One of the last Ironman races for this year was held last weekend on Mexican island Consumel. As expected, John Kenny was first out of the water. Considering his open water swimming background this was not a surprise. Second out was Stephen Bayliss who is a bit more interesting for this post.
Some time ago Stephen was trying to succeed as a short course triathlete. Swim was his limiter and he would usually exit the water with third group. Along with his coaches he worked hard on his swim technique but the progress was slow. Eventually his coaches gave up on him, and told him his swim will never be good enough for a professional triathlete. He switched to long course triathlons and got in touch with Australian coach Brett Sutton. Brett realised that all this technique focused approach was holding young Brit back. He told him to forget about technique and started working on his conditioning. After a while Stephens stroke looked ugly but now he started exiting the water with the lead group in Ironman events. He did one short course race in front of his old bosses and exited the water in second place, in front of all Britain’s ITU hopefuls. His former coaches where impressed with his progress but told him that his technique worsened and if he could work a bit on that one he could be one of the best Brittish swimmers.
Swimming is by far the most technical leg of triathlon. People were not built to move efficiently trough the water, so we must work on techniques that would minimize our inborn inefficiency. But, there are a lot of coaches out there who put too much emphasis on technique work. They claim that one should only swim with perfect technique and stop on the first sign of fatigue in order to prevent formation of bad habits.
This approach is excellent for beginners. There are some beginner errors that really must be corrected before one moves on to the real training. If you continue with this approach for too long you’ll have a beautiful stroke but you won’t be able to hold it for more than 50m, or everything will start to fall apart when you pick up the intensity. If you’re considering a career in synchronized swimming this won’t be an issue, but if you want to get faster you’ll have to change your approach. You must condition your body so it’s able to hold that perfect stroke when arms get heavy and you won’t do that just by doing easy drills. Forget about effortless swimming. If you want to swim fast it will hurt. It’s possible to swim effortlessly on the pace around 1.10 min/100m, but the speed is relative. Those who can swim effortlessly on 1.10 min/100m can also swim 100m under 50s. If you can run 5k in 20 minutes you probably won’t struggle when trying to run the same distance in 30 minutes.
So, to conclude, technique is important but swim training should be more than just technique work. There’s no easy way…