Many triathletes say "You can't win the race on the swim." Perhaps this is true, but you certainly can lose a race on the swim. So how do you gain an edge on your competition and be more prepared for your next race? Cross-training.
Every triathlete spends time in the water performing requisite drills and workouts to help improve their freestyle mechanics. However, most of these athletes are not spending enough time training out of the water for swimming specifically.
Your time in the water provides the repetition necessary to create new movement patterns in your stroke, but doing some particular "dryland" work will pay dividends on your training time by targeting weak areas and reinforcing each element of your stroke.
Bands, Bands, Bands
Swim bands can help replicate definitive freestyle movements and should be an integral piece of your swimming training program. The beauty of incorporating band work into your regimen is that they can easily pack into your suitcase and occasionally substitute for a swim when you don't have access to a pool on the road.
Tether the bands at chest height, step back with arms extended and hold on to the handles/paddles until there is slight resistance. This is a great starting point, as the bands are designed to reiterate the subtleties of the pull with control, opposed to muscling through each stroke recklessly. Perform short sets of 10 to 15 pulls on each arm individually, as well as both arms simultaneously, to add some variety and intensity to your routine.
Yoga is an incredible discipline to help modern-day triathletes control their mind and body. Yoga can help integrate the athlete's movement, breath and strength, and these habits will encourage intelligent and purposeful mechanics in their sport.
Plus, how often do you truly take the time to stretch? With the demand of training for three different sports, your body is begging to be stretched. A weekly yoga class is a guaranteed 60 to 90 minutes of stretching that will improve flexibility, mobility and circulation, and relieve stress and aid in recovery. For a triathlon swimmer, it's common to find rigid ankles from cycling and running, as well as tight hips and lower back. A common pose, such as down dog, will address each of these common problem areas for a triathlete. Taking the time to slow down and listening to your body through yoga will allow you to be much more in-tune with how well your body is performing in each of your three sports.
Gaining strength through swimming, biking and running isn't a hall pass to get out of a weekly strength-training regimen. I recommend finding a reputable physical therapist to help design a workout plan specific to your needs and sport. The primary goal of incorporating strength training in to your triathlon training plan is to create muscular endurance, instill neuromuscular connection, build strength and stability around your load-bearing joints and create more power. Envision long, lean muscle, not bulky, bodybuilding mass.
Your core acts as a stabilizer and force transfer center that is used in each of your sports and all of your daily life. In swimming, the core is the connecting point of your upper and lower body and helps to transfer power in an effective, stabilized manner. If you had to choose only one exercise to strengthen your core, I recommend doing planks regularly. The classic position can be performed nearly anywhere and as often as you're able.
A Happy Marriage
Adding an additional yoga class and strength training session may seem like a tall order on top of your already bulky tri training plan, but the results will show come race day. Remember, you're placing a lot of load and stress on your body with these three sports, and this requires an intelligent approach to maintaining a happy, healthy body through other forms of exercise and recovery. Have fun trying some of these new things and enjoy the fruits of your labor!