How is the “31 Easy Tips…” series treating you? I hope it is helping. Implement one or two things from the list (don’t try to do too much) over the course of a few weeks and track your progress.
Today’s tip is #20: Do LESS Freestyle
Yes, you read that correctly – do LESS freestyle!
Most triathletes swim freestyle and only freestyle, given that it is the fastest stroke. Fair enough.
However, experimenting with the other three strokes will benefit your swimming in a number of ways:
- Give your freestyle-specific joints and muscles a break and avoid overuse injuries
- Make your swim practices more interesting
- Develop your non-freestyle muscles (e.g. strengthen your legs doing breaststroke)
- Give you options in a race should you need to switch strokes – take a breather, fix your goggles, etc.
- Up the intensity in the pool by adding butterfly
- Give you confidence in your overall swimming ability by mastering the ‘other’ strokes
- Maybe counter-intuitively, a strong kick can help with sighting in open water as you can use it to get your head out of the water and maintain forward progress
Try adding a mix of the different strokes in the warm up and warm down, and go from there. Your freestyle muscles will thank you!
Previous tips in the 31 Easy Tips series include:
#1: Drink Water First Thing in the Morning
#2: Write Down Your Goals (Now!)
#3: Ask an Expert
#4: Start Stretching
#5: Track your progress towards your Goals
#6: Take a Cold Shower
#7: Incorporate Drills into your Workouts
#8: Superfoods for Superperformance
#9: Get Some Rest
#10: Cross train
#11: Reward Yourself
#12: Don’t Breathe in the Pool
#13: Take a Bath
#14: Do Squat!
#15: Get Yourself a Mentor
#16: Do Yoga
#17: Be on Time
#18: Leave Your Bucket of Troubles at the Door
#19: Stay Healthy!
Goal: As race day approaches, it is time to swim continuously for 1500m. Rather than setting my swimmers off on a continuous swim, I want them engaged, concentrating and hitting race pace. As such, I break the swim down into 3x 500m and challenge them to swim controlled race pace, swimmer faster as the set proceeds.
Some of the weaker swimmers will do 5x300m to allow for more rest, but the same principles apply – strong technique, controlled pacing and descending times.
Warm up: 10 mins own warm up. Time to practice what you are going to do on race day. Swimmers need to experiment with what works for them in a warm up.
Main set: 3 x 500m race pace swimming, record your time each rep. 20 seconds (or less) rest in between: this should really be 1500m broken up into 3x500m with short rest, rather than 3 x 500m swims.
#1: steady, controlled pace, comfortable but not easy effort
#2: Race pace. If their goal time on race day is 30 minutes, they should hit 10 mins for this swim (1/3rd of 30 mins).
#3: Faster than #2.
Cool down: 10 mins easy swimming.
Bilateral breathing is often under-rated, but it is a key component of swimming for triathletes. It is fine to have a stronger side, but do incorporate bilateral breathing into your workouts for open water swimming.
Three reasons you should practice your bilateral breathing:
1) Balance your stroke
Just like writing, people naturally have a stronger side when it comes to swimming, and are biased towards breathing to that side. That is perfectly fine, and stick to your preferences when racing, but practice breathing to both sides when you’re training. This will balances out both sides of your stroke and ensure you are equally strong on both sides.
2) Race day skills
If you happen to be swimming beside someone who is super splashy you will want to breathe to the opposite if you don’t want to be swallowing water every breath. Being able to breathe bilaterally will allow you to switch sides and breathe towards calmer waters. You can also track your rivals while racing – there will be no hiding for them! Give yourself options.
3) Open water navigation
Bilateral breathing will allow you to sight to both sides and ensure you are swimming in a straight line. For example, if you are swimming parallel to the shore on your left, but you breathe only to the right, you will miss out on easy sighting. Practice breathing to both sides and reduce the number of times you need to lift your head to sight forwards.
How to add bilateral breathing to your swimming
Add bilateral breathing to your swimming gradually. Breathing every three strokes can be tough on the lungs so increase it gradually.
Start with breathing to the left for one length, then breathe to the right only for one length. This will get you used to your form when breathing to both sides while swimming.
Next, add some breathing to your weaker side every 5th stroke: breathe every two as normal, and then on the 5th breath take three strokes and breathe to your weaker side before switching back to your stronger side. When that becomes comfortable increase the number of times per length that you breathe bilaterally.
To increase your bilateral breathing further, add it every fourth length, then every 3rd, then every second length, until you can breathe bilaterally continuously during a long swim. Here is a great video on how to add bilateral breathing.
Breathing to your weaker side may throw your stroke off and feel weird at first but persevere, it will soon become second nature. You will be glad of this skill when you hit the open water and on race day.
In open water swimming one of the many challenges is to swim straight and keep the distance you swim to a minimum.
You can beat much better swimmers than you by being clever and efficient with your open water swimming. If you snake through the swim and are constantly having to correct course, these tips may help you.
1) Bi-lateral breathing
Most swimmers have a stronger side and that naturally leads to imbalances in the stroke. If you breathe to one side only it increases the likelihood of swimming off to one side (unless you sight regularly). Breathe to both sides to swim straighter. You can use markers to sight to both the left and right, and reduce your reliance on sighting to the front.
2) Practice in the open water
This is where the true test occurs, and the more you practice, the better you will become at open water swimming and in particular straight swimming.
3) Swim blind
When in the pool, close your eyes and see how straight you can swim. Try and get a feel for which arm or element of your stroke might be leading you astray. Practice and see how far you can get with your eyes closed and without hitting the lane ropes. Swim safely though.
4) Keep your stroke long and smooth
This will reduce any ‘jerking’ that may cause you to swim off course. The more strokes you take, the more likely your imbalances will reveal themselves.
5) Practice your sighting
The goal is to sight as little as possible, while keeping as straight as possible. Make your sighting technique as efficient as possible, and in rhythm with your stroke to reduce the energy it takes. Practice regularly in training. When you are sighting, look for tall, obvious landmarks that stick out bit jut the buoys which can be hard to spot. Pre-race, scout the course and see what landmarks are in line with the buoys. Work on spotting them rather than searching long and hard for the smaller buoys.
Open water swimming can be a tough skill to master, but there are many quick and easy tips to help you master it. Swimming straight in the open water is key, as it ensures you swim fewer metres and helps conserve your energy for the bike and run legs.
I recently wrote a guest post for Beyond Transition (update 06/2013: now defunct apparently), a comprehensive website for all triathletes. The post is copied below.
It features tips on overcoming a fear of open water swimming. If you’re a beginner swimmer, this mental battle is often the toughest part of open water swimming. Developing open water swimming skills (both technical and mental) is vital for triathletes.
Dive in, it’s fun in the open waters!
6 tips for people who are scared of open water swimming
Swimming in the open water, be it a lake, river or sea, is very different to pool swimming. You’re in a strange environment with fewer comforts – no solid black line on the bottom to guide you, no lane ropes calming the water, no walls at which to rest, no shallow end where you can stand, a lack of visibility and any number of creatures to deal with.
When you add in the crowd of athletes, rough waters and waves crashing close to shore, it is understandable that people are intimidated by open water swimming.
However, it does not have to be so daunting. Here are some top tips to help get you over your doubts and through the swim.
1) Safety First.
An obvious one perhaps, but taking common-sense precautions will help you minimize the danger – and your fears. Tell the lifeguard on duty your plans so they can look out for you. Always swim with others, especially in water with no lifeguards. Swim parallel to the shore – this will help guide you, and if you do get anxious you will have a shorter distance to shore for a breather. Maximize the safety, minimize your anxiety!
Have faith in your training. On race day remind yourself you’ve been here before in countless practices. If you’re scared of drowning, scan the many lifeguards, kayaks and boats supervising the swim. Don’t get frazzled by the pack – frustration only wastes energy. Prior to the swim start check out the layout of the course, identify the buoys, water conditions, the sun, etc. Have the proper equipment and be comfortable using it. Don’t let your brain run on overdrive – relax.
3) Breathe…in AND out!
Holding your breath automatically increases your anxiety, as your body and brain will set off alarm bells about your lack of oxygen. Not only will steady and efficient breathing help you relax but it will fuel your muscles and help you perform better.
Make sure you are breathing out at a steady rate, and taking in enough breaths. You can breathe every two strokes, or breathe bilaterally every three strokes. Everyone has a stronger side to breathe to, but practice bilateral breathing for race day so you can sight to both sides, and avoid splashy competitors.
Be comfortable floating. If you do panic and can’t get your breath, just flip over on to your back and take some slow breaths. Swim on once you relax.
Control your breathing by focusing on blowing bubbles at a steady rate. This will ensure you breathe out regularly and will also take your mind off your anxieties.
4) If you struggle to relax, distract your brain.
Count while breathing out (“1, 2, 3”). Count your strokes. Count your left arm for 50 strokes, your right arm for 50 strokes, etc. Focus on particular elements of your stroke you have been working on in the pool, e.g. hand entry, reach at the front, etc. Other tricks to distract your brain include building lists of your favorite songs, or places you want to visit. Just don’t lose total focus –make sure you are on course and on pace.
5) Swim sensibly.
Ease in to the swim, start steady and increase the pace as you settle in. Ignore everyone else and swim your own race.
Avoid the hustle and bustle of the pack. Start at the back or to the sides of the pack. It may cost you some time, but you will be swimming in calmer waters. Focus on your breathing, stroke and relaxing. The chaos and churn will die down as the swimmers spread out.
Watch where you’re going, sight regularly in order to travel in a straight line and keep the swim as short as possible!
Take advantage of your fellow swimmers. They are not all out to kick you! Follow their bubbles, they can help guide you. Swimming alongside others can give you the comfort of a group, and you can take advantage of drafting, making the swim a little easier.
6) Practice, Practice, Practice!
Just like on the bike, the more you practice open water swimming, the more comfortable you will become and the better you will swim. Do anything enough and it will become second nature! If you hate even the thought of open water swimming, then try and make it fun. Go to the beach with your family and include a training swim. There are lots of drills to help you in the open water, e.g. water polo swimming for sighting.
There is a lot to think about, but nothing to fear. Focus and relax and all will go swimmingly!