Lionel Sanders’ latest blog post comes hot on the heels of his third consecutive victory at Ironman Arizona where he was just 2:30 back on the leaders coming out of the water (his best deficit to date). Though his post analyzes all parts of his race — swim, bike and run — a large portion is dedicated to his swim, which used to be his weakest discipline by far but has proven to be much better over the course of the 2017 season.
Here’s what Sanders’ attributes to his swimming success and the takeaways you can apply to your own training. You can read his full blog post here.
Be careful about when and how you change your stroke
Sanders has changed his stroke a lot over the years to better facilitate good open water swimming. Most triathletes could use some tweaking to their stroke, and getting a stroke analysis is a great place to start. But Sanders was careful of how much and when in his season he changed his stroke, as drastic changes could actually hurt him on race day more than help.
He says: “I have had to really control how much of my stroke I tore apart, knowing that I still had big races on the calendar, and knowing that often times with these things you have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. Very quickly I realized there are still some very large and fundamental errors in my stroke. I had to be very conservative in my approach and only tried to improve a couple of very small aspects e.g. better width of entry.”
The off-season is the perfect time to seek advice from a swim coach (preferably one who specializes in good open water technique” and rebuild yourself as a swimmer for next year.
Slow down to get faster
Sometimes it’s not about going fast all the time. Sanders says he slowed down in his sessions a lot so that he could pay more attention to his technique.
“In order to execute the changes I wanted to make, I had to slow the pool down to 1:45/100m. In other words, I was swimming the paces I swam nearly 7 years ago,” he says.
If you’re working hard on your technique, that doesn’t mean all you sessions should be slow and technique-focused in your swimming. If you’re still trying to build your engine and improve your threshold in the water, be sure to dedicate some time to fast sets throughout the week, even if that means you won’t be as cognizant of your technique.
Keep the volume up
The average triathlete can’t swim as much as Sanders has been (he has said in recent interviews that he’s averaging around 2,500m everyday). But keeping your volume up year-round is a key to getting better. Since swimming is low-impact, it’s easier and safer than running to increase your weekly volume. Getting in the water more is the simplest way to get better.
You can always get even better
Even though Sanders has achieved some huge milestones in his swimming this year — making the second pack in Kona, and drastically improving his deficits in each race over last year’s times — he’s not going to work on his swimming any less.
“More motivated than ever. Pulling the cover off the pool as we speak,” he said on social media. “I now enter the ‘off-season,’ henceforth known as the ‘swim season.'”
Working on your weaknesses until they become your strengths is great, but complacency will quickly lead to all your hard work unravelling.