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Q: Is a speed suit a worthwhile option in a non-wetsuit long-distance race? –Tony W.
A: In the expensive sport of triathlon, a speed suit (also called a swimskin) is not a “necessary” piece of equipment to complete a race, but if a majority of your races are in warm water, the cost per use can justify a purchase. Another great reason to spring for a speed suit is if your triathlon race suit is loose or baggy. In this case, the speed suit will provide a huge time gain by reducing drag in the water.
Q: As a long-time swimmer, am I better served with a “competitive swimming” stroke technique or with something less traditional when in open water? –Rob B.
A: Swim technique in open water should be more fluid than pool swimming. Because there are more variables in open water, like waves, currents, wind and other swimmers, your stroke should change to meet the conditions. For example, it is best to have a high-hand recovery in choppy water to prevent hitting a small wave mid-recovery. Typically, open-water swimming technique has a faster cadence than pool swimming and uses less kicking to conserve energy over the longer distances.
Q: How much time can you really save by drafting off another swimmer? –Danny P.
A: Drafting gains are exponential, so more speed equals more draft benefits. For example, you feel a bigger gain behind a cyclist going 20 mph vs. 10 mph. In the water, you can save time and energy in the swim by drafting behind (or on the hip) of a faster swimmer. You can also maintain a more efficient stroke by following the trailing bubbles of a leading swimmer and reduce the amount of times needed to lift your head for sighting.
Q: I’m curious why we should do backstroke, breaststroke and other strokes during training. –Ron G.
A: There are many benefits to mixing in other strokes during swim practice. The most important is so you are more comfortable in the water. Having a safety stroke, like backstroke, while swimming open water can be a great way to catch your breath, fix your goggles, or just get some rest. Other strokes are also a good way to strengthen and move your body in different motions to prevent overuse or injuries caused by repetitive motions.
Got a swimming question? Coach Sara wants to help. Just tweet your queries to @SaraLMcLarty
Pro triathlete and swim coach Sara McLarty has 25-plus years of experience and knowledge about swimming mechanics, efficiency and technique.