Ironwoman Wednesday: Swim

I am so excited about today’s post, because it is the start of a series called Ironwoman Wednesday. I have been planning to do a series for some time and was bummed when I saw that I had missed the start of the Tri Talk Tuesday Link Up by a few weeks. Then I found Jamie at FromCouchToIronwoman and Michelle at IronwomanStrong who, like me, are training for their first Ironman in Louisville this August!

Our race is 14 weeks away and from now until then (and maybe beyond), we will be hosting a weekly link up about our ironman training experiences. I am super excited to get started and hope you join us whenever you can!

IronwomanWednesday2_LUToday we are tackling The Swim!

Some triathletes like Pablo start their triathlon career with a lot of swim experience. They either swam in high school, college or may have even been pro-swimmers. I am not one of those people and like many non-swimmers, I feared the swim, the shortest part of the race, the most!

The funny part is that there is no reason for that fear, especially if you take tackling the 2.4 mile Ironman swim one step at a time. Open water swimming can be scary (we’ll actually talk all about that next week!) and it may seem daunting to have to swim that far, but if I can do it, you can too!

IMG_3980When I started swimming I had NO formal swim training, I thought a 500 meter swim was insanely long and, at my fastest, I was swimming 2:20/100 meter. Today I can swim 3,600 meters and my fast pace is 1:47/100 meter.

If those numbers don’t convince you that anything is possible, then I don’t know what will!

How did I do it? You can make significant improvements in swim distance and time by simply improving your technique and slowly building up your distance.  Improved technique doesn’t just make you faster, it also means that you use less energy when in the water, keeping you fresher for the bike and run.

So how do you improve your technique?

First, get a baseline. Figure out what your current swimming looks like. Whether that means going to a swim clinic, joining a masters swim class or asking a friend to watch you or video tape you. Then start working on drills to correct the things that didn’t look good.

I’m continuously learning about drills, but here are the things I’ve worked on this past year:

  • entry position of my arms (avoiding crossover when entering the water),
  • making my kick more efficient (smaller and keeping my legs closer together),
  • learning to breathe bilaterally (try 3-5-7 drills and yes, the 7s will feel impossible for quite some time!),
  • not coming up too high to breathe (you should be looking back at your shoulder, not up at the ceiling),
  • focusing on being long (think gliding through the water)
  • keeping high elbows (this is what the fingertip drill is for),
  • improving body rotation (this is one of my current goals and has helped a lot with the not coming up too high for breathing goal, because as you rotate your head basically just follows the line of the body)

There are many drills that can help with each of these:
USAT – Swim Drills for Triathletes
Active – Swim Drills for Triathletes
Sara McLarty – Freestyle Swim Drills

I’ve also started using props. Besides goggles, swim cap and swimsuit, my swim gear bag includes a pull buoy, paddles and fins. I occasionally also use a kick board, but I just borrow that from the pool as needed.


Drills and props aside, the best advice I can offer is this: take it one step at a time. If you can only swim 200, don’t expect 1000 the next time you go out. Build it up slowly. If there are 10 things wrong with your technique, don’t try to change it all at once (trust me, I tried that and it just overwhelmed me). Practice 1 thing at a time and just keep doing it! The more you repeat the moves, the more natural it will become and before you know it, you’ll be swimming distances you never thought you could!

The swim has even become my favorite part!

How about you? How are you doing with your swims? Scared? Excited? Love the pool or absolutely hate it?  Share you story with us, check out the other Link Up stories and check out Tri Talk Tuesday’s Swim posts.

Next week we’ll continue our swim talk with Open Water Swimming!

  1. I’m not a triathlete and don’t think I ever will be. However, I took swim lessons for years. I can’t say I’m a great swimmer but I’m comfortable. Of course to your point that’s different than open water swimming. I don’t really care for ocean water myself — it’s too sticky and I don’t like fish in rivers because they nibble. But if push comes to shove, I can swim no problem. My son-in-law is much better and swam competitively and even was a swim coach for youth in our area. It sounds like you’ve got this under control.

    • Being comfortable in the water is the first step! The rest, at least in my experience, you can totally acquire with practice. Thanks for stopping by and checking out Ironwoman Wednesday! Come back next week….I love the ocean and rivers now, but that was def not always the case!

    • I still use every other when I do speed work, but bilateral or a 2-2-3 is my preference. These days after about 800 meters I feel like I can go on swimming forever!

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