How to Train for a Triathlon Swim While Traveling

How do I train for a triathlon while traveling?” is one of the most common questions I get. Traveling can be fun and exciting. But it can also kill a triathlete’s training program…or at least severely hamper it. Finding a time and place to squeeze in a swim workout can be a challenge. Whether for business or pleasure, travelers are often at the mercy of other people’s schedules. And, while it’s not hard to find a hotel with a treadmill and stationary bike, most hotel swimming pools are nowhere near long enough for a proper swim workout.

But some careful planning and a couple of swim devices can help. Here are a few tips for training for a triathlon while traveling:

Scope Out a Local Pool

While the hotel pool might not be long enough for a training session, there’s a good chance that a local pool is. Visit and search for pools in the area you’ll be visiting. The site gives you a list of pools close by. It also gives you the size of pool, opening hours, pricing, contact details and more. If you find a pool close by, it’s a good idea to call ahead and ask about the best times to swim. Often, other swim programs take up some of the lanes, squeezing lap swimmers into a couple of lanes. You might also ask whether a masters swim program or triathlon club meets at the pool. It’s always good to train with a group.

Travel with a Stationary Swim Trainer

A short hotel pool is often the most convenient option. If that’s the case, consider traveling with a stationary swim trainer. This is one of my favorite swim training aides. In fact, I often use it even when I’m in a 25 yard pool because it helps me simulate an open water swim.

StrechCordz-Stationary-Swim-TrainerA stationary swim trainer is a belt with one or two bungee cords attached. The belt goes around your waist, while the other end of the bungee anchors to something. Trainers with a single bungee chord anchors to something on the pool deck. A trainer with double bungee chord anchors to a lane line on either side of the swimmer. Some swim trainers use foot straps to hold the swimmer in place rather than a belt around the waist. Personally, I prefer the waist. While a belt around the waist restricts my body roll a little, I prefer to keep use of my feet.

A stationary swim trainer turns a short pool into an endless pool. I like to use my swim trainer with a freestyle snorkel and waterproof MP3 player. Using the snorkel means I don’t have to worry about turning my head to breathe allowing me to focus on maintaining a balanced stroke. The MP3 player stops me from getting bored. I recommend this set up.

My favorite stationary swim trainers are the StrechCordz Stationary Swim Trainer and the StrechCordz Long Belt w/Slider.

Get a Swim Workout in Your Room

Sometimes the client you traveled to meet is only available during your scheduled swim time. Or, when visiting family, your nephew’s football game kicks off right when you planned on diving in. All is not lost. Another device, also made using bungee chords, gives you a quick way to keep your freestyle muscles tuned.

strechcordz-modularStretch cords are resistance bands for swimmers. Many competitive swimmers use them. They are, again, made from bungee chords, with a handle on one end and an anchor on the other. Swimmers simulate the underwater pull, helping strengthen their back, arms and shoulders. It’s important to keep the elbow high at the beginning of each pull and extend the arm at the end.

There are a variety of bungee thicknesses available, offering differing levels of resistance.

Stretch chords are easy to travel with and, in a pinch, allow travelers a chance to exercise the same muscles used in freestyle.

I recommend that all triathletes incorporate some stretch chord exercises into their training. It’s a quick, convenient way to work key freestyle muscles.

My favorite bands are the StrechCords Modular Resistance Bands.

Swim training for a triathlon while traveling can be challenging, but not impossible. I encourage you to find a close-by pool. If that fails, use the hotel pool, using a stationary trainer. And, as a last resort, do some extra dryland exercises, using stretch cords.  Good luck and safe travels.

Why Use Interval Training in Your Workouts

Most competitive swimmers don’t just jump the water and swim straight for an couple of hours before hitting the showers, unless they’re an ultra-distance swimmer…or a loner.

Instead, a coach gives a series of “sets” designed to work various aspects of the swimmer’s stroke and fitness. For example, one or two sets might be given as a warm up; then perhaps a set to focus on the swimmer’s kick; then another that focuses on swimming at race pace; and so on. A single set might take the form of, say, 8 x 100s (25 drill, 75 swim).

Occasionally, a coach will set a rest period between each repetition, like 15 seconds rest between each 100. But, more often than not, a coach will give a specific interval for each rep. So, for example, the 8 x 100s above might be “on the 2:00.” That means the swimmer has two minutes to complete each 100 swim. If the swimmer completes the 100 in 1:30, they have 30 seconds rest before starting the next one. If the swimmer goes faster, they get more rest. If they go slower, they get less. This is called interval training and it’s a great idea for you, if you are training for a triathlon.

Here are some reasons you should try to incorporate interval training into your workouts.

It’s a Monotony Breaker
Breaking a straight 800 swim into 8 x 100 can make workouts much more fun. Even having 10 seconds to lift your head and look around can help break the monotony of a straight 800 swim. Swimmers also get to interact with a coach and other swimmers — to receive feedback, encourage each other and confirm the number of reps to go.

In addition, many coaches take the opportunity to place some variety within each rep. So, for example, in the 8 x 100s example above, the first length is drill. This again breaks up the monotony of a straight 100 swim.

Intervals Provide a Challenge
Intervals add a whole new dynamic to the workout. You or your coach can change the intervals to experiment with different speeds. If you have 15-30 seconds rest between each 100, you can probably hold a faster pace that you would normally hold by swimming straight through.

On long sets, it’s common for swimmers to get the most rest on the first rep, less on the second before settling into a groove. Interval training, therefore, helps the swimmer establish a feel for their pace. This becomes extra important on race day, when it’s common for excitement and adrenaline to cause a triathlete to swim harder than they need to.

Get Real-Time Feedback
After a while, you’ll realize that intervals that used to give you 20 seconds rest are now giving you 30 seconds comfortably…you’re getting fitter and faster! So, interval training gives you better real-time feedback on how you are doing than swimming straight through.

Interval training is a wonderful thing for triathletes. If you aren’t already doing some of it, you should try it.

However, it’s important that you find the right intervals for you. If you have someone that’s a similar ability to you, then you can use the same intervals. But if you’re swimming, say, 100s with a group and someone is getting 45 secs rest, another 20 secs and another 5…that’s not good. Each group is probably working a different system.

In the next post, I will suggest a way for you to determine your intervals.

The Two Keys to Preparing for Your Swim – Time and Patience

Most people have some sort of a biking or running base when they start training for a triathlon. The swim is a different story, however. It’s not uncommon for beginners to have never (or only occasionally) swam for exercise. To work your way up to a race distance swim, it’s important to take incremental steps and be patient. One way is to commit to doing the distance but not to worry too much about how you get there. As the swim becomes easier, transition from just “making it” to “making it good.” Ruth Kazez calls this the “Go Long” strategy.

If you are just beginning, there are two ways to increase your distance. You can do a mile from day one, changing your stroke to anything easy, even sidestroke and elementary backstroke, whenever necessary.

After a week, restrict the non-freestyle to something like every fourth lap, later to every eighth lap, until you’ve eliminated non-freestyle altogether. Or, using no alternative strokes, you can swim shorter distances, strictly limiting rest time to ten breaths, gradually increasing the yardage. Both methods should take about six weeks until you are able to do the whole mile non-stop, all freestyle. Read full the article…

Another thing to keep in mind is that your swim fitness won’t happen overnight. As frustrated as you might be, stick with it. You’ll always have good days and bad days but the more you practice, the fewer bad days there will be. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Gale Bernhardt suggests 12 weeks…

If your fitness has been dormant for quite awhile, it’s good to give yourself about 12 weeks to get in shape and minimize the chances of injury. In 12 weeks you can condition tendons, ligaments and your endurance so that you can enjoy the race. If you can commit to training five days per week-two and a half to four hours per week-that’s plenty of time to get in shape. Read the article…

However you prepare, be sure to relax and enjoy the swim. If you dread it, it’s not likely that you will spend the time nor patience you need to prepare.

The Pros and Cons of Fin Training

Fins are fun. Put them on and you instantly become fish-like. Now, having a killer freestyle kick is not as desirable for a triathlete as it is for a swim sprinter. Triathletes need to preserve their lower body for the bike and run. However, having a poor kick will render your legs a liability during the swim, so your kick is important to maintaining a correct body position and balance.

Here are a few good reasons to incorporate fins into your workouts.

Practice a Good Kick Motion
An effective freestyle kick starts at the hip, then bends at the knee, followed by the foot. It’s often described as a “whip” kick. The “up-kick” is done with a straight leg. Wearing fins helps the swimmer adopt this motion.

Help Ankle Flexibility
Another important piece of the kick is ankle flexibility. The swimmer should kick down with the top of their foot and up with their sole. Many swimmers find it hard to gain forward momentum with their kick and, often, this is due to their ankles not being extended.

Discovering the Water
So much of swimming is about sensations. It’s good to experiment with different speeds; different techniques; different body positions; different strokes. (What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis…?) Most equipment lets you do “discover” the water. Fins let you feel new things that you might not have felt before. Things can start clicking….

BUT…There is a danger in overusing fins. If you use your fins too much, you will miss out on the finding the best unassisted stroke for you….and that’s what you’re going to need on race day. Don’t use fins so much that you start depending on them.

As Sheila Taormina says in her excellent book, Swim Speed Secrets:

Using fins as a crutch is the worst thing a swimmer can do, and I see the used in this manner frequently. New swimmers who should be learning to feel the water will oftentimes put on fins )or be told to put them on by a coach who does not understand the importance of holding the water with one’s own limbs to generate propulsive forces) as a way to gain confidence. This slows the learning process, because every moment you are using fins means that you have lost that moment for developing true feel.