February 7, 2017

Work Your Triathlon Weakness: Swim

Work Your Weakness Swim

Welcome to my Work Your Triathlon Weakness series. Each Tuesday this month, I will be focusing on one of the four sports of triathlon. Yes, four  – Transition counts. T1 and T2 deserve a little attention too. This week we are focusing on the swim.

Improving your triathlon swim can be achieved simply by putting in the hours. During your training, most of your swim hours will be in the pool, unless you happen to live in an area that gives you access to open water swimming pretty easily.

While it’s important to also find a way to get in some open water swim training, the pool will help you get the foundation you need to be a strong swimmer. You’ll definitely need this foundation when you hit the open water.

If you asked most triathlon coaches, they would tell you that the best way to improve your overall triathlon performance is to focus on your weakest sport. For many triathletes, that’s the swim. In order to improve you swim, you have to ask yourself what’s the weakest part of my stroke? Then, you or your coach can design drills that help you work on turning that weakness into a strength.

So, let’s break down the various weaknesses a swimmer’s freestyle may have:

Head Position. A neutral head position is very important in swimming. When you are face down on the water, your head and neck should be neutral and you should be looking directly at the bottom of the pool. As you take individual strokes, your head should remain in that position even though the rest of your body is rotating. The only time your head should turn is one the strokes you take your breath. Otherwise, you should be able to see all that gunk buildup on the bottom of the pool floor!

The Pull. I am a huge fan of the pull buoy for practicing my pull stroke. I only wish I could swim a tri with the pull buoy! It really takes my backend drag out of the equation. But, I digress. Your pull stroke is where you get all your power in the freestyle. If you waste it, you’re wasting a lot of your energy in the first leg of the event. As you pull through the water, it is important to get the maximum benefit from the stroke by pulling all the way past your hipline. This is one of the most important parts of your stroke to work on especially if you are new to swimming. You will reap the most benefit in the water from the propulsion forward you get in pulling past your hips.



The Kick. It’s somewhat common that the kick is where many swimmers need improvement. If you find yourself kicking too much through your legs and not more through the hips then you are wasting a lot of energy. Kicking too hard this way is often due to a swimmer trying to make up for what is really drag in the water. I spend a good bit of some of my weekly drills practicing nothing but my kick using the kickboard. I try to maintain my focus on kicking through my hips and not through my legs. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference, the clue is that you will find yourself kicking only from the knee down (meaning your knees are bending) rather than keeping your legs straight and kicking through your hips.



The correct kick technique…


The Crossover. Crossing one arm over the midline is considered a crossover. Generally, this happens when you breathe on the opposite side if you aren’t conditioned to keep your arm in extended straight. The portion of the freestyle stroke where your hand and arm enter the water and begin the pull is known as the catch. If you are more of a cyclist than a swimmer, think of it as the gain you get from the bottom pedal stroke to the top using clipless pedals. The best way to work on breaking this habit is the catch up drill with or without the use of a pull buoy.  If you are a beginner and not comfortable with the catch up drill, use a pull buoy so that you take your legs completely out of the equation. As you become comfortable kicking while doing the catch up drill, you can forego the use of the pull buoy.



Once you’ve corrected these issues, it’s time to start working on building endurance.

Participate in a Triathlon Clinic or Swim Clinic. These clinics will typically focus on helping you break your bad habits and the coaches will be able to provide you will both instruction as well as some drills for your specific issues.

Work Your Lungs. You’re going to need to build endurance as much as you can in the pool. Unfortunately, the way you swim in the pool does not translate to open water swimming. So, you will have to readjust once you start practicing in open water. I strongly recommend finding a few open water swimming opportunities in your area to practice before your event.

Try Master Swimming. Having that set of eyes watching you during your drill sets will give you the added benefit of someone correcting your issues. A swim coach won’t let you continue your laps with bad form. He/She will stop you, give you a dryland demonstration of your error and how to correct it and then send you down the pool to work on it.

Regardless of whether you are a beginner swimmer or a lifelong competitive swimmer, we can all benefit from continually evaluating our swim stroke and tweaking the things that need tweaking.

What has worked for you in improving your swimming?

Work Your Triathlon Weakness - Swim




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35 Comments on “Work Your Triathlon Weakness: Swim

February 8, 2017 at 8:02 pm

I used to work on this SO much. Everything from holding the side and kicking to using the floaties boards so I could just focus on kicking
Carmy recently posted…One Pot Creamy Mushroom, Chicken, Spinach Pasta + GiveawayMy Profile

Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:37 pm

kick boards and pull buoys can really help isolate just the legs or just the arms and improve your form on each independently without having to think about everything at once. I always recommend doing drills of both kinds.

February 8, 2017 at 8:05 pm

I am the worst swimmer I know. I can do an old lady breaststroke but that’s about it. Lol!
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February 8, 2017 at 8:10 pm

This is all really fabulous advice. I think I am a good swimmer, but I don’t know how to quantify that. This is the year I try a tri (see what I did???), and it’s going to be a pool swim. However, I can apply a lot of this to help my technique.
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Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:35 pm

If you don’t have experience in open water, a pool tri is the best place to start. Pool swimming does not translate to open water swimming. I’ve seen all too often someone enter the open water for the first time on race morning and panic and have to be pulled. It really is a different beast. Let me know how your first tri goes!

Kimberly Hatting
February 8, 2017 at 8:10 pm

I am so not a swimmer (yet), but our son is (his specialty is the 500 and mile…UGH). I do have hopes of doing a tri someday, though. I love these tips…and am sending the link to the son. We’re trying to persuade him to do a tri 😉
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Lisa @ Mile by Mile
February 8, 2017 at 8:11 pm

I need so much help with my swimming technique. I cant figure out how to breathe while I am swimming which messes up everything else! I took a class a few years ago but I dont keep up with it consistently enough to get better.
Lisa @ Mile by Mile recently posted…30 Minute 90s Themed Spinning WorkoutMy Profile

Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner
February 8, 2017 at 8:48 pm

My left arm will crossover at times-I’ve been working hard on it. Great tips here! I am in the building phase right now for my spring tri. Look forward to your series
Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner recently posted…Life Lessons Learned In The Lap LaneMy Profile

Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:33 pm

I think even with advanced swimmers, arm crossover is something that needs worked on. It’s an easy habit to fall into and a hard one to break.

February 8, 2017 at 9:01 pm

First off – wowza! Way to go committing to getting stronger in such a tough area! I am still a weak swimmer, but practice always helps!

Kimberly G
February 8, 2017 at 9:18 pm

I can do a mean doggie paddle, but other than that, I’m not the best swimmer, lol. I really wish I could get better at it!
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Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Well, you may be able to muscle through then LOL! I’ve seen some crazy swimming at triathlons.

Emily Holdorf
February 8, 2017 at 9:39 pm

This was such an interesting read! I’m not a very good swimmer, but this was so informative.

dixya @food, pleasure, and health
February 8, 2017 at 10:23 pm

im so afraid of water, not sure if i will be able to be good at swimming.
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abbey sharp
February 8, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Love these tips!! I find that consistency is key for me with many sports, and practicing often to improve my technique!
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February 8, 2017 at 11:35 pm

A lot of info in this post. I don’t do triathlons and don’t consider myself a swimmer. I do think it’s an incredible workout though. I certainly think though I’m not kicking properly and using more of my legs and not my hips. Will be thinking of this the next time I’m in the pool. Thanks.
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Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Swimming is a great workout. It burns alot of calories in a low impact way. Getting in the pool is also good for runners – cross training and deep water jogging.

Katie Shepherd
February 9, 2017 at 8:04 am

I was recently invited to an Aquathlon. One to two mile swim and 10k run. I am not a strong swimmer but would love to try this! Thank you for the tips!

Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Yes, those are fun! They also have Aquabike races. Good luck working on your swimming.

February 9, 2017 at 8:14 am

Swimming is SERIOUSLY my weakness when it comes to triathlon. I haven’t been in the pool to swim laps in years (I obviously gave up tri, haha). But I know it is such fantastic cross training, I really should get back to it!
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Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:30 pm

I would say that the largest percentage of triathletes name the swim as their weak link. If swimming isn’t your thing, there’s always duathlons – Run, Bike, Run.

Sandra Laflamme
February 9, 2017 at 9:49 am

Loving this series! I am a triathlete too and relatively new so I need all of the advice and technique I can get! We should link-up for some posts!
Sandra Laflamme recently posted…Triathlon Talk. 3 Drills For Improving your Strokes.My Profile

Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Welcome to the Triathlete Club! They are very addictive – so you will have many ahead of you, I’m sure. I would love to link up for some Tri posts. I’ll be in touch.

Jodi @ Create Kids Club
February 9, 2017 at 10:01 am

This is great! I took a masters swim class and this was a great review of everything we learned. I just wish it was easier to hit a pool to get in practice. Running and biking is so much easier to find the time to do 🙁
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Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Masters swim is great for keeping up your swimming especially since they run those so early in the mornings before the day gets going.

February 9, 2017 at 10:11 am

Great post! I plan to try triathlons over the next few years and I am not a strong swimmer, this offered me some great info, thanks!
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Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 9, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Glad to hear that, Toni. I hope you’ll come back and get some of the swim workouts when you’re ready to start training for Triathlons. You’ll be hooked once you start training

Julie @ Running in a Skirt
February 9, 2017 at 12:22 pm

What a great read!! I can swim… but don’t really know how to swim for fitness… this is a great place to start!

February 9, 2017 at 1:51 pm

This is awesome! I’m not a trainer like this but I am so inspired by you! You go girl!

Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home
February 9, 2017 at 4:58 pm

This is great advice! Although now I’m more scared than ever to try to swim like a real swimmer…
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Jill Conyers
February 9, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Ha! It would be a stretch to say what I do in a pool is swimming. It’s not pretty.
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Kathryn @ Dancing to Running
February 9, 2017 at 8:52 pm

To be honest, its the swim that keeps me from wanting to do a triathlon. Since I wear contacts, I’m incredibly fearful of having my face in the water for an extended period of time. Even with wearing goggles. Any suggestions for getting over this fear?
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Mary Beth Jackson
February 10, 2017 at 6:05 am

I admire all you swimmers! This looks like great tips for everyone!
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Patty @ Reach Your Peak
February 13, 2017 at 6:02 pm

I dont think I will ever do a triathlon but I do want to swim more often. Such a good workout. Even though I can run however many miles, I legit can only swim from one end to the other and then need a break because I’m so out of breath lol

Cassandra @ Powered By BLING
February 23, 2017 at 10:34 pm

At least you’re in the pool. Take a look at some of my other swim workouts on the site. You can do some 25 or 50 yard/meter intervals and that will help you begin to build your endurance. Good luck with your swimming!


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