Swimming for a triathlon and swimming competitively as a single sport have some very key intrinsic differences. The biggest difference is after a single swim at a competitive swim meet, you want to be exhausted at the end of that effort; whereas when swimming in a triathlon, you still need to bike and run after you get out of the water. This inherent difference between the two swims effects the way that we train for swimming for a triathlon versus swimming as a singular event.
Because we are going to bike and run after our swim in a triathlon we want to make sure that we are conserving energy throughout the swim. By no means do we want to be going easy, but we do want to be swimming efficiently. So we are going as fast as we can while maintaining a certain level of efficiency with each stroke. By swimming with efficiency we are conserving our energy for the demands of the remainder of the race.
The more you swim you might feel a point where you may be able to go slightly faster, but it takes much more energy to do so. A simple example of this might be that you feel you can repeat 21 seconds per length rather easily. So it might be slightly more challenging to hold 20 seconds a length. And if you try to go 19 or 18 seconds a length, you are expending much more energy to hold this pace.
Because the swim in triathlon is relatively short compared to the other distances, the time lost between swimming at a pace of 1:30 per hundred versus 1:20 per hundred can easily be made up later in the race; assuming that while we were swimming a 1:30 pace we were swimming efficiently. DISCLAIMER: This theory does not hold true if our stroke at our race pace is not efficient.
A swim set that focuses on efficient swimming that I like to use in my own training is a game that we play called “Swim Golf” or “SWOLF”. This set can be done in increments of 1 or 2 lengths. I will give the example for a 1 length for reference…
The first swim that you do will be your baseline score. You compute your score by adding the amount of strokes you took for the lap plus the time it took you to swim that length. (15 strokes + 20 seconds = 35)
The goal of the set is to decrease you score throughout. Just like in golf, the lower the score the better. For example if you did the set as 3 x 25 and your first score was 35, then you would want your second 25 to be less than a score of 35, and your third 25 to be a score below your second score. (Scores by 25 = 35, 34, 33)
The trick is to decrease your score by keeping the same number of strokes as your first repeat, but to decrease your time the set:
- 1st 25 Score = 15 strokes + 20 seconds = 35
- 2nd 25 Score = 15 strokes + 19 seconds = 34
- 3rd 25 Score = 15 strokes + 18 seconds = 33