The sooner you identify your specific downfall as a swimmer, the faster you’ll be out of the open water and onto your bike. Pick which swimmer best describes you and follow the advice to overcome your weakness.
The One-speed Wonder
Your 50 sprint feels the same speed as your 500 easy.
Why you have this problem: Do you swim (1) alone, (2) the same pace for an entire workout or (3) without using a clock? Then you could find yourself in this category. “You can learn to swim longer doing that, but you can’t learn to swim faster,” says USAT Level III coach Ian Murray. Gerry Rodrigues, an open-water swim coach with 30 years of experience, sees this as the biggest problem among triathletes. “They typically have a time budget, so they’re in the water and they’re out to get to work and they train at one speed. There’s no variety to learn how to get into different gears.”
Fix it! First, introduce a timing mechanism. “You have to know what your pace is and challenge yourself by going harder,” Murray says. “Put yourself through a set that challenges you.” Next, add some variety. 2004 USA Olympic triathlon coach Gale Bernhardt likes to assign short, fast intervals. “Triathletes just don’t do that,” she says. “They like to settle into a speed.” She has athletes do 4–8 rounds of 25s and 50s all-out with lots of rest as part of the warm-up set. “I don’t care how ugly your stroke is—just get to the other wall as fast as possible,” she says. “And take a big, big rest—at least as much time as it took you to get there. Over time, it helps with the neuromuscular programming it takes to get your arms to go fast, and you’ll find that you have more gears.”
» Replace a longer interval (500 straight) with shorter intervals (5×100) done all-out. Don’t dwell on the rest; take what you need to fully recover and hit your fastest possible speeds.
» Introduce a 200 time trial every three weeks. Do a 10–15-minute warm-up that ends with some fast 25s. Then swim 200 fast, using a watch or pace clock to track your time.