With access to swimming pools now improving after COVID closures, what’s the best way to restart your triathlon swimming after a long break?
Pools reopening is great news for any triathlete wanting to recapture swimming fitness. By setting realistic goals, staying injury-free and building consistency, you’ll be back to your best in no time.
Do A Mental Reset
Before diving in, the first thing is to take stock of where you are now and reflect that fitness, speed and form will all have taken a hit. After all, for many of us, this is the longest time off swimming in our entire triathlon careers.
Try to put aside the level you were swimming at before and concentrate on what you can do now to progress. Consider yourself a new athlete again and enjoy the process of seeing quick gains as the weeks go by!
Watch Out For Injuries
After such a long break from the water, it’s so tempting to thrash out some long or hard efforts to see how fast you can go, but the priority should be injury prevention. The shoulder rotator cuffs can be delicate and are the key muscles we’re aiming to safeguard.
Flexibility work on the shoulders can help decrease the chance of over-extension during swimming. Meanwhile, a good dry land warm-up with plenty of arm swings and light stretching can prepare your body right before entering the water.
To lessen the chances of encountering issues, steer clear of using hand paddles or other pool toys that increase arm resistance. Be careful when pushing off hard from the ends of the pool too – it’s a sudden, high-resistance movement your calves might not be used to.
Whenever you’re swimming, listen to your body and back off if you feel any niggles to avoid an even longer layoff.
Focus On Technique
Technique is key to swimming efficiency and speed. With muscle memory reduced from lack of pool time, this is the perfect opportunity to take everything you’ve learnt about swimming and get it right from the start. Go through the basics to build your stroke back up and improve on where you were before.
Concentrate on finding a good feel for the water, developing a high elbow catch so you can hold onto as much water as possible with each stroke. Sculling drills are great for this.
Body position is also key to minimise drag and maximise efficiency. A shallow, relaxed high-cadence kick will help level you out in the water. Good full-body rotation – held together with a strong core – helps you scythe through the water. Aim for around 45-degrees to get the most from shoulder extension without overbalancing and having to correct.
With a bit of focus, it won’t be long before it feels natural to get a hold on the water, rather than fighting against it. You can then start to add more structure and goals to your sessions. When you start to add intervals back in, keep a form-first mindset and allow plenty of recovery between sets so fatigue doesn’t affect your form.
Build Gradually and Maintain Consistency
As with all aspects of triathlon training, consistency is key to both increasing and maintaining fitness. Get back to the pool regularly for short sessions, starting with 20-25 minutes. Take rests to stretch out your shoulders rather than swimming straight through. Slowly build the duration of sessions and the time between rests over the course of a couple of months.
Keep the intensity low to begin with – both to avoid excess pressure on the shoulders and to ensure you’re working your aerobic endurance to improve overall fitness. That way you’ll be able to get through the swim at your triathlon events with enough in the tank for the bike and run.
When you’ve been swimming again for several weeks, add in some short intervals such as 50m or 100m accelerations, balding into them. The goal isn’t your best time, just to up the intensity a little to increase force on the water.
The Bottom Line
Some athletes will get back to their best fast – typically those who swam competitively when young – while others will take a bit more time. Whichever you are, don’t rush things, stay positive and enjoy the journey to your best ever swimming form.