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Swimming is obviously an integral component of any triathlon, but being a hard, fast swimmer may not be much of an advantage in how quickly you cross the finish line.
A study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that racers who didn’t push as hard in the swim had better overall race performance.
Researchers conducted this study with nine well-trained male triathletes in five laboratory sessions: one swim time trial, one graded exercise test and three sprint distance triathlons. The swimming velocities of the three sprint triathlons were 80-85 percent, 90-95 percent and 98-102 percent. Cycling and running were performed after these tests at a perceived maximum intensity. Stroke mechanics and oxygen consumption were also measured.
Results concluded that with an exertion of 80-85 percent and 90-95 percent of maximum swimming intensity, athletes maintained faster cycle times. The overall triathlon time was faster with swimming at 80-85 percent than swimming with a 98-102 percent exertion. Additionally, when triathletes swam at maximum intensity, their stroke rates went up, so they were doing more work.
Therefore, researchers concluded that performing at a swimming intensity below that of a time trial effort significantly improves cycling and overall performance in a race.
So it is apparently true that slower and steadier wins the race.