Triathletes, When is the Right Time to Work with a Swim Coach?

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by David Wendkos

A prudent person profits from personal experience, a wise one from the experience of others.” – Joseph Collins

Recently, I was chatting with a friend who is also an aspiring triathlete. She is relatively new to the sport, coming predominantly from a running background. She remarked that she was slow in the water and didn’t have much swimming talent. When I suggested that she consider working with me, or some other swim coach to improve her swimming, her response was that she would work on getting in better shape in the water first, and down the line, perhaps she would have me work with her on her stroke. I tried to explain the following to her:

The time to work on technique is NOT once you have developed conditioning.. . in ANY physical activity.

Our bodies develop muscle memory in any repetitive motion, and we all know it is harder to break a habit than to create one. Imagine for example, never having played golf, you head to the driving range and hit bucket after bucket of balls. Initially, they barely make it off the tee, but after a while, you start to get some distance. The problem is, some go right, some go left, and every so often, you get one that flies straight and true. But the underlying problem is far more significant – you cannot possibly know why the ball is going where it is going. Without understanding the technical aspects of the golf swing, it cannot be assessed. Without the perspective of another set of eyes to review it, the troubled swing essentially becomes impossible to correct.

As Kevin Koskella has noted in the past, swimming is surprisingly similar to golf in many ways. In this discussion, it is for the fact that both have a surprising number of fine details that differentiate between an effective and efficient stroke, and the flawed stroke that uses far more energy than needed to deliver far less desirable results than could otherwise be produced. In the past fifteen to twenty years, the science of swimming has progressed enormously, and the coaches who have followed it, studied it, and learned it can help you to be more successful at it. Particularly in triathlon, where you have a huge quantity of physical exertion remaining once your swim is over, learning to be efficient in the water is of critical importance. As the saying goes, “You may not be able to win a triathlon in the swim, but you can certainly lose one there.”

Just as drill and technique work is best performed early in a workout, on a grand scheme, the time for my friend, and any other person aspiring to swim well, to be instructed in the proper skills for swimming, is sooner rather than later. Particularly as we head into wintertime, and the ‘offseason’ for triathlon, even below your base conditioning should be your base technique building.

For a list of Tri Swim Coach recommended coaches, click here. Click here for an article on how to determine what to look for in a swim coach.

David Wendkos lives in Annapolis, MD and has over 30 years of competitive swimming, coaching swimmers for the pool, open water, and triathlons. He can be followed on twitter at