5 training tips for the swim leg
Many athletes find the swim leg to be the most tricky. There are all kinds of difficulties: the start alongside hundreds of other athletes (mass starts are a ‘mad rush’), the water conditions, which might be cold and/or choppy, poor visibility and, last but not least, getting used to being so close to other athletes during this leg.
Despite everything, training for the swim leg can be fun but hard work. Try following these five tips when training for the swim leg, they might help you improve.
1. Endurance training. As we said in previous articles, building up endurance can take months of training. To improve your swim leg, gradually increase your training load and devote more time to swimming.
To increase your endurance, try the following sets. Alternate endurance sessions with anaerobic threshold* sessions (the maximum level of physical exertion that the body can sustain without building up lactic acid).
Here is an example of three weeks’ training:
- Week 1: session 1 10×200 with 20” rest – session 2 10×100 max effort with 20” rest.
- Week 2: session 1 6×400 with 30” rest – session 2 8×100 max effort with 20” rest + 200 easy + 8×50 max effort with 10” rest.
- Week 3: session 1 16×100 with 10” rest – session 2 (8×50) x2 max effort with. 10” rest + 200 easy between sets.
2. Learn how to get a good start. A good start will allow you to swim more smoothly and more steadily without having to handle any sudden changes in pace that might deprive you of vital energy.
To learn how to get a good start, practice starting fast when performing longer sets. For example, when you swim sets of 400 m and/or 800 m freestyle, get used to starting without pushing off the wall. Get into a hydrodynamic position, breathe as little as possible and swim extremely fast for approximately 35-50 m, as if it were a sprint. Then settle into your “cruise” speed to complete the set.
3. Swimming alongside other athletes. Most energy is wasted during the swim due to the stress of being surrounded by other athletes. Not being used to swimming in a group may also make you swim at a faster than usual pace, causing lactic acid to build up and jeopardising your entire race.
So as not to waste too much energy, train with other athletes. Get used to physical contact during your training sessions. Swim freestyle sets alongside or just behind somebody else; you will soon get used to being surrounded by other athletes. Plus, performing sets with other athletes will allow you to set your own pace compared to the other swimmers.
4. Use the slipstream. Staying in the slipstream is vitally important for improving your performance in open water swimming. Taking advantage of the slipstream created by other athletes can decrease drag by approximately 20%, thereby reducing your exertion and increasing your speed.
As mentioned in the previous point, training with other people is extremely important. Swimming sets with other athletes will allow you to learn how to stay in the slipstream, thereby conserving energy and improving your race tactics.
5. Negotiating buoys. The main risk in a race is going off course or losing contact with the group you were swimming with. Perform drills in the pool to improve these basic skills.
Set up “imitation” buoys in the pool (for example using floating armbands tied to ropes) and swim in training as if you were in open water, as referred to in our article (Learn all about open water swimming). Practice going round the buoys and then re-accelerate by kicking hard with your legs after rounding each of the buoys. Practice not pushing off the wall during pool sessions and incorporate swimming with your head above the water in your training.
Learn how to train all these different skills to make the swim leg less complicated and you will soon see improvements in your performance!
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