Training For A Triathlon : Swimming

Often the first leg for most triathlons, start your race off right by strengthening your swim technique. Most competitive swimmers choose to swim freestyle because it is the most efficient way to move through open water. But don’t be surprised if you end up getting winded after the first 50 yards. One of the most common adjustments to those training for a triathlon is getting use to training in unfamiliar waters. Adjust your routine by varying your training to include sidekicks to work on the rotation your body and breathing. You can also focusing on improving your endurance by practicing one armed strokes or catching up drills. The five most important elements of perfecting the proper freestyle technique is your:

  • Body position – to float high in the water, as this minimizes drag by focusing on pushing your chest to the bottom of the pool to allow your hips to rise
  • Rotation -by rotating your body by 60 degrees from side to side with each stroke, you can slice through the water with less drag
  • Arm Cycle-your leading hand should enter the water about a foot in front of your shoulder and then once you have fully extended your leaning arm, rotate your shoulder and elbow so that your hand and forearm form a single stroke to pull you back
  • Kicking– kick each leg with with each stroke with a tight movement to help propel you through the water while conserving your energy
  • Breathing– inhale on the side of the head on one side every second or fourth stroke on the side of your leading arm

An expert swimmer who has been training for a triathlon for over 16 years, we sat down with Stacey Kiefer from Kiefer to learn more about how she prepares for the big race.

How often do you swim a week to prepare for a triathlon? And how do you balance your swim training with the other two disciplines?

I usually swim a total of 2-4 hours a week, which works out to around 5,500 – 10,000 yards/week. I swim twice a week with the local age group swim team (swimmers who are half my age!). My swim training is done more like a swimmer’s than a triathlete’s because we train with sets that focus on all 4 strokes instead of just freestyle. We also tend to do shorter more intense sets, as opposed to longer steady swimming, like most triathletes enjoy.

Balancing all 3 disciplines – swim, bike, and run – can be tough, so I choose to do my workouts early in the morning. My typical Tuesday/Thursday starts with a 30min run at 4:30am then right into swim practice until 6:30am. Monday/Wednesday  – I generally do a 1hr spin video in my basement (Coach Troy Spinnervals DVD’s) on my bike, which is mounted on a stationary trainer. Friday I strength train for 30min and take a 1hr spin class at the gym. Weekends are longer, less intense workouts with a 2hr spin on Sat and a 45min-1 hr run on Sunday.
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Are there any other exercises you do to help improve your strength in swimming? 

In addition to free weights, I like to use resistance cords for building strength and mending injuries. My favorites are Kiefer Dryland Powercords with Handles. I use different resistances based on the area I am training. Legs gets a harder resistance and arms a little easier resistance. I am also a big fan of paddles for in-water strength. I use the new Kiefer Accelerator Paddles, paired with the Kiefer Contour Pullbuoy.

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How do you prepare for an open water swim if you only have access to an indoor pool? 

You can train for open water in a pool several ways; if the pool takes their racing lanes out, you can perimeter swim (so you never touch the wall). This isn’t always an option, so swimming with another person in a lane in which you take turns drafting, siting, and even running into each other to simulate an open water race. Longer continuous swimming will help build your endurance.
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Is there a different strategy or approach you should use to swim in open water? 
YES, when swimming in open water, you have to remember to stay calm.  You may not be able to see or touch the bottom and there may be nothing to grab onto, so focusing on confidence and a long efficient stroke is very important. If you feel yourself getting worked up or scared, just flip over on your back and take a break. Calm your breathing, think positively, and get your mind back on track. It’s a big mental game that you must control!

What are your swimming essentials?

One of the best products on the market for open water swimming is the Kiefer Safer Swimmer, developed by the International Swimming Hall of Fame. It is a reusable inflatable float that tows behind you. This device is highly visible to keep boaters away, portable (I keep one in the trunk of my car), and just snaps on  – and you can’t even feel it when you are swimming. And as an added bonus the Safer Swimmer can hold your keys or other small items in its dry storage area. This product is a must to ensure safe open water swimming and comes in a variety of sizes and styles.

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For more information on Kiefer’s open water swim products and other swimming essentials, visit them online here.

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