If you’ve followed Triathlon Taren for a while, then you’ll know I was quite afraid of the water when I got into this sport. It was a struggle for me to even swim 25 yards. Fast forward to the summer of 2015, I completed a nine-hour, 27km marathon open water swim with my good friend Coach Pat, and then in the summer of 2017, we did a 37km open water swim in Winnipeg’s Red River.
I truly believe anyone can make that kind of dramatic improvement in their swim. For me, it all started to get easier when I learned how to get control of my breath while freestyle swimming.
So, today, I’m bringing you the three best tips that were a crucial part of improving my ability to breath while freestyle swimming in the water.
TIP #1: SLOW YOURSELF WAYYYYY DOWN
This is probably the best tip I could give anyone in relation to triathlon swimming technique. Part of the problem is that all we see on TV is footage of Michael Phelps at the Olympics or professional triathletes in big races, just givin‘r.
But most of us age group athletes aren’t nearly that fit, our lungs aren’t not built the same as those folks’, and we don’t have the same decades of competition level swimming experience behind us.
TAREN’S ADVICE: Slow yourself down in the water. (Oddly enough, you’ll probably find you go faster because you’re not thrashing with an uncontrolled technique.) You’ll be smoother, your body will be level, you’ll be able to catch and feel the water better. But more importantly, you’ll be able to control your heart rate because you aren’t working as hard. A controlled heart rate makes for a far easier time in the water, hands down.
Once you get past the first phase of being comfortable in the water, you can worry about adding intensity here and there as you build lung capacity. But to start, slow and steady really does win (or at least finish) the race, particularly in a triathlon swim.
TIP #2: KICK LESS TO CONSERVE OXYGEN
Believe it or not, the kick is only between 5-15% of your thrust in a swim stroke. You can put in thousands of metres of practice swimming improving your kick in the pool, and let’s say you improve your kick by a whopping 50%. You’ll still only get, say, 2-5% faster. Because your legs are the largest muscles in your body, spending time on all that kicking is going to be a fast way to use up oxygen. And what does that mean? You’ll be breathing heavier and everything will be tougher.
TAREN’S ADVICE: Your triathlon swimming kick shouldn’t be for thrust. Your kick should be for balance, body rotation, and keeping your body streamlined, all of which requires a fairly minimal kick. It goes back to what I said in the first tip, slow and controlled movements are a great way to conserve energy and oxygen. A small, effective triathlon swimming kick is all you actually need.
TIP #3: LEARN HOW TO FLOAT
Water is 784 times more dense than air. As triathletes, we’re hyper focused about being aerodynamic on our bikes. But that’s actually super easy. We should be just as worried about being hydrodynamic in the water. That means making sure our legs are closer to the surface of the water so they’re streamlined and aren’t causing drag.
TAREN’S ADVICE: Spend time floating on your stomach and making sure your back end, from your butt all the way down to your feet, is up close to the surface. It could take some time until you’re comfortable floating, but it’s really important. Once you’ve got that down, slowly add some kick and your stroke, while making sure your body is as flat as possible.
You may never grow to love swimming, but using these tips to get better in the water should make the process a heck of a lot more enjoyable. If you want to check out the video that demonstrates these tips, head over to my YouTube channel by clicking the link right here.