comical drag suits.

Swimmers and Triathletes look and train very differently, but that is alright. Triathletes have to balance two other sports while swimmers can finish a race, puke on the pool deck, and still recover before the next race later on in the day. Despite these difference there is a lot to be learned from each sport’s training philosophy. Just make sure you do not get in the way of either while they are swimming their main sets.

Train Hard,
Coach Chris and Kev