Swim Training Beginner Triathlon Tips: Equipment For Swim Training

Swim Training Tips With Land HeintzbergerIf you’re like most beginner triathletes, the swim can be your biggest challenge.  Many triathletes approach their swim training with a certain amount of dread, looking at each workout as another battle with the black line of the bottom of the pool.  Fortunately, with a little imagination and creativity, swimming can actually be one of the most fun sports to train for. I’ve been a swim coach for 15 years, and in that time I’ve worked with hundreds of swimmers ranging in ages from six months to seventy years.  I’ve coached for big age group teams and summer league teams where I’ve had to fill 4 hours of practice time every day, and anyone who’s tried to keep 120 kids busy for 4 hours a day knows that you’ve got to get creative!  There are so many variables to work with in swim training that you can come up with endless possibilities for workouts.  The main variables are equipment, intervals, strokes, and drills.  I’m going to discuss the first one today, and I will delve into the others in future posts.

There are several essential pieces of equipment that each swimmer should own: a kickboard, a pull buoy, two sets of hand paddles, a pair of fins, and an ankle band.  There are many, many other items out there, and they all have their uses, but there are the core items that you should take to the pool for every swim.  I suggest getting a mesh equipment bag to keep all your gear together.  Here’s a bit more about each different item:

Swim Training Triathlon Tips

Kickboard:  If you want to become a better swimmer, the first step is to become a better kicker, so grab your kickboard and get to work!  You should spend up to 20% of each practice working on your kick.  The right way to do it is to keep your body straight and tall, hold your kickboard with both arms and keep them extended straight out in front of your body with the board flat on the surface of the water.  The amplitude of your kick should be small, just wider than the width of your body, and your heels should just barely brush the surface of the water.  Kick fast enough that you make the water boil, but don’t make a huge splash, that just means that you’re kicking air.  Start with manageable distances, if you can only maintain your form for a 25, then start with 6-8×25 and build up from there.  You don’t need to kick like you’re swimming the 50m freestyle in the Olympics, but a strong kick can boost your propulsion by 10-15%, and a solid kick is essential to maintaining balance and body position, and generating rotation.

Pull Buoy:  If most triathletes hate their kickboards, it’s also true that most of them love their pull buoys.  However, this also makes the pull buoy the piece of equipment that is most often abused by triathletes.  I’ve worked with athletes during their swim training who would physically resist anyone who tried to take their pull buoy away, claiming that it prepared them for wetsuit swims, while always maintaining that as a triathlete they didn’t really need to kick anyway.  What really happens when you get too dependent on your pull buoy is that you don’t learn proper balance and body position, and you never develop a propulsive kick.  The proper use of a pull buoy is to develop technique.  The buoy puts your body in a more horizontal position in the water by keeping your hips high, and allows you to focus on the technique of your pull without distractions.  Use a pull buoy sparingly, and only as an aid to developing proper technique, never as a crutch for a poor kick or an improper body position.

Hand Paddles:  After pull buoys, hand paddles are probably the piece of equipment that gets abused the most.  I have to come clean here and admit that hand paddles are my crutch of choice, and there’s been many times during swim training where I’ve been struggling to make the interval and reached for my hand paddles.  I’ve caught my share of abuse from training partners over this!  But when used properly, hand paddles are a great training tool.  I recommend having two different sizes during swim training.  Use a larger paddle for fast 25’s and 50’s to develop power and speed, select a smaller paddle for drills and technique work to help refine your pull and feel for the water.

Fins:  Fins are great for both building strength and developing technique.  Getting the right size is important though, you don’t want giant fins meant for deep sea diving.  Something like Finis Zoomers are about right for most athletes.  Putting your fins on for a sprint set will give you the feeling of smooth and effortless speed in the water, something we’d all like to have all the time!  Fins are also great for drill sets, where they allow you get the feeling of a strong, propulsive kick which helps you to generate rotation and maintain a high body position in the water.  Fins help you to achieve the feeling that you’re striving for when you’re not wearing them.  Just make sure that you use them sparingly and don’t let them become a crutch for faulty technique and balance.

Ankle Bands:  The final piece of equipment that you need is also the one that most people avoid.  Swimming with an ankle band is tough!  But triathlon swim training is as much about toughness and strength as it is about technique and efficiency, you’ve got to have the strength to power through whatever the swim throws at you.  Doing some swims with ankle bands will help you build that power.  My old swim training coach used to make ankle bands for us by cutting up old inner tubes, but you can get one that will look a little more presentable at masters practice by picking up a FINIS Pulling Ankle Band.  Start out with some short repeats, you’ll be amazed how hard it is initially just to swim a 25 with an ankle band.  You can also use a band and a buoy at first to help get comfortable.  When you get to the point where you build up to some longer swim and can do 100’s and 200’s with a band, you’ll be amazed at the difference it will make in your open water swimming.

Triathlon Swim Training Closing

I hope that these triathlon swim training tips will help you to improve the quality and variety of your workouts.  It’s easy so see that if you did a short set with each one of these pieces of equipment that you could make a couple of thousand yards go by pretty fast!  And including these items in your workouts will also help you to improve your technique, build strength, and swim faster.  I’ll be posting lots more information about triathlon training and equipment soon, so please watch this space for more beginner triathlon tips.  Thanks for reading!

Triathlon Tips – Top 10 Tips For Beginner Triathletes

Triathlon Tips - The Best Triathlon Advice From Land HeintzbererThinking of trying your first tri in 2012?  There might be more to it than you think! Triathlons are very different from just signing up for a local 5K.  There’s a lot of equipment involved, there are safety issues for those who aren’t strong swimmers, and there are transitions from swimming to cycling and cycling to running to navigate.  Feeling a little overwhelmed?  Here are a few triathlon tips from Land Heintzberger, former pro triathlete and USA Triathlon certified coach, to help you train smart, be healthy, and have fun reaching the finish line in your first race!


Triathlon Tips #1.Do your homework.  Sounds obvious, I know, but I’ve seen a lot of people show up for their first race completely unaware of what they need to do.  They don’t know about checking in, setting up their transition area, warming up, getting to the swim start on time.  Don’t know what I’m talking about here?  It’s not a bad idea to go watch a race or two before you take the plunge, or consider volunteering for a local event!  You can learn a lot about what to expect on your first big day.  Take the time to prepare and educate yourself a little and you’ll avoid potentially awkward pitfalls.  You’ll also help to ensure a fun and anxiety free race.

Triathlon Tips #2. Don’t cut corners.  You’ve signed up and committed yourself to your first race, you’ve put the training in to prepare yourself, now don’t sabotage your day by showing up with cheap equipment that will fail you.  I once bought a bargain bike on an internet close out sale, and I was thrilled with the price I paid.  But the first time I rode it the seat fell off 7 miles from home and I had to ride all the way back to my house standing up, with my seat jammed in my jersey pocket.  I took the same bike to a race a couple of weeks later, and the aerobars broke right in the middle of the race.  Both of these situations were dangerous and could have caused a serious crash.  If you’re going to give this sport a try, invest in safe and functional equipment. That doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars, but at the very least, get a good tri suit, a safe helmet, some good sunglasses, and a decent pair of running shoes.  And of course, take your bike to the shop and make sure it’s safe to ride.  Taking the time to get the right equipment isn’t just about looking cool, it’s also about protecting your health and safety.

Triathlon Tips #3. Respect your limitations.  Are you a former collegiate swimmer, or a high school football star?  Or do you just enjoy an occasional jog around your neighborhood?  Whatever your athletic background is, you need to take it into account when you select your first race.  If you’ve never swam outside of a pool, it isn’t wise to sign up for a half ironman with an open water swim.  Triathlons should be a fun challenge, not a life or death situation.  If you’re not a confident swimmer, consider a short sprint race with a pool swim.  If you’ve never ridden a bike more than 10 miles, don’t sign up for an Ironman.  Start with realistic, attainable goals, and then gradually challenge yourself to go faster, or go further.  Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking on a race that you won’t be able to finish.

Triathlon Tips #4. Set yourself up for success.  When you go to your first race, take the time to sit down and establish some goals.  Even in a short race, you’re going to hit a point where you’re tired and you’re going to ask yourself why you ever came up with this crazy idea in the first place!  Setting some goals will help you stay focused on what is motivating you to go out there and race.  Be sure to set not only objective goals, like how fast you want to go, or what place you’d like to come in, but also some subjective goals, like having fun, getting fitter, and experiencing something new.  That way you will have some different ways to define what success is, and how you will achieve it.

Triathlon Tips #5. Keep it fun!  One of the most important reasons to participate in any sport is because it’s fun.  I’ve always believed that fun can be defined in many ways, and while some people might think that spending hours and hours swimming, biking, and running would be uncomfortable and boring, I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a day.  But it all depends on how you go about it.  If your training is all about just checking off another box on a list of things to do, then it’s going to feel more like a relief than a joy to complete your workouts.  But if your training is creative and challenging, and if your goals are affirming and inspiring, than you’re going to be looking forward to getting out the door for every single workout.  One of the best ways to keep training fun is by training with friends or joining a club or group.  Try to find a good local ride, join a masters swim club, or look for a good local running group.  These are available in almost all communities, and there’s nothing like a great group of fellow athletes to keep your motivation high!

Triathlon Tips #6. Learn the value of rest.  Sounds strange at first, isn’t triathlon supposed to be all about super human endurance?  But the best triathletes all know that the best training means nothing unless you recover from it.  Think of it this way, your body is actually weaker immediately after a hard training session than before it.  Then, as you rest, your body recovers, repairs the damage and reacts to the stress that’s been placed upon it, and responds by rebuilding a little stronger than it was before.  Without sufficient rest and recovery time, your body is getting continually broken down, getting weaker and weaker, and eventually injured or sick.  So don’t overdo it.  Start with a manageable training load, and then never increase it by more than 10% per week.  You can help to speed your recovery by stretching, icing, getting massage, and getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night.

Triathlon Tips #7. Control your eating.  I’ve spent many years working as a personal trainer, so I’ve spent a lot of time in gyms.  Something that I’ve seen over and over is people who come in and drink a 32 ounce sports drink to “fuel up” before their workout, then they run 30 minutes, drink a recover shake, and hit the showers.  Their 30 minute run may have burned in the ballpark of 300 calories, but they probably took in 500 calories or more to meet their perceived caloric needs.  My point is this: most people overestimate the number of calories that they burn.  Our bodies are very efficient at using fuel for food, and most of us have enough fat stored up that we could run several marathons back to back.  Unless you’re training session is going to last over 60 minutes, you don’t need to take in any calories at all, and beyond 60 minutes, a good rule of thumb is one calorie per pound of body weight per hour.  A good way to track the calories you burn is using a site like TrainingPeaks in conjunction with a Garmin, that will give you a much better idea of how much your actually burning, which will help you estimate how much you need to take in.

Triathlon Tips #8. Get a decent bike.  I touched on this one earlier, but if you’re at all interested in becoming a triathlete, the best investment you can make is getting a bike you enjoy riding.  You don’t have to spend a fortune here, there are some great bikes out there at affordable prices.  Just get something that is functional, comfortable, and safe.  Riding a cheap, uncomfortable bike is not going to be fun, you won’t enjoy your training, and there’s nothing more frustrating than spending the entire bike leg of your first race watching people flying by on their shiny new machines.  Get something that you’ll be proud to show up to the group rides with, that’s comfortable to ride, fits well, and works for your budget.

Triathlon Tips #9. Find a coach. If you want to find someone who can help you put together a good training plan, guide you through all the confusing information about equipment and nutrition, and make sure you show up to your first race prepared for success, there are many qualified coaches out there to help.  I would highly recommend working with a coach who is certified by USA Triathlon, which is the gold standard of multisport coaching cerfifications.  USA Triathlon coaches have to meet strict standards of knowledge and professional behaviour, and they are prepared to help you deal with all the challenges of getting for your first race.

Triathlon Tips #10. Stay balanced.  The excitement of training for your first triathlon can be a bit overwhelming, and it’s easy to get consumed with your workout to the point where you can neglect other parts of your life.  Most triathletes tend to be type A, goal oriented people, and once they focus on an objective, they don’t like to be distracted.  But don’t let that focus get so intense that you show up to your race feeling burned out, or like you’ve ignored other important parts of your life to achieve triathlon success.  Keep your priorities clear, stay flexible with your training, and do the best that you can with what you’ve got each day.

I hope you enjoyed reading these triathlon tips for your first race, and that they may help you find success!  Good luck, and happy training.

We Guarantee You Will See Improvements when you stick to These Triathlon Tips

Triathlon Tips for Beginners