— by Clint Lien

“If you find you’re having troubles making the pace times, consider swimming faster,” says Neil Harvey, the man I consider to be the Yoda of swim coaches. That comment was always good for a chuckle – usually to those of us who were making the times, but less so for those who weren’t. But it was funny because it was true.

Related: 5 tips to become a better swimmer

Too often, I have to deal with athletes who neglect their swim speed, focusing solely on endurance so they can just get through that portion of the race and get to the bike. Their logic is simple: the swim is the shortest of the events, and the difference between good and great is only a few minutes, so why bother to kill yourself in the water? It would be better to knock big swaths of time off the bike and run splits.

Makes sense, right? No, it doesn’t. I’ll tell you why. You need to be swim fit to execute a good triathlon, so obviously you have to do enough work in the pool. But, if you’re just swimming to finish, you’re not realizing your full potential as a triathlete.

Related: The upside-down pyramid swim set

If you go to the pool day after day and punch out two to four kilometres of straight swimming, you’ll get fit. You’ll get out of the water on race day. Without adding volume or time, though (in fact, you will likely drop both), work on your speed so that you come out a few minutes faster (remember, it is a race) and, believe it or not, you will be in a better position to complete the bike and run more effectively.

Here are three main sets you can do (after a warm-up). Depending on your level of fitness and swim ability, you can mix and match these sessions or do multiple rounds.

Session #1

4 x 100 @ 20 seconds rest. Aim to achieve the best average time you can. Record those times.

100 pull snorkel recovery.

4 x 50 @ 15 seconds rest. Again aim for that best average time, and record the times.

100 pull snorkel recovery

Session #2

20 x 25 @ 5 seconds rest with the odd intervals being very fast and the easy ones being relaxed and aiming for a perfect stroke.

Session #3

20 x 50 as 15 m very fast / 35 m relaxed aiming for a perfect stroke @ 10 seconds rest.

Clint Lien is the head coach of Victoria’s Mercury Rising Triathlon; mercuryrisingtriathlon.com. Lien’s full article can be found in the March/April 2019 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.

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