Lack Of Progress With Swimming For Triathlon

I have been doing triathlon for 6 years and come from a run background so I have always struggled with swimming but I have persevered and my overall race times are ok.

However I have made very little progress with swimming despite having endless lessons and doing drills and set sessions. I have made progress in the open water linked to increased confidence and improvement of "non swim tech" skills like sighting and drafting but my times in the pool have not improved at all.

Although I do drills the work that I do does not seem to follow through into my actual swimming in the pool and no matter how many lessons I have or how much swimming I do I don't seem to improve at all either in terms of speed or technique.

Should I just try to swim faster regardless of technique or should I try and get my technique right first rather than just thrash around trying to get faster in the pool?

Intelligent Triathlon Training replies:

In my experience doing a lot of drills is an over used technique to learn swimming. As you have found they are very difficult to introduce into your full stroke.

Drills should be used sparingly as a means of practicing an action before it is then put into the full stroke.

I only ever put up Drill/Swim - which means 50:50 drill to swim.

So even if we had 400m drill/swim it would be 50m drill followed by 50m swim. We may be looking at doing the same drill but it is always put into context quickly with full stroke.

A question for you: Do you know what you are trying to achieve in your technique sessions?

Having a clear perspective on what you want to do is crucial in order to be able to actually execute it.

Key things for me are:-

1. Body position
2. Kick
3. Rotation
4. Breathing
5. Catch & Pull
6. Recovery

Most people go straight to catch and try to get the high elbow, etc but all of this is ineffective if you are dragging your feet, kicking in random directions, not rotating and un-able to control breathing!

If all of this is understood and you are working towards it, then start thinking about fitness. There is a balance in learning technique.

Sometimes you need to get fit before the technique starts to come through, because until you are fit you can’t swim enough to really learn technique.

A few key points for you:

1. Incorporate drill/technique work into your training sessions

2. Don’t neglect your whole body in technique sessions: remember kick, body position and rotation.

3. Keep rep distance down in training sessions (<100m reps) but focus upon trying to do them well. Count your strokes for a length and try to reduce this by making your stroke more efficient.

4. Don’t worry if stroke count starts to increase towards the end of sessions. Lengthen your reps when you can hold constant stroke counts through sessions.

Example Sessions

1. 3 x 10 x 50m with 20-30s rest between each rep. Do these at a pace slightly faster than race pace. Hold stroke count as long as possible. If you gain more than 5 strokes before the end of 10 reps, reduce the rep number and build up to 10.

2. 3 x 10 x 25m with 15s recovery. Fast but controlled (not sprinting), really use your kick and try to keep stroke count constant.

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