Swimming: It’s What I’m Doing

swimming - efficiency - triathlon - ironman

Swim start at Ironman Arizona 2012

Swimming is on my training schedule 4 times per week and I will say when I first saw that I was not thrilled.  I know that swimming is my weakness but to go to the pool 4 times in a week was daunting.  Then something happened along the way and I am falling in ‘like’ with swimming.  The sets that I am doing are not what I have been doing for the past two years and variety is the spice of life.  For example, today I had a short recovery swim but inside of it there were a couple of descending sets.  In the past descending would have been 4×100 with each 100 getting faster.  The sets today were 6×50 and 6×100 descending every 2 which means that I have to control my pace for 2 sets before getting faster.  I have learned so much about my swimming ability in the past 7 weeks and it has been awesome.

Of course when you start something new you begin to notice it everywhere.  With my new ‘love’ of swimming I began to notice articles and posts from bloggers and in online publications discussing different swimming sets and drills.  They seemed to be popping up everywhere, and it makes sense since this is the winter and logging outdoor bike miles is tough for much of the country.  With that free time pack your bag and head to the pool would be the theory and it is working for me.

Maria and John (and I) have an aggressive goal for Ironman Texas and when it was first written down it was daunting.  Taking 15 minutes off of your bike time isn’t as imposing because you have 112 miles and when you break that down that is feasible.  Even if it were the run it would be feasible but when it came off the swim the finishing time staring me in the face frightened me.  How in the world am I going to knock of 15 minutes from my swim time?  Swimming is just the warm-up right?  The race doesn’t start until the bike right?  Wrong.  As I said about being a triathlete……the race starts when the canon goes off and that means swimming is part of the race.

So when I read this article in Active.com yesterday it all came together and made sense.  I AM going to knock those minutes off of my finisher’s time by swimming 15 minutes faster to start.  Here is the list of the article and how my training mimics the points presented:


Less is More

This is great news for those who would rather be out there biking and running. If swimming is your weakest of the three disciplines, it doesn’t pay off to spend several hours each week in the pool and neglecting your other workouts in the process.

I am swimming more frequently but not swimming more distance or total time in the pool and that is great for my psyche.  In the past I would regularly have 2-3 days of 3000-4000y swims.  That was exhausting especially because a lot of that was drills and drills take time.  Now the swims are 2000-4000y and all mixed up with little to no rest.  Constant movement makes the time in the pool fly by and the constant change of sets makes it as if you are doing something new every time you go swimming.  For example, this week I had a 1500y continuous swim sandwiched in between much shorter sets.  When that 1500 yards was done I was on the back end of the mountain getting ready to get out of the pool.  It was perfect and made for a great day in the water, even if my overall time on that 1500 yards was a tad slower than I wanted.

Strength and Flexibility

This isn’t a brand new strategy. However, it has become more important as workouts and training shift from quantity to quality.

With the right strength training program, and a little yoga mixed in, it is much easier to skip the occasional pool workout altogether than it used to be.

Strength training is two times per week for me and each day is only 40 minutes and that has 15 minutes of core work intertwined.  I am also doing Bikram Yoga every Friday.  When the core work was added (by the way have you joined our 30 Day Ab Challenge-Core Work on Facebook?) I could immediately see a difference in my swimming.  With the core being stronger my body is more streamlined which means a more efficient body position and that means faster swimming.  The strength is focused on the muscles that we use the most in triathlon BUT each day always has lat pull downs and seated rows.  Why?  To develop stronger back muscles which are your power muscles for swimming.

Wetsuit Technology has Improved

Most of the major wetsuit manufacturers today—Orca, Blue Seventy, 2XU, Zone 3, Speedo and Quintana Roo—offer specialized forearm panels that actually help swimmers produce a stronger pull.

Well this doesn’t affect me now nor will it during my two Spring races in Puerto Rico an Texas but it is not just wetsuit technology that has improved.  Swim skin technology has improved as well and when I put it on this year having a stronger core will be evident as the swim skin will have an opportunity to do a better job and result in those 15 minutes coming off the board when I exit the water of Lake Woodlands.


I hope these rules of swimming will help remove any fear that you may have as you head into your spring races whether they be a first time sprint or Ironman or your 15th Ironman.  Taking advantage of new techniques will only help you get faster.


How Often Are You Swimming?

What Tips Can You Share That Can Lead To Faster Swim Times?



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  1. Scott says:

    I am a firm believer in getting out of the water at the pre determined HR zone, if you get out of the water 15 mins faster in Z2 or low Z3, it will set you up to attack your bike plan accordingly, If you exit in the high Z3 or Z4, you are going to spend the next 20 mins on the bike trying to lower your HR to get into your HR zone, or you will completely blow up on the bike. It is a fine line to waiver over, the chess game of racing.
    Scott recently posted..The Look, An Open Letter to Lance ArmstrongMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      I have seen my efficiency in the water improve so much that efforts to swim the paces I am now are not even close.

      Getting faster in the water is about efficiency and not about swinging your arms faster, at least that is what I have learned.

      Lots of hip power and balance work has led to this breakthrough and that will be a terrific setup to when it is time to ride.

  2. Bob says:

    I guess I need to pick up the once a quarter (of a year that is) if I am to speed up..
    Bob recently posted..JUST KEEP ON KEEPING ONMy Profile

  3. John says:

    Nice job Jason! I can relate to how to felt in the past about swim workouts. The different types of swim sets can help the overall workout experience as you mentioned. It’s was always a challenge getting in the pool for me. I would stand on the deck and just look at the water. Once in the water and past the 60% of duration completed the remaining 40% was not so bad. It seems you are on the back side or last 40% of your approach to swimming. That is big! This is where YOU make your goals happen. Nice read and job in the tank!

  4. New follower here – YAY! I’m so glad you’re beginning to like swimming because…well, I just love it so much! I am a straight-up stroke person, but I swim with a lot of triathletes (some are preparing for Ironmen and 70.3s this year) so we get in a lot of distance work!
    Addy @ Six-Kick Switch recently posted..Breakfast and a Book (Review)My Profile

    • CTER says:

      Addy – thank you for finding my blog and commenting. I truly appreciated. Popped over to your blog and it looks good. Lots of information and RECIPES.

      Let’s hope this love affair continues.

  5. Donna says:

    So funny that you just posted about swimming, I posted about swimming on Tuesday!

    The biggest decision I made to improve my swim was in fall 2011, when I sucked it up and decided to swim with SWIMMERS. I joined a club that has coaches on deck, now has headsets on swimmers, and strives to make us more efficient and stronger no matter what our level (and we have lots of elite level swimmers in the top lanes).

    Good luck with taking the 15min off you time! That is an awesome goal.
    Donna recently posted..Know Thy Enemy: Knee UpdateMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      The hard part for me in joining a club is the family. I feel as if I am away a lot as it is and to then join a club would take me away in the evenings as well.

      I am sure the input that you get is more than worth it though and I love that the coach’s work with you regardless of level.

  6. The best thing I ever did in the pool was join a local master’s swim team. Yes the team competes at meets and my team even has an olympic qualifier in the 50 free, so you might think there’s a sprint/speed focus. But in practice we still do plenty of continuous 1500 sets, and some of the coaches are also triathletes. I get in on three practices a week averaging 2500 yards per practice. I’m nice and wiped out when I get out of the pool, and saw huge gains in speed last year. The coaches really correct my form and I just love it.
    Carolina John recently posted..10 more daysMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Isn’t it amazing how much form means to your speed in the water. I don’t mean that to sound as if it doesn’t matter on the bike or the run but in the water it just makes a huge huge difference.

      Today I saw a video that compared hip driven swimming to shoulder driven swimming and the example was to view yourself as a yacht and not a barge. What a great visual to incorporate into those swimming sessions.

      • Yea that sounds like Total Immersion technique. I love TI. It really emphasizes how much you have to relax to go faster longer. Really turns your swim into a core workout. Check out some other TI videos too, it’s a really cool technique.
        Carolina John recently posted..10 more daysMy Profile

  7. Maria Simone says:

    Jason – love reading this! The big gains came for me when I started the 4x/week swimming, and I knew it would work for you as well. It seems daunting at first, but it does produce a like/love of swimming. You start to really love the variations in the different workouts, and I LOVE a recovery swim after a hard and/or long run. Feels. So. Good.

    And, the best part is that we are already seeing a dip in your swim splits. We are chipping away at those 15 minutes :)

    Yeaaaahhhhh, booooyyyyy! (That should be pronounced in a Dirty Jerz accent to get the full effect.)
    Maria Simone recently posted..Why cheating matters – and why it’s not about ArmstrongMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      That John is one smart cookie and not just for the 60% comment but for hanging around you for 15 years. GENIUS!

      I heard that in my head as Flavor Flav

      Hamer and chisel were out today and they will be out tomorrow and again on Saturday. Wait, 4x per week? I think that’ll be close to 9x this week right? hahaha!

  8. adena says:

    While I love to swim, it’s my favourite of the three, I need to focus on getting my endurance up. For me the only difference between a fast and slow pace is how much arm flailing is happening. ;-)


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