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The 7 myths of swimming for triathlon

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

1) The 6-Beat Kick A 6-beat technique is not a fundamental of swimming fast.

This is even more true in triathlon when we are covering 1500m in ITU races or 3.8km in Ironman.Triathlon coaches teaching the 6-beat kick to their charges may consider that even the best triathletes spend the next 7-hours minimum using their legs after the IM swim. So to me it is unbelievable to think the 6-beat style is presented as the orthodox way to swim in triathlon. Especially when you realise that most can wear a wetsuit that gives every individual a lift of between 25-33% in body position.

Swimmers do great quantitates of kick work to develop the lift that triathletes are able buy straight off the rack. For the distance swimmer the kick is about balance, and only balance.

Kicking style of Gregorio Paltrinieri.

2) Bent Elbows Again, bent elbows are not a fundamental of swimming fast. Since I can remember I have heard to criticisms of how straight arm is an ‘old stroke’. Yet I watched Petra Schneider use it with great effect during the late 70s and then in the late 80s we saw Janet Evans be equally devastating. For those who can’t go that far back you might remember Michael Klim breaking the 100m World Record using straight arm in the late 90s / early 2000s. If I’m still showing my age YouTube Eamon Sullivan or Florent Manaudou breaking the 50m World Record.

My point is it is not a fundamental for swimming fast. Not now. Not ever.

Keep your eye on lane 3. Florent Manadou 20.26 WR Freestyle

3) Entering with the thumb causes shoulder problems Absolute fallacy. Place, press, push makes my swimming go whoosh! Entering with the thumb will allow the athlete’s hand when starting the press to not pull unwanted air down at the beginning of the stroke. It will also have a lessening effect of slapping the water. Thus we call it the place, which then can easily move into the press. Outside coaches will call it the catch phase of the stroke.

Is it important? Yes, as about 70% of poor swimmers don’t have a catch at all. So we want to work on the place with thumb first to give us a sighter of where the hand is in relation to the stroke, more importantly the press phase.

4) Pull Buoy Hurts Your Swim

I thought we had well and truly demolished this one. Yet 10-months on and the ‘swim tools are a crutch’ voices are regrouping.

I encourage you to read my original thoughts on pull-buoy use in the article below: The Pull Buoy Debate

The fact is swimming with a modified pull-buoy will enhance every age-group athlete in some capacity with their swim.

The parameters for using the pull-buoy and other swim tools: 1. The better the swimmer you are, the less time you need with swim tools. 2. The better stroke mechanics you have, the less time you need with swim tools. 3. The more physically strong you are, the less time you need with swim tools. 4. Males compared to females need less time with swim tools. 5. People who do not like swimming should spend more time with swim tools!

5) Bilateral Breathing There is no need to bilateral breathe. You will not create injury because of muscle imbalance. Roger Federer plays tennis with one arm. It has yet to fall off. Please don’t fall for this. Bilateral breathing is certainly not a fundamental of swimming. ‘But we need to bilateral breathe to make the stroke even.’

Those within swimming with Total Body Force method should know the last thing we want with the stroke is to have both sides even. In our own squad we even have some athletes using 2 different shaped paddles to make sure the stroke is uneven.

6) Not Tumble Turning Makes Your Times Slower OK, not as important, but having spent the past 40 years standing on a pool deck such details sometimes annoy me. Recently while the squad were swimming in Jeju’s Olympic pool I made a comment that over every 100m the 50m pool is about 1.4 or 1.7 seconds slower compared to when training in the 25m. To which I got the response from some of the more zealous tri AGers – ‘not if you don’t tumble, as if you don’t tumble the turns slow you down!’

No, not right at all. It’s actually slower for the non-tumblers. People who don’t tumble turn are poor swimmers, so if they swim 400m in 25m pool they are getting double as many breaks as we all know they take a big breath when they touch the wall and push off. Tumble turners don’t get the rest, so when our non-tumbling swimmer goes long course (50m) they start to tire really quickly as there is no wall to rest on and get a breath in the middle of the pool. Thus no recovery and you go slower. So again, don’t panic if your times are a little slower in the longer pool.

7) The Best Way To Find your Cruise Swimming Time for Intervals Again, a lot of the schemas and tables used to find cruise swimming times are taken directly from swimming and then applied to triathlon. None of them are accurate as poorer swimmers drop off remarkably after about 200m.

So I’ll leave you with a practical tip to find your real cruise interval more accurately with a little test:

Swim a time trial 800m as fast as you can go.

Have a person ready with a watch and get them to time the 3rd 100m of your effort. This is your anaerobic threshold speed. If you want your aerobic pace – time the 5th 100m.

Not very scientific you may say. I don’t disagree. However, the truth is this is a way more accurate gauge than any other method for athletes that are not brilliant swimmers. Triathlon is filled with information overload. A staggering amount that from a practical point of view is misinformation. So if you stick to the above, tried and tested by actual on deck swim coaches for decades, you’ll find you will come out much further ahead.

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