Do you want to cycle faster in a triathlon?
Some questions to put to yourself before we start.
Do you want to swim fast for triathlon?
Do you swim enough?
Do you swim hard enough?
Most triathletes, in fact all triathletes, including the elite, don’t have time to be doing a full distance swimmers programme, so we have to make the most of the time we have in the water. Most age group athletes have even more limited time, so really need to focus on the important work when at the pool.
I find we get comments about not enough technique work, when just as Brett used to say, “we are all about technique” the right technique for your body and movement, and we use tools to improve technique; pull bouy (the right one for you), paddles( the right size and shape to improve your stroke) , band (to force a good catch and improve cadence).
Warm up: Some times our warm up is a quick swing of the arms and straight into some 25’s, just like in a race, starting from cold after standing on the start line or in the water for sometimes 15mins or more. We use paddles a lot, but build into using them a lot, to start with not so much, and generally, just a bit bigger than your hand is the right size, the shape depends on if you pull wide or narrow.
Now lets think about our race, so even our sprint race is 400-750m swim, that is an endurance swim. So we are not training for a 50m or 100m race. We are training for about 750 strokes for a sprint distance race, or 3800 strokes for Ironman. Who finds after their fast start where some of you who swim well, are good for 100m – 200m, then it feels like you are dragging a piano? Most swim squads, swim clubs and masters are geared up for sprint training, long warm up, lots of drills, a few fast 100’s with lots of rest, some kicking and a warm down.
So we have to train to start fast, then have the endurance to keep going fast for a long endurance swim.
Technique; lots of drills I see being taught, are teaching some good habits out of the swim stroke, we need the rhythm, sometimes undulation, and often asymmetry in the stroke.
The most important things to focus on, are rhythm and timing and then we build from there. A symmetrical stroke is almost always not the fastest stroke, look at some of the best distance swimmers, I will give the famous examples of Janet Evans https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K02I7GFwYuw&t=5s, and more recently, Gregorio Paltrineri,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cox9LKGuZQ4 2 different strokes, 2 completely different size swimmers, but what they both have is, rhythm, timing, cadence and power. Or look at the Brownless stroke rate and rhythm, or Richard Varga, watch how fast his turnover is and the asymmetry of the stroke.
I have put Joel Filliol’s article below, as it says a lot of what I am saying, and so you don’t think it is just me, or Brett’s strange view on swimming.
It is by Joel Filliol and is just about spot on if you want to improve your swimming:
“The Top 20 Rules for Faster Triathlon Swimming (By Joel Filliol)
1. Conditioning trumps drills. Technique matters, but the way most athletes try to improve technique doesn’t work. Get fitter, and your ability to hold good technique improves. It takes a lot of work to develop aerobic conditioning in your upper body. If you think you are already swimming a lot but are not improving, swim more and keep at it. There are no shortcuts.
2. Traditional drills don’t work. The type of drills and the way that most triathletes do them don’t actually have any material effect on swimming technique.
3. Swim more often. Frequency is the best way to improve your swimming. Also see rule #4
4. Do longer main sets. You can’t expect to swim fast and be fresh on the bike if you rarely do main sets with the same or higher volume and pace than you expect in the race. For short course these should be at least 2km, for IM 4km, or more. And that looks like 20-50×100, not many short broken sets adding up to 2-5km.
5. Don’t over think it.Don’t under think it. Be engaged with what you are doing in the water, and use tools to help get a better feel for the water. But don’t over think every stroke, and suffer from paralysis by analysis. Swimming fast is about rhythm and flow, when good technique becomes automatic.
6. Increased swim fitness translates to the bike and run. Being able to swim harder, starting the bike both fresher and with faster riders is how that works.
7. Deep swim fitness allows you to swim on the rivet. See rule #6. Most triathletes don’t know how to really swim hard for the duration.
8. Include some quality in every swim. If you are swimming less than 5x per week, having easy swims is a waste of time. Always include quality, from band, to paddles, to sprints, in every swim.
9. Don’t count strokes. See rule #2. The objective is to get faster, not take fewer strokes.
10. Learn now to use your kick but don’t spend a lot of time with kick sets. Kicking is about stroke control and body position, not propulsion for triathlon. Kick fitness doesn’t matter.
11. Use a band frequently. The best swimming drill there is. Do short reps with lots of rest at first. Both propulsion and body position will improve.
12. Use paddles with awareness of engaging lats. Paddles are primarily a technical tool to take more strokes with better mechanics, the result of which is learning how to use your prime swimming movers: your lats.
13. Keep head low on breathing and in open water. Head down, feet up. It’s a common body position error.
14. Do many short repetitions for stroke quality. It takes fitness to swim with good technique for long durations. Start shorter, and swim faster. 50×50 works wonders. Don’t have time to do a 2500m main set? Drop the warm up and warm down.
15. Learn to swim with a higher stroke rate. This takes conditioning. It will pay off on race day, and particularly anytime swimming in a group and in rough conditions.
16. If you need to write your swim session down on the white board or paper, it’s too complicated. Keep it simple.
17. Find a good masters programme. Long main sets is a good sign. Swim with others to challenge yourself. Good programmes are the exception rather than the norm, unfortunately.
18. Don’t use swim tools as a crutch. Paddles and bull buoys are tools with specific uses. Don’t reach for them out of simple laziness, because the set is hard.
19. Do use swim tools when you are very fatigued, and will otherwise swim with poor quality. See Rule #18.
20. Dry land and gym can help swimming for some via improved neuromuscular recruitment. Use body weight and tubing not machines.
Bonus: Love swimming if you want to get faster. Embrace the process of getting faster in the water. Chlorine sweat is a good thing.
Follow the rules above to swim faster, and ultimately to be a faster triathlete. Enjoy.
#21 Repetition is your friend. Variety is for the weak minded, and interferes with the learning process. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.”
If you are not swimming, enough, doing the distance sets on short rest, focusing, on rhythm, timing, cadence and power. Then you will be limiting your swimming.
I feel like I actually started really training like a professional athlete when I first started training with Brett Sutton. Before that, and I see this a lot with others, I was doing my best and trying to find my way, and doing ok, top 5 in Ironman races. But what was missing was the singular drive, focus and confidence in doing exactly what was needed to get the best out of myself.
That is what Brett creates, the enviroment to become the very best you can.
Now for me, I wasn’t super fast or successful at swimming, cycling or running, but I could see there was an opportunity to be a professional athlete at long distance triathlon, as you don’t need to be super fast, you just need to go fairly fast for a long time.
The day I arrived in Leysin Switzerland and walked onto poolside with superstars of our sport all there waiting to start the session was one of the most exciting and intimidating experiences. Some of the athletes that were there that morning, Andrew Johns (one of the best ever Olympic distance athletes), Lisbeth Kristensen (Ironman winner, ITU Long Dist World Champion), Tim don (ITU olympic distance world champion, Ironman World Record holder), Liz Blatchford (ITU World cup winner, 2x3rd place Kona), Rebecca Preston (Multiple Ironman Winner), and other very successful athletes.
As a not very successful, not especially talented athlete, how were we going to earn enough to be a professional. Bella and I had to pay the rent, coaching, travel, and also eat!
Bella had trained with Brett before and was coming back after a short break. Her advice was with Brett’s help we will win enough money. So that was the plan.
I had complete trust in Brett as I could see what he had done with other athletes including Bella, and what he was saying to me just made complete sense, no bullshit, just the honest truth. I had to work hard, do as he said and I would get results.
One of the reasons I find it hard to enter races now with any aim of doing well, is when I look back and see the amount of hard work, week after week, month after month, that it took to get my best results. The training I do now is, well, not impressive!
But I loved it, it was what I had been looking for and dreaming of doing, training hard, no other distractions, with the best athletes and the best coach in the world! I started to do ok quite quickly, a large part to do with arriving very fit anyway. Without much structure Bella and I would train a lot on our own. Before joining Brett we would do more hours, I would often run 3hrs a couple of times a week and would always ride lots and long. And realised quite quickly that the swimming I was doing was not working, I needed to do more and harder. So would swim a fair amount, but not the right sessions.
With Brett and the squad, everything had a focus, no wasted time, good hard solid work, lots of days 3 sessions a day, everyday something. We did nothing else, when not training we rested!
A massive part to the whole set up was Brett, without his complete control of the athletes and the sessions, things would be very different. I have not met a coach quite like him before or since. There are other good coaches, of course, but Brett really is something different. I trusted him completely and did everything to the letter.
To just give the best example of what a special coach Brett is, and this is one the big difference between him and other coaches. Is the number of athletes that come to him with no or little results to speak of and he turns them into Champions, Bella is a great example of this, but during my time there to see what he did, with athletes like; Rebbeca Preston, Jocelyn Wong, Reinaldo Colucci, James Cunama, Tereza Macel, Dan Halksworth, Belinda and Justin Grainger, Myself, (many others from before and after my time too) There is a great story to all of theses athletes and if you see where they started and then the results they achieved, it is incredible, we always see in sport the Incredible World and Olympic Champions, often these are very talented and work very hard. But we are all limited, some have more ability than others, and what Brett does is get the most out of what you have.
Chrissie, is also included here too, she came to Brett having raced about 3 triathlons, from day one we could see she had something special! That was a privilege to be able to see her join our squad and what her and Brett did to build her into one of the worlds Best Ironman athletes ever.
Daniela and Nicola are also phenomenal stories and athletes, and came from being talented Juniors, to struggling seniors and then Brett helping them become 2 of the best ever!
All amazing athletes and one of the things I feel privileged to have been able to be a part of, training with and watching up close these incredible athletes working day in day out and then winning the biggest races in our sport.
If I haven’t bigged up Brett enough, just looking at the numbers is enough to see what a special environment it has been over the years.
4 olympic medals, 24 World Champions, 85×70.3 Champions, 86 Ironman Champions. I have to say Bella and I are very proud to be a part of those numbers.
Back to my experience, I want to keep it short, I will try not to ramble on.
I joined Brett and the squad in 2005, it took till 2008 for me to win Ironman South Africa and Ironman UK in that same year, that was what all the hard work was for and it was a very satisfying achievement, and it took time and a lot of work and complete dedication to everyday working towards that goal. Then to finish our careers with for me; 4 Iron distance wins and 13 top 3 results and Bella with; 16 Iron distance wins 33 top 3, and a ITU Long Dist World Championship win, was not too bad and we did manage to achieve our initial goal of feeding, clothing and housing ourselves 🙂
I am writing this partly as I think there are athletes out there like Bella and I, who feel they have enough talent and most importantly the desire and determination to be good at triathlon, but are struggling to find the right way. There is so much information out there, and lots of it is not good or useful. In our age of marketing and self publicity, often the quiet voices of experience are drowned out by the big noisy ships full of confidence.
My advise is try to use your bull shit meter.
1 more point I would like to make is myself and the rest of the squad all getting these unmatched results for 1 team.
No power meters
No heart rate monitors
No Lab testing
Not one of us knew what our FTP was!!
Very little massage, definitely not deep tissue.
No ice baths
Long distance athletes all had just 1 bike, our TT bike.
Raced and trained in the same shoes.