If your reading this post you most likely are new to the sport(s) of triathlon and are looking for that little bit of information that makes it all easy. You may be someone who has raced for years and loves the sport or you may be trying to love the sport. I’ve been an athlete in some form or fashion most of my life.
Growing up I was a swimmer through high school. In high school I also took up rowing and did that competitively through college. For a few years I was even the head masters coach for the wonderful ladies at ZLAC Rowing in San Diego. That’s about the time I took a break from athletics. In 2010 I effectively started from scratch. I was up 40 pounds from my current weight and struggled to run half a mile. I’ve learned first hand that you can’t just jump into racing. More than once. I learned it for my first 5k which was a struggle, I really learned it during my first 30K and again 3 weeks later at my first marathon in Singapore. Luckily these experiences have made me stronger mentally (out of necessity) and I learned some athletic life lessons that I hope to pass along to my readers.
Please note that I am not a certified coach, expert or claim to be. You should also make sure you are physically prepared as any exercise program states you should have your doctor’s consent. Triathlon is a demanding sport and there are dangers to training and competing if your are not physically up to it.
It doesn’t mater if your goal is a 5K, sprint triathlon or an ironman all the same rules apply. The only difference is where your base is and the length of the journey. The process is still the same.
I did some searching and came across a similar post by JessRunsBlessed for her beginner running tips. I think it’s on point with the discussion so I’m referencing it here for you all to read.
The sport if Triathlon is very similar Jess’s post with the exception that you have three sports and each one requires something a little unique to prepare you. I’ll cover my tips in the order of the typical race. Swim, bike and run. If you truly are a novice I recommend you book mark this post and take it one activity at a time.
Swimming is one of the most physically demanding sports there is. It uses more muscle groups than most people realize. I don’t say this to scare you but to make you aware that with swimming you have a physical and mental game to play. As physical as swimming is without the mental side of things to help you control your technique you wont be going very fast. Swimming is not about how strong and fit you are. How you move can make the difference between a slow and fast swimmer.
- Tip 1 – Getting in, you can do it
I remember reading a quote that stated something along the lines of, “you can do anything for 10 mins.” So unless your recovering from the plague put on your suit and get in the water. The getting in is the hardest part for me. Just jump in. It will feel cold. Even if the water is 81 degrees. Once your in and you give your body a few seconds to relax it will feel great. You’ve officially started. That was the hard part. Now for some swimming.
- Tip 2 – Strength isn’t everything
Put the hand paddles back in your bag. You wont be needing them for a while. It may sound counter intuitive but you don’t want to start out working on strength in the water. I’ve done this and it will make you sore and your head will be telling you “it hurts to much.” “I cant make it to the other end of the pool.” when this happens and it will. Tell yourself your fine. What you really want to work on is your movement through the water. Nice easy and efficient. Speed and endurance will come.
- Tip 3 – Get comfortable
More than likely you can stand on the bottom anywhere in most lap pools. Instead of fighting a mental game as a beginner. You want to get comfortable in the water. Get the kick board out and stretch your body as long as you can and get comfortable kicking your legs from your hips and not your knees. Think small kicks. Once your comfortable with that move on to swimming the free style stroke. Using drills as your starting point. Don’t go for speed. That will come once you teach your body how to comfortably move through the water. If your really just not comfortable in the water spend some time bouncing off the bottom and just being goofy. Like a kid. Relax and enjoy it.
Some drills I recommend for beginners are the zipper drill (high elbow), catch up drill (one stroke at a time touching hands in front if you). They will teach you how to move and build muscle memory. Working on them will also build up all those little muscles your not used to using. This will increasing your overall strength and make you faster.
Only work on one drill at a time. Your body is learning and you want to concentrate on the technique. If it’s your first time swimming laps in the pool 4 to 6 lengths is perfectly acceptable. The next time you come swim 2-4 lengths easy keeping your form and pulling your hands all the way through your hips as a warm up. Once your able to swim 300-500 yards/m (that’s 12-20 lengths in a standard Olympic pool) that’s when you’ll be ready to look up a beginner training plan that will build your endurance and strength to increase speed.
- Tip 4- Breath
We are machines that run on fuel. One of those is Oxygen. I know you already know this but I can’t stress this enough. You need to learn to breath while swimming. This comes back to being comfortable in the water. Can you hold your breath for a period and then blow out all your air under water, then popup for a quick breath and do it again. Can you do it 5 times in a row. Good.
Breathing while swimming is the same thing. I recommend learning to breath every 3 strokes and blowing the air out your mouth and nose. This will teach you to breath on both sides of your body and give you the skills to adjust as needed. As you swim blow out all the air under water. Turn your head and rotate your body to the side your taking a stroke on and suck in the air from right under your armpit as your arm goes up for the next stroke. It takes some practice but once you get it you will never have to think twice about possibly sucking in water. Your body creates a very well protected pocket that is always their to breath from as you take that stroke. Trust in it.
- Tip 5 – Set a Goal
If your not using a training plan which inherently has a goal of increasing your speed and technique for a particular race distance. Make a goal. For example if your completely new to swimming do 200 yards this week (8 lengths). Next week set a goal to swim 500 yards for each workout and plan to swim 2 to 3 times a week.
You need to let your muscles recover. I swim about 2 times a week unless I’m training for an IRONMAN and even then maybe only 3 times a week. Everyone is different so listen to your body and remember you CAN do it.
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