The most neglected training in triathlon but maybe the most important

We all like to train our strengths. 

Because it feels good when we are good at something. But there’s something about triathlon that most don’t think about. It doesn’t mater if its Off Road or Road, 70.3 or Ironman (though the longer the race to more important developing what I’m about to discuss is). 

And while our Whistler Triathlon is not so long in distances, it does take longer due to Off Road being more technical than road triathlons. 

Triathlon is not swim + bike + run. It’s actually swimbikerun. 

What do I mean by that? 

Well we have to understand that the key to running well off the bike is maintaining form throughout and if we neglect our swim training, it will come to bite us in the butt on the run. See if you get out of the water having used more energy and resources than required you will be more taxed on the bike and thus even more taxed come the run. 

I like to say swim training is run training. 

And if swimming is not a strong point for you, then it’s even more important to do the swim work so you can get out of the water fresher. Many athletes like to think it doesn’t matter and “I’ll just improve my bike and run and catch up.” 

If only it worked that way. That extra fatigue from not having swim fitness or strength will come back at you when you least want it. 

I’ve also seen strong swimmers neglect their swim training and not get the most from their bike and run. 

So keeping form under ever increasing amounts of duress is how you get from start to finish in your best times. It’s the person who slows down the least that goes the fastest. 

Do your swim work and do it consistently. 

For the weaker swimmers, do not worry so much as how fast you swim. If you’ve grown up without a swim background it’s so much harder, but if you focus on using the right tools that allow you to focus on your form, you can develop great strength and fitness that will get you out of the water come June 12 in good shape. Thus allowing you to leverage that fitness for a great bike and run. 

Here are two pieces of equipment that allow you to get the most out of your swim training. 

1. The Pull Buoy

Many will say the pull buoy is cheating! It’s not. My aim is to get you swimming more good strokes and less sub optimal strokes. A pull buoy will do more for your swim than any swim drill will. I know thats a big call, but it’s what I know to be true after working with hundreds upon hundreds of athletes over the years. 

A buoy will lift your sinking legs and help keep you in a horizontal position. This means you can focus on the aspects of your swim stroke that matter the most. When your legs are sinking, you are uncomfortable and will struggle to focus on good form. When you’re not struggling to stay afloat you’ll enjoy swimming more and be more consistent. Aim to get biggest pull buoy possible or get some wetsuit shorts. 

The stroke technique we are always looking for is that your elbow stays higher than your hand. If your elbow enters the water before your hand you have a dropped “chicken wing” elbow. So you’ll have an ineffective catch and then no leverage with your pull. So focus on your hand entering the water first and stacked or just slightly outside your shoulder. 

Try not to have a long glide. As you’ll likely drop that elbow in the glide and in open water swimming there are other bodies, could be chop or swell that renders a glide inefficient. As soon as that hand enters focus on cocking your elbow (pushing it out to the side), this will keep the elbow higher then your hand/wrist and help it get into a more vertical forearm position. From here you’ll then have good leverage to strongly pull your hand and arm back toward and past your hip. We want to hold on to the water and bring our body forward. Not push our hand down to the bottom of the pool and then back. Thus the high elbow UNDER the water. 

Focus on that wax-on wax-off and that repetition ie every single stroke with the pull buoy will help you train many good strokes and improve your efficiency and fitness. 

Now… the strength part. 

2. Paddles

Add paddles to the pull buoy and we build strength into your stroke. Thus more good strokes. Together they also help keep your heart rate lower and thus can cover more distance for less aerobic cost thus giving you the stroke repetition to improve. 

Now I recommend  a specific paddle and size. Because this is what I’ve found most beneficial over the years. The TYR Catalyst 2 Paddle in XS… yes don’t go and buy a dinner plate. The XS paddles (slightly larger than your hand) will allow you a full length of stroke. Its important to be able to push that last 1/3 of the stroke and most can’t when the paddle is too big. These XS paddles will allow a smart development of strength without over doing it. 

Those two tools combined will help you exit the swim in better shape and have more energy to burn on the bike and run. Plus it will leave with with more confidence for the swim portion and being the RD of a triathlon and also part of the swim safety team for Ironman Canada events, I know how important confidence in the swim is for those weaker swimmers. 

The right swim training makes your day so much more fun. 

If you are a new or weaker swimmer, instead of just trying to swim the distance in one go. Break up the swim into 25 and 50m repeats. This allows you to focus on form and develop better form through repetition. If you just try to swim 750-1500m non stop, you’ll likely swim ok for 100m and the rest you’ll be training bad form into the body. 

So break it up, take small 10-15sec rest between and build your form and aerobic endurance that way. 

Also don’t neglect training in a wetsuit. Do one swim per week getting used to you wetsuit and ensure you are putting it on correctly as shown here

If you have any questions. I’m happy to help out. 

Again, If you need help with training for the event you can check out our Off Road Triathlon training plans here

There are plans for both Sprint and Championship and also first timer and intermediate | advanced athletes.

If you feel you need more accountability and plans based on life circumstances you can check out my coaching page here: