Move like a Pro Triathlete: Swim like a Champ Basics

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According to Team Amino Vital Athlete and US Olympic medalist, Megan Jendrick, triathletes often overlook the swimming aspect of getting ready for a triathlon. It’s easy to critique yourself and say, “Ok, I can swim pretty well, so no problem.” But, you might not think about how different open water swimming is compared to pool swimming. Megan was surprised during her first open water swim. When she and Team Amino Vital Expert, Nathan Jendrick, headlined a charity swim from Bainbridge Island to Alki Beach across the Puget Sound, she wasn’t anticipating the temperature, murky water and waves (…but they did make the ESPN Top10 for it!)

From one swimmer to another, here’s her advice for triathletes:

  • Get out there and practice doing it. There’s no substitute for actual open water training. There are a ton of variables you have to get used to such as the sighting, consistency, waves and temperature. Swimming in a pool is nothing like in the open water. You really learn how much energy you save by having turns in a pool.
  • Don’t exert yourself too much at the start. When the adrenaline is flowing and everyone is racing out of the gate, it’s sometimes hard not to keep yourself in check. Remember that it’s a long race and you can’t tax yourself too early or you won’t have the finish you’re after. By keeping to your own race plan, you’ll be surprised how many people you’re passing near the end of the swim who got out way ahead at first!
  • Swim in as far as you can. I’ve seen a lot of people stand up as soon as possible at the end of a swim, but if you can still swim, you should keep swimming. Running through waist high water is much harder and slower than swimming in until you’re thigh or knee depth.

Team Amino Vital Athlete, Beth Andrew thinks any athlete can swim like a champ at your first/next triathlon. Whether you are an elite athlete at the front of the pack, or a side-stroking novice, you can conquer the pool or the open water. She had these two points to add:

  • “Feel for the water.” This is a phrase you likely heard in your first lesson or your last master’s swim session. A feel for the water is key in your swim stroke. It’s what helps you catch the water, push it by you and propel you forward. A feel for the water is critical to your race, too. You need to literally get in and feel the water. Don’t just stick your feet in – go ALL IN! Whether it’s a pool or a lake or the open ocean, save enough time to get in, go under, test your goggles, do a kick set and do a swim set.
  • My mantra used to be train like you race and race like you train. My motto this year is train harder than you race. I love to train in open water in the middle of July when the water is warm, the wind is light and the current is pushing me towards the finish. Swimming in a pool without creatures and salt and a line to sight on is even better. Those swims have prepared me for two half-irons and a handful of sprints and Olympic distance races. This year, I’m going to train in conditions that may be harder than I race. I’m going to swim on days when the north wind is creating a chop in the channel where I swim. I’ll swim against the current on cold days. I’ll swim with a t-shirt on to create drag in the pool and even start close to friends to simulate the bumps and brushes of a mass start.

Last, but certainly not least, do you need some tips for gear? Team Amino Vital Athlete, Derek Smith, shared a great recap of what you need for swimming at his blog! He notes that for swimming, all you need is goggles, swim caps, wet suit, tri shorts, tri-suit, and BIBs. Here’s a quick summary of his tips.

  • Goggles – Go to a local sports store and purchase whatever you feel comfortable with.
  • Swim Caps – All races supply these so you may never need to purchase a swim cap, but be sure to pick a good one. It protects your hair from chlorine, prevents swimmers ear and creates a better slipstream.
  • Wet Suits – This is the biggest purchase you are going to make for the swimming portion, but it’s worth it. Wet suits keep you warm in cold water, creates buoyancy, and the rubber surface slips through the water.

As for training, he recommends fins for your feet and swim paddles increase your speed and strength in the pool. You know what time it is…get in gear and go for a swim!

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