Skip to Content

3 Steps to Faster and Easier Swimming: Fitness (Part III)

swimmer diving

This 3-part blog series was contributed by triathlon swim coach Andrew Sheaff of Mastering Flow. This is Part III of the series. Refer back to Part I and Part II for more background.

Welcome back to our series on faster and easier swimming in simple steps.  As I outlined in my first article, improving in the water comes down to accomplishing the following 3 tasks- 

  1. Learn to get comfortable in the water
  2. Learn the key skills in freestyle
  3. Train to be able to sustain these skills

Previously, I described how establishing comfort in the water is the foundation upon which all successful swimming is based.  Once you’ve established that foundation, it’s then time to learn and develop the key skills that allow for fast swimming.  

Now it’s time to examine the final stage in the process, which is training to sustain your skills.  You may be the world’s most technically proficient swimmer, but if you can’t sustain those skills at the desired intensity for the entire race distance, it doesn’t matter!

Fitness Re-Defined

When most triathletes think of fitness, they think of heart rates, energy zones, and other physiological concepts.  While these ideas are important, they’re only half of the picture.

Fitness is the ability to perform a given task.  For triathlon swimming, it’s the ability to swim a certain distance at a certain speed, depending on your goals.  Being fit to do so is determined by two factors.

The first factor is your ability to create energy.  To accomplish a given goal, you need to be able to create a certain amount of energy for certain amount of time, which is determined by your physical fitness.  

The second factor is your ability to use that energy efficiently.  Specific to swimming, it’s your skill in the water that determines how efficient you are.  If you have any experience with swimming, you know how important efficiency is!

To be fully fit, you need to be able to create a lot of energy and use that energy efficiently.  Fortunately, you can develop both at the same time.  If you plan it right, every stroke you take has the potential to impact both your physical fitness and your technical skill.

Planning Your Training

When planning your swim training, keep it simple.  Instead of following a physiologically based plan designed to improve your physical engine, follow a skill-based plan designed to improve your efficiency.

  1. Do it right
  2. Do it longer
  3. Do it faster
  4. Do it tired

The most important step is to learn to improve your skills as outlined in the previous two articles.  At that point, you want to begin to practice executing these skills for longer periods of time, with more speed, and when tired.  Continuing to swim well is progressively more challenging situations is the goal.

The beauty is that when you do so, you’ll be developing your physical fitness at the same time.  After all, you’ll be performing endurance work, speed work, and race preparation work.  The difference is that the focus is on your skill rather than your physiology.  Fortunately, you get both when you take this approach!

How Should YOU Train?

As described above, there are different steps in the training process, and different triathletes should spend different amounts of time in different areas.  

For the beginner, most of your time and effort should be spent practicing- learning to swim efficiently.  There is little sense in training to sustain your skills if your skills aren’t effective in the first place!  As a bonus, spending a lot of time practicing will necessarily improve your physical fitness as well.

For the intermediate triathlon swimmer, once you have established solid skills, it’s time to work on swimming longer and swimming faster.  This will help you make your skills more robust in the face of physical effort, as well as improve your physical fitness.  

The faster you can swim with great skills and the longer you can swim with great skills, the higher your performance ceiling will be.  While it’s okay to perform some training where you’re getting really tired by swimming longer AND faster, most of your time should be spent building your base by keeping the two separate. 

For the advanced athlete with good skills and the ability to maintain these skills for longer durations and at high speeds, more fatiguing training can be included to push your fitness to the limit.  Training sets where you begin to push the limits of your ability to execute skills can become more frequent, and they become more valuable for improving performance.

When it comes to your personal situation, these aren’t hard and fast rules.  Just consider the basic concepts, reflect on where you’re at with your swimming, and get to work!

You Might Also Like

Andrew Sheaff Triathlon Swim Coach
Andrew Sheaff
Triathlon Swim Coach at Mastering Flow | Website

Andrew Sheaff is a triathlon swim coach who specializes in all levels of athletes from beginners and children to Olympic medalists and NCAA Champions. Andrew leads Mastering Flow, a coaching and training platform designed to simplify the process of swim skill development so that individuals can find comfort, ease, and speed in the water.