Swimming Techniques for Sprint Tri
When you think of a triathlete, you probably picture someone like Zach Tacy: Super fit and lean, ready to run, swim and bike circles around you before you’re even done strapping on your swim goggles.
But not every triathlete is an elite athlete, and not every triathlon is an Ironman. Sprint Triathlons - which offer shorter distances - are becoming increasingly popular. A Sprint Triathlon involves a .5 mile swim, a 12.4 mile bike and a 3.1 mile run, so training for it is extremely doable. It’s a great gateway into the sport of triathlon; in fact, Zach’s first tri was the Asheville Triathlon, which is a sprint tri.
“When I crossed the finish line (at the Asheville Tri), the volunteers and staff were extremely supportive and so encouraging to everyone,” Zach says. “It was a phenomenal experience.”
Training for a Sprint Tri is easy to do as long as you stay consistent. Long workouts are not necessary, but doing all three sports on a regular basis each week is what will set you up for success. We will have three blogs posted over the next couple of weeks on techniques for swimming, biking and running. Here are some tips to get you started on the right path.
Swim Training: Breathing
When training for any triathlon, it is very important to work on your swimming technique. Zach’s first tip? Don’t forget to breathe. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s more difficult than you may think.
“It’s something I’m still working on,” Zach admits. “Having proper technique for swimming is so important - it’s more important than in running or biking.
A lot of people hold their breath while swimming, he addds, which leads to quicker fatigue and gasping for air. Instead, focus on a steady inhale/exhale rhythm, much like in yoga and running. Blow air out from your nose while your face is submerged and empty your lungs, then on every other stroke, tilt your head to the side, halfway out of the water, and take in oxygen. Once comfortable with that, inhale every three strokes while expelling air in between to practice getting air on both sides.
“This allows for a smoother breathing pattern, decreased fatigue, and allows the swimmer to focus more on effort and swim stroke than breathing.”
Bonus tip: Developing a breathing pattern is also very helpful for running.
“It should feel comfortable and natural,” Zach says. “And, it may change! Let it grow and evolve with your running.”
Save your legs for biking and running
When swimming, rely mostly on your arms to pull you through the water. There are plenty of practice drills you can work on to accomplish this. For example, you can start each of your swim sessions with 10-15 minutes of some of the following drills:
- Fingertip Drag: Drag your fingertips along the surface of the water when you bring your arm forward after a stroke. This helps you control your arm movement and keeping your elbow bent.
- Doggie Paddle: Remember this one when you were a kid? Keep your chin on the surface of the water and push your elbows outward as you swim forward, keeping your hands under the water.
- Clenched Fists: Swim your normal freestyle stroke with clenched fists. This emphasizes the role of the forearm.
- Kickboard:Use a kickboard to focus only on your kick while keeping your arms stationary on the board.
Your head position will lead the rest of the body, says Zach. Your face should be at about a 45 degree angle in the water, with your forehead cresting the surface. Looking too far forward will cause resistance and pain in neck and shoulders, as well as making your body rotation more difficult. Looking too far down will also cause resistance.
Good body rotation is a very important when you’re swimming.
“When your arm enters the water, you want to reach a little further before starting your pull/stroke,” Zach says. “This will help with body rotation as well.”
The stroke should make a slight S-path in order to catch more water, and you should finish your stroke around the upper thigh.
“Also, drive from the hips! Allow your body rotation to propel you forward instead of fully relying on you shoulders and stroke. By driving from the hips and rotating your body properly, you will become a more efficient swimmer.”
Know what to expect
It’s important to know what type of race start your event will have so you can prepare for it mentally and physically during your training. There are a couple of start styles that are the most common: A wave start, and a time trial start.
The Asheville Tri is a time-trial start, and your start time will be assigned to you (you can anticipate about five seconds between each swimmer). During the registration process, you will be asked to submit your 100 yard swim time. This is not the fastest you can swim 100 yards, but the time you expect to average during the entire swim. Here is a good guide when deciding what swim time to register for the Asheville Triathlon:
- 0:50 – 1:20 : Super Fast (In contention to win the race and you swim competitively)
- 1:21 – 1:45 : Fast Enough (Still starting in the first 1/3 of the event)
- 1:46 – 2:10 : Average Swimmer (Swim well enough and don’t need to stop at the end of each lane)
- 2:11 – 2:44 : Novice (Still getting used to swimming in a triathlon)
- 2:45 – 4:59 : Complete beginner (I want to start at the back)
Be consistent in your training
Try to swim once or twice a week, and aim for 250 meters. You can break your sessions into intervals of 25 meters (usually one length of a pool) of nonstop swimming with 20 seconds of rest in between to catch your breath. Remember: You don’t want to be gasping for air. Instead, enjoy your time in the pool. This will help you stay consistent and avoid skipping workouts.
“I am a Pisces,” says Zach. “I love being in the water! It doesn’t matter if it’s racing, training, or just for fun. Swimming can be a Zen state for me…Once I warm up and sync in my breathing, strokes, and rotation, the rest flows smooth.”
Click here for more information about the Asheville Triathlon, and to register for this event, which takes place Sunday, July 21st.
Editor’s note: We will continue to blog about the Asheville Triathlon in the upcoming weeks. Next up: Biking!
PHOTO CREDIT: WRIGHT CREATIVE, INC.