Swim training provides many benefits for triathletes, and at various times of the year it’s worth increasing swim yardage. Although sport-specific training is the absolute best way to get better, endurance athletes need to pass as much oxygen through their bodies as they can. Swimming provides aerobic training in a low-impact environment and allows for great volumes of aerobic work with a low risk of injury. Because swimming is horizontal and a full-body workout, it provides universal circulation, and volume can be added as easy recovery sessions as well. Efficient swimming, which occurs when adding yardage with proper technique, requires less energy expenditure—this translates into less fatigue coming out of the water on race day and quicker swim splits.
Like most things in tri, increasing swim yardage is very athlete specific. Overall though, every triathlete should start by increasing swim frequency before increasing daily yardage. Shorter, more frequent swims five to six days a week, working on proper body position, are more beneficial than monster endurance swims once or twice per week. These shorter swims will allow you to gradually increase volume in an efficient manner, while maintaining form. Swimming with proper technique and body position is far more beneficial than slogging through the second half of a long workout with dropped hips or sagging elbows. Shorter, more frequent swims will also keep you motivated, fresh, and engaged in your workouts. At the end of day, when increasing yardage do what it takes to get in the water frequently. Find a way to make it fun for you. If swimming a few sessions per week with buoyancy shorts mixes it up for you, then that’s a great way to increase swim yardage. If swimming every session with buoyancy shorts, a wetsuit, and a pull buoy is fun, then do it (we don’t recommend this, but you get the point!).
Christopher Breen is a physician assistant specializing in sports medicine, an ACSM certified exercise physiologist, and a USAT Level 1 certified triathlon coach with ARIA Endurance Coaching. Find him at Ariaendurance.com.