How to Incorporate a Swim-Emphasis Phase Into Your Training

As you progress through your triathlon year, it is important to periodically evaluate your performance.

Even the best plans need some tweaking here and there, and sometimes early season results are not even close to your expectations in November or December. Generally it is a good idea to slot time in your racing schedule to allow for a good mid-season training block. This is your chance to work on your "areas of need" and prepare to take your racing to another level.

Mid-season is also a good time to focus on a specific discipline. Training balance among the three triathlon disciplines should not be the same throughout the year. Choose certain times in the season to work on specific aspects of your race.

Most people have a tendency to take pleasure in the discipline that they perform best, and therefore tend to train with a little more focus and intensity in their area of proficiency. To guarantee well-rounded development, incorporate single-sport emphasis (block periodization) into your training.

Many of the world's best single-sport endurance athletes train twice per day. Elite runners and swimmers run or swim in the morning, refuel and rest, then go back for more. These athletes understand the benefits of training frequency.

To improve on a certain discipline in triathlon, implement some single-sport rotations into your season. By focusing on one event at time, in this case swimming, your body will adapt more quickly, and you will improve your overall technique, endurance and threshold fitness.

Here are a few reasons to incorporate a swim-focus block into your training schedule:

  1. You are under-performing or feel weak in the water, in general.
  2. Your swim stroke needs some attention.
  3. Despite a strong cardiovascular engine and good fitness, you are unable to hold an effective stroke in long workouts.
  4. You need to increase your swimming base fitness.
  5. You need to develop different aspects of your swimming fitness.

Emphasizing Swim Training

So, how should you set up your swim-focus block? Set aside three to six weeks for this particular single-sport emphasis, depending on your race distance and the amount of time between key events. Start the block the week after your last A-priority race of the first half of the season.

At this point you will build your triathlon training schedule around your swim focus, with 50 to 70 percent of your allotted training time in the pool. Maintain your bike and run fitness by training one to three times per week in each discipline.

These bike and run sessions should be technically oriented, but also include some intervals or short threshold efforts near race intensity. Do one cycling drill session on the trainer or on a flat piece of road, one running drill session, and one endurance set in each of these two disciplines as well.

Following are two sample swim-focused weeks. The first is part of a three-week swim-emphasis phase, the second can be used in a separate three-week swim-emphasis phase or in the second half of six-week emphasis phase.

The workouts are generally designed for a moderately competitive triathlete preparing for Olympic-distance or Ironman 70.3 racing. So adjust them according to your goals. If you feel that you need to back things off, then do so.

However, if you feel that you would like to add longer training times with more volume in the pool, proceed with caution and always remember to listen to your body. If you are serious about your goals and have many unanswered questions or concerns, consider hiring a coach to add some personal touches to specifically address your own individual strengths and needs.

Anaerobic Capacity: the ability to perform repetitive, intense activity with little or no rest. This type of activity produces fatigue in a short time.

Lactic Threshold (LT): refers to the highest workload/speed that you can maintain for an extended period of time without accumulating lactic acid. Lactate threshold is one of the best predictors of endurance performance. Typically, it falls somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.

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