by Lauren Barsanti
“I would love to do a triathlon, but I’m not a strong swimmer.” Sound familiar? I often hear this response when I encourage people to try a triathlon. Training for triathlons provides an excellent opportunity for cross-training and is a great way to stay in shape. I can understand the hesitation with swimming, however. Most triathlons begin with an open water swim, which can be intimidating even for more experienced swimmers.
I think that many triathletes would admit that swimming is their weakest sport. I believe that it’s also the easiest to improve upon. Swimming is a sport where having good form is crucial to maximize efficiency and have a positive race experience. The harder you have to work in the water, the more tired you will be for the bike and run portions of the race. Below are my top 4 recommended drills to improve your technique for the front crawl, which should be the focus of your training. It’s a good idea to incorporate drills into all of your swim workouts.
- High Elbow Drill – While swimming the front crawl, drag your thumb up the side of the body from your hip to your armpit, keeping your elbow high. Your arms should be close to the body while you swim, not wide (i.e. “windmill arms”). A good demo can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U4gCxJFoso
- Fist Swim – Start swimming the front crawl, but keep your hands in fists the entire time. Instead of focusing on pulling the water just with your hands, focus on using your forearms to pull water and power through the stroke. The more you use your entire arm to pull, the more efficient your stroke will become. A good demo can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul3yH2tzwAU
- Single Arm Drill – Extend one arm in front of your body, and stroke with the other arm. Breathe to the side of the working arm. Focus on high elbow recovery and streamlined hand entry. Try to do an entire length with one arm, and then switch to the other arm on the next length. A good demo can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9yk0uCyKrw
- No Arms Kick Drill - One of the most common swimming complaints I hear is “I just sink.” This is usually a result of poor body position in the water. The ideal body position is to have your chest pointed towards the bottom of the pool. This will lift your bottom half and maintain a horizontal body position. A good way to practice this is to kick your way across the pool without using a kickboard, arms by your sides. Push off the wall and start to kick. Exhale into the water and turn your head to the side to inhale. Your nose and mouth have to be just slightly above the water to breathe. If you are lifting your head all the way out of the water, you are expending too much effort!
Most importantly, enjoy the experience. Swimming should be fun! Also consult a swimming professional if you need more extensive lessons – there are a wide variety of swim classes geared specifically towards triathletes.
Lauren Barsanti has swam competitively for 8 years, including on USA swimming club teams. She began participating in triathlons in 2008 and has since completed both sprint and olympic distance triathlons.