Anyone that follows my triathlon journey will know that I am the opposite of most triathletes, in that I LOVE swimming! It’s my favourite part of triatlon, but that doesn’t mean that I can afford to ignore it in my training plan. In fact, the key to my improvements in my swimming since I started training properly have not been solely fitness based. Sure, fitness, and regular swims, are super important, but in swimming, technique is absolutely KEY. You can be super fit and strong and struggle to swim 2 lengths, and that’s because it’s all in the technique. 

‘I’m worried about the swim’

You don’t have to spend hours and hours in the pool to improve your technique (although it DOES help!), in fact, incorporating just a few drills into your sessions will make a big difference in the long run. Check out the training tools I keep in my swim bag, and some of the basic drills that you can add in to make swimming YOUR favourite part of triathlon too!

Swim tools for triathletes

Kickboard and fins

Ah, the humble kickboard. Memories of school swimming lessons coming flooding back! The kickboard is a fantastic tool to work on several key elements all at the same time. Once you’ve mastered the basics of these techniques, bring in the swim fins to add resistance and build strength. Try not to get too carried away, as it’s easy to cause injury by doing too much, too soon.

  1. Streamlining. You want to make your body as small through the water as possible, so as not to create unnecessary drag that slows you down. Practice kicking smoothly, and with small ‘flutter’ kicks, whilst pushing the kickboard out in front of you, keeping your head neutral to your spine, your bum on the surface, and your feet hiding behind your hips. Imagine there is a skewer running from the middle of your head, right to the tips of your toes, and hold that core nice and tight too!
  2. Kick power. Triathletes are notoriously poor kickers, often because of the slightly flawed idea of ‘saving’ the legs for the bike and run. A strong kick does help propulsion a little, but what it’s really there for is to stabilize the body and initiate a really strong, smooth rotation, that keeps your body in time, your breathing symmetrical and your body as horizontal as possible
  3. Kick efficiency. A big, untidy scissor kick at best doesn’t help, and at worst actually slows you down and disrupts your stroke. Maintaining a long, tight body position, work on kicking small and smooth, with your toes pointing at the wall behind you, not at the bottom of the pool. Remember, keep your feet in the shadow of your hips!
Swim tools for triathletes

Pull buoy

A pull buoy is an essential bit of kit for all swimmers, not just triathletes. By allowing the legs to be taken out of the equation, it allows you to focus on a whole range of upper processes, refining fitness and technique.

  1. Catch drills. The ‘catch’ is the underwater element of the stroke, where we’re trying to generate maximum forward propulsion. Using a pull buoy keeps the body in a high and neutral position, allowing you to focus on just the arm position and motion, without feeling like you’re constantly sinking! TOP TIP, drop the pace occasionally and really focus on arm movement. Try to keep fingers below wrist, wrist below shoulder throughout the pull, and push backwards with the palm, not down
  2. Stroke symmetry. A lot of people are single side breathers, but a much more practical skill is called ‘bilateral breathing’. Basically this means breathing every 3 strokes instead of every 1, and to both sides in alternation. The ideal breathing pattern is pull, pull, pull/breath left, pull, pull, pull/breath right. This helps keep you swimming in a straight line as you’re not favouring a side, plus gives you options in the event of bright sunshine or overly vigorous swimmers around you in an event. Getting splashed or blinded? You’ve got the skill to breathe comfortably on either side, or both. Using a snorkel and a pull buoy, perfect a symmetrical stroke that isn’t polluted by inefficient breathing patterns, then gradually introduce breathing back into the stroke.
  3. Strength. Work on your upper body strength, both with and without paddles. By increasing the surface area of your hands using swim paddles, you’re effectively increasing the drag, and therefore force required, for each pull. Think of it like adding weights to your training, you’re stressing the muscle with each stroke. Start slowly, and only use paddles once in a while, as overuse injuries can occur.

So there’s a few ideas to mix into your training sessions. They will boost your fitness, improve your efficiency, and add a bit of variety to your training sessions too. If you’re looking to get some new swim training aids, visit Zoggs to get some of their great kit. What are your favourite swim drills or mid set technique tips? Drop me a message to share YOUR faves and top tips!