Sunday, July 10, 2011

Swim Tips

Recently I considered signing up for my first aquathlon (a triathlon minus the bike portion), but some bad news  got in the way:
Thanks a lot E.Coli
But it did get me adding in some swim workouts again and researching stuff on tris and aquathlons. I looked through the blog world and was very surprised to see that most triathletes are most uncomfortable with the swim portion. Some of the blogs I read daily, with runners that could lap me twice in a 5k, struggle with the basics (like flip turns) when it comes to swimming. I've been a swimmer my entire life, and on swim team since I was about 6. I also teach swim lessons from pre-k kids to kids wanting to join a swim team to adults. So I thought I'd share some quick tips about swimming for those out there thinking about adding swim workouts or trying out tris. Champ wanted to help too.
I'm going to try to do a few posts on swimming tips, and hopefully you can amp up your swimming with them. Swimming is a great workout for your entire body, and is low-impact, so it can be used if you are recovering from an injury. I'm going to focus mostly on freestyle, since it's the stroke of choice for tris. So to start, here are some beginner swimming tips to get you started in the water:

What to wear and how to wear it:
  • Goggles- goggles are important for obvious reasons, but I see so many people wearing the wrong type and size. This is why I highly recommend going to a swim store or sports store that will allow you to try on a few pairs before you buy. A proper fitting pair of goggles should make a seal around your eyes and stay on for a few seconds without the strap behind your head. So just press the lenses on your eyes and put your head down. If they stay on for a few seconds, they are a good pair. A lot of girls have a hard time finding goggles that fit well, myself included, if they have smaller heads, so consider kids goggles as well. Some good brands to consider are: Sporti, TYR, and Speedo. 
My goggles- Speedo Women's Vanquisher

  • Swim Cap- If you like your hair, I'd highly recommend a swim cap. Not only will it protect your hair, it will also keep your hair out of your way and your goggles in place, and speed you up a little. Use the silicone type, not the latex ones, because they are much more comfortable, cause less damage to your hair, and are easier to get on. Another tip I picked up in my swim lesson days is to put on leave in conditioner before you put on your cap to better protect your hair. 
  • A swimsuit - the most important part. Please don't wear a bikini unless it's made for swimming! If you're swimming right at all, it will come off I promise. Most good swimsuits come in number sizes from 28-40 ish. A good rule of thumb is that your size will be your bra size for practice and one down for competition. Competition suits are supposed to be super skin tight, but if you're just swimming for your health go for comfort! I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of girls wear sports bras underneath their suits for added support and comfort (plus you don't have to worry about the entire pool noticing how cold you are). I hated this idea at first, but now wear one with my suits every day. Make sure you get a dry-fit one rather than cotton. Some good brands are TYR, Speedo, and Nike although Nike tends to fit differently so try them on. Speedo provides the most coverage, TYR seems to require a sports bra because it cuts far in on the arm pit area, but if you wear one it's no big.
My current suit - a TYR model

Okay so now you've got the basics for swimming gear, let's talk about some beginner tips for in the water:
  • Cup your hands - in my classes we call them "ice cream scoops". Keep your fingers together with hands cupped like you would if you wanted to scoop up water. You'd be surprised how much of a difference just adding this will make. 
  • Keep your knees straight - If your doing freestyle kick, you're knees should remain almost completely straight. If you struggle a lot in the water, chances are you are kicking your legs like you pedal a bike rather than like scissors opening and closing. 
  • Kick fast and small - Another major problem I see in beginners is that they tend to kick they're legs really wide open and slowly. The faster and smaller you kick, the faster you will go. 
  • Rotate your head, don't lift it - When you breathe, rotate your head to the side, don't life it forward and up. This will help you tremendously. 
  • Use drills - Drills are a great way to improve your stroke and make you stronger. They are vital to effective swimming. I'll do a post later with some great drills to use. 
  • Use a pool with lap lanes or a lake - Trying to swim laps in a crowded public pool will frustrate you FAST. Not to mention, having to dodge people constantly will not allow you to have proper form. If you can find a place with dedicated lanes or lap swim time, do it. 
  • Use manners - Often times you will have to swim with another person in your lane. Swim etiquette says that you always swim to the right of the black line in the lane. Also stay a good distance behind the swimmer in front of you so that you aren't drafting off their wake or hitting their feet. 
  • Consider lessons - if you're new to swimming and really considering a triathlon or incorporating swimming more into your workouts, lessons can really help you pick up tricks and improve your form. Lessons aren't just for learning how to swim, but also for those that swim and want to improve their swimming or learn techniques and drills. Some swim instructors will even write out swim workouts for you. 
Hope these tips helped and they weren't too beginner. I'll be adding more advanced tips and drills in future posts to come! 

As Dory would say, Just keep swimming!

QOTD: If you were to do a triathlon (or have), what would be your weakest leg? Swim, Run, or Bike? 


  1. I think my weakest leg would probably be the bike and then maybe the swim. I was looking at doing a sprint tri. Close to a tri, but less of the distance. I have been swimming since I was a baby. My mom was a lifeguard and I was for a few years also. (I was not a big fan of it though). Just having to sit there the whole time watching people swim while I was sweating to death. haha I am hoping next year to get my WSI certification and maybe teach some lessons during the summer next year! I just wish it was not so expensive to get that certification! I love the tips though and I am looking forward to the drills. I am always looking for new things to do in the pool!

  2. Sorry to hear that the aquathlon isn't going though. Hope you find something else fun to do.

    Thanks so much for the swim tips - I always swam as a kid, but never really learnt anything in the way of technique.

    Just finished my first tri and had a fantastic time. Was scared by the open water swim at first, but it went fine. I wasn't fast - but of the three legs it was probably my best (was last in the whole tri!)

  3. Kayla: I know what you mean. I lifeguard every summer and especially with the heat we've been having (110+) it's been like torture. WSI certification is expensive, but mostly it's just so long! I went to the class, before I was old enough to be certified (a pool I was swimming at was paying for future guards to go) so I never got the cert officially, but I never needed it. Swim team experience/coaching, lifeguard certs, and experience always seemed to matter more to parents than the wsi cert where I've lived.

    Natasha: Thanks! I'm glad you could use the tips. I'm going to post more later this week. Congrats on your first tri! And I'm a definite back-of-the-packer too! haha

  4. Swim caps are so underrated... and yeah I know, you look kind of silly wearing one, but the benefits they provide make looking silly so worth it!