Swim Groups and Practice Basics
Our practices follow a similar format to most club programs or masters swim clubs. We will usually split the practices into 3-4 groups– Gold, Faster White, Slower White, and Green. Which group should you pick? Ideally, you will want to be in a lane with others that are close to your fitness and ability level. While it can be (sparingly) useful to jump in a faster lane to push yourself we’d prefer that you select a lane that allows you to focus on swimming well, not just trying to keep up with or outpace others.
Athletes in the respective groups generally have the following abilities:
Gold: Ex-competitive (or currently competitive) swimmers or advanced triathletes. Can swim all four strokes competently. Typically will average less than 1:15/100yd for an 1000yd time trial.
Faster White: Ex-competitive swimmers who haven’t swam in a while or intermediate triathletes. Can swim all four strokes though they might find certain ones difficult. Typically will average between 1:15/100 and 1:30/100 for a 1000yd time trial.
Slower White: Ex-competitive swimmers who haven’t swam in a very long time or triathletes who have progressed beyond the beginner stage but wouldn’t be comfortable at the speeds in the more advanced groups. Possibly some proficiency in other strokes. Typically will average between 1:25/100 and 1:45/100 for a 1000yd time trial.
Green: Beginning swimmers or other swimmers returning after a long layoff. Practices emphasize stroke development and technique to a greater degree than other groups.
Once you have chosen a group, you will likely have to share the lane with other swimmers. The people in each lane should communicate with each other so that you can select a lane order of faster to slower so everyone can focus, once again, on swimming well versus trying to keep from being passed. If you do need to pass someone, tap them gently on the feet. The swimmer being passed should stop on the next wall to let the other swimmer pass and wait at least 5 seconds so they don’t push off immediately into the draft.
We will begin with an unstructured 5 to 10 minutes of warm up done based on what you feel is necessary to prepare yourself for the upcoming practice. The remainder of practice is comprised of quality swimming and drills. The more advanced groups do a moderate amount of other stroke work, though being able to do so certainly isn’t a prerequisite for swimming with the faster groups. As a note: open turns or flip turns are both acceptable. However, we often recommend flip turns as grabbing onto the wall during an open turn can introduce a small (or not so small) amount of rest per length that over time gives an unrealistic expectation of longer distance swims.
Typically, sets will either be prescribed with a “leave” interval– that is the total time it takes to swim and rest (i.e 3 x 100yds @ 1:30), or with a fixed amount of rest after each repetition. A few of the drills that we commonly do are described in the section following.
Swim normal freestyle while dragging your fingertips along the surface of the water on the recovery. Focus on a high elbow recovery, which ensures proper hand and elbow position at your hand entry.
Pull with one arm at a time and touch your hands in a streamlined position out front between each alternating arm stroke. Keep your extended hands about 8 inches under the surface of the water for improved body position. Concentrate on swimming in the front quadrant and keep a long, streamlined body line.
Often not thought of as a “drill” but using a pull buoy & paddles isolates the arms to improve hand entry, catch mechanics and core control. They also can improve local muscular endurance via the increased surface area and resistance of the paddle. When using a pull buoy, swim without kicking using your arms for propulsion, focusing on stretching through your core and rotating the hips in line with the shoulders. Try to keep an even pressure on the water (avoid “slipping” your hands through the water) – pressing water back behind you.
This drill helps you develop good posture, alignment, catch set up and rotation. Kick on your side rotated to 90°, drawing your shoulder blades together and back, keeping hand in line with shoulder with fingertips below wrist below elbow. Try to breathe by rotating your entire body, not turning your head. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and chest forwards. Take this drill slowly: technique is more important than speed.
This drill helps develop your alignment, posture and catch set up position while introducing arm stroke. To do so, take 10 (or 7 or 5 or 3) kicks on your side following the same good practices described above, take 3 arm strokes with good strong rotation, breathe and take 10 (or 7 or 5 or 3) kicks on your other side, then repeat.
While on your side, raise your arm out of the water and above your head at a 90° angle. Maintain a strong kick to propel yourself forward and not sink. You’ll be facing the bottom of the pool, with your head near your lower armpit, and can breathe by rotating your head the opposite direction, and then entering in back into the water immediately after. This drill facilitates a strong kick, and proper rotation of the body. Switch sides every 25.
Option 1: With the opposite (nonworking arm) at your side. Breathe to the side of the nonworking arm. The secret to success with this drill is to complete your breath before stroking. Concentrate on the catch, initiating body rotation with the core body muscles. Take this drill slowly: technique is more important than speed.
Option 2: With the opposite (nonworking arm) extended in front. Breathe to the side of the working arm. Focus on high elbow recovery, hand entry, and hand acceleration.
Swim normal freestyle. On every 5th stroke, raise your head straight forward and “sight” on an object off in the distance (in practice it is the wall or diving block, in a race it might be a buoy). After sighting the object, lower your head back into normal position.
The only equipment you really need to swim is a suit, goggles, and a towel (some people may also need a cap). For our practices, we provide kickboards and pull buoys. We also recommend buying your own so you can pick the equipment that best suits your needs!
If you are in upper white or gold group and looking to strengthen and improve the technique of your pull, you might consider buying paddles. Paddles are typically recommended for more advanced swimmers because you need a proficient stroke to avoid injury with the additional resistance of the paddle.
When it comes to caps, goggles, and suits, it all depends on personal preference. The biggest thing is to do plenty of research, and try out different styles and materials to see what works for you. Regardless of the equipment that you own, as long as there’s a body of water around, you’re sure to have a great workout!
Wetsuit and Racing FAQ’s
Why do I need a wetsuit?
USA triathlon requires that if water temperature in a race is below 58°F that all competitors wear wetsuits. Most of the races we do are in water somewhere around or below this mark. At these temperatures not only is it nearly impossible to get your muscles warm and able to move you along in the water, but hypothermia will set in quickly without a wetsuit. In addition to keeping you warm, wetsuits designed for triathlon will add buoyancy to your legs and upper body, allowing you to swim faster, sight faster and not sink when you become fatigued.
How do I buy a wetsuit?
Anywhere you go to buy a wetsuit online, the seller should have a sizing chart available. These sizing charts work well, but if you want to be absolutely certain that the suit you buy is the best fit, ask around on Slack (Random channel) to see if someone has the suit (or brand) you are interested in buying and ask them if you can try on their suit.
Is this suit a good fit?
A suit should be skin tight. There should be no wrinkles in it when you are standing and there should be minimum wrinkles in the suit when you walk around in it. When you are trying on a wetsuit in the pool be sure to practice sighting to make sure your wetsuit is comfortable around the neck (particularly the back of your neck) for sighing. When trying out a wetsuit in a pool hop in and do 100 yards in the pool. After that 100 yards hop out of the pool and make adjustments to the wetsuit as needed. When you hop out of the pool if the wetsuit is a good fit it should be suctioned to your body.
How do I put on a wetsuit?
It’s easier to show you than try and explain, so here’s a good YouTube video: https://youtu.be/gXsblGWpvM0
The rubber that triathlon wetsuits are made out of is very susceptible to ripping and being sliced by sharp things. If you have long fingernails, or even try pulling the suit on too strongly, be very careful to not rip your suit as you put it on!
How do I take off a wetsuit quickly?
Body glide is a thick lubricant used to help avoid chaffing in your wetsuit and speed up your transitions. Apply lots of body glide to your wrists and ankles in order to pull of your wetsuit quickly. You should also liberally applying body glide to your neck as wetsuits can cause chafing around your neck. If using a sleeveless wetsuit apply body glide to where your arm holes are, as chaffing often will occurs in those areas as well. The more of your body you can cover in body glide the faster you will go in your triathlon, guaranteed. With proper lubrication taking off your wetsuit should look something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEsWfUGL99c
If you don’t think you’ll have the balance to take off your wetsuit while standing, or you’re having trouble taking your feet out, feel free to sit down to take the bottom half of your wetsuit off. There’s no shame in doing this (even Coach Jon has done it before), as it’s better than hopping around and potentially falling in the transition. Another trick to remember while taking off your wetsuit is that before taking your arms out, you can take your cap and goggles off, hold them together in one hand, and then slip your arms out of the wetsuit. Continue holding on to your cap and goggles while you take your arms out, but before you pop your hands out, let go of your cap and goggles, so they’re trapped in one of your wetsuit arms. This will save you a few seconds in transition, and ensure that you won’t lose your cap and goggles during/after the race.
This is another excellent example of how to do triathlon things:
How do I swim with a wetsuit?
Swimming with a wetsuit is a bit different than swimming without one. Before your first triathlon be sure to try to make it out somewhere to try out your suit in the open water. Being comfortable and used to your wetsuit will make a huge difference in your swim time.
What is swim start panic? What can I do to prevent it?
Often at the beginning of a race, especially for beginners, hyperventilation and panic can set in. Causes of this are in large part due to inadequate adjustment to water temperature and shock at the brutality of a swim start.The Pauli exclusion principle states that matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time. At the beginning of a triathlon, triathletes tend to attempt to ignore this law of physics. Be prepared to get kicked in the face, kick others in the face, get elbowed in the nuts, etc. A wetsuit that fits well will constrict breathing somewhat and will not help this. The only way to avoid hyperventilation at the swim start, especially for beginning triathletes, is to adequately warm up in the water before your swim. This means getting comfortable with the water temperature before your swim, warming up your arms for the swim and activating your cardiovascular system before the swim. If you are breathing hard and sweating in your suit before your swim start, chances are you will not get panicked at the start of the race. If you feel that you are likely to panic during the start of the race, feel free to wait a few seconds after the start, and start swimming behind the majority of the other competitors. This will only set you back a few seconds (which is easy to make up in transitions, the bike, or run portions), but more importantly it will allow you to start your race calm and strong rather than panicked and hyperventilating.
Here is a video of a larger swim start. It’s much more violent than it looks: