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Smooth pool triathlon swimming skills are very different from those needed for open water, but these tips will help to keep you abreast if swimming inside, says Triathlon Plus and coaching editor Phil Mosley.

Improving triathlon pool swimming is the key to a faster race

The first triathlon I ever did was in a swimming pool. It was 15 years ago, and yet I remember it like it was yesterday. It was only a 400 metre swim so I expected it to be a breeze, but it ended up being something of a disaster.

I went off too fast and blew up, I tried overtaking someone but swam straight into a heavily tattooed bloke, I lost count of my laps, I messed up my turns… the list goes on and on. It was a terrible start to a triathlon, and in hindsight it wasn’t my fitness that was lacking, but my knowledge and experience.

That’s why I want to give you these five tips to help you swim a fast and stress-free pool triathlon, so you won’t have to learn the hard way like I did.

Muscles work more efficiently when they’re warm, but it’s unlikely you’ll get time to swim before you race. So you’ll need to improvise, and that means doing some dynamic stretching to loosen up your joints and get your blood flowing. Try doing these two exercises above for at least five minutes before you start.

  • Repetitions of windmilling your arms forwards and backwards for 10 seconds each.
  • Swinging your arms back and forth horizontally at chest level for 20 seconds at a time.

Everyone swims too fast at the beginning of a race, causing a lactic acid build-up which feels like your blood has turned to concrete. Be aware that the adrenaline you’ll experience at the start will make any pace other than sprinting feel slow. The best way to swim at an even pace is to try and swim the first half slower than the second. By doing this you’ll probably end up swimming even splits.

Don’t feel that you have to swim front crawl in a pool triathlon. If you’re faster at breaststroke, backstroke or even doggy paddle, then swim that stroke. You can even stand up and catch your breath after a few laps if you’re desperate. It’s not worth killing yourself for the sake of a few seconds, especially as you still have a cycle and run to consider.

Pool triathlons are seeded so that anyone in your lane should be of a similar standard to you (unless they fibbed on the entry form). If you catch someone up you’ll save about 10% of your energy by swimming behind them. It’s not worth sprinting to overtake them unless they’re more than 10% slower than you. It’ll feel easy because you’re getting a free tow, but often it’s best to sit tight, conserve energy and save yourself for the rest of the race.

Watch a pool tri and you’ll soon see how much time can be lost on turns. You don’t have to do tumble turns – an efficient touch turn is good enough. They’re easy to learn, and can save you loads of time so make sure you practise them. Get used to climbing out of the pool quickly too – it’s not easy when you’re tired!

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe

For more swimming tips and workouts click here.