How To Balance Technique & Fitness In Your Workouts

Hey Team, it’s Rory here. You achieve success by working on the right things. So should you be spending time on your technique or your swim fitness? 

There’s a long standing debate in the triathlon community over whether technique work or swim training is more effective for beginners.

So which is more important? Technique or fitness?

To answer, let’s compare two triathletes:

1. Technique Tom
2. Endurance Ed

Technique Tom is obsessed with the technical details of how to move every inch of their body. He asks detailed questions on forums, watches YouTube videos, buys DVD’s and watches everyones swimming trying to established the best technique to help him swim faster.

Technique Tom swims short repeats at a slow pace focusing on every little detail in his stroke.

Endurance Ed on the other hand gets in and swims. Up and down he swims. Sometimes he follows a program. Sometimes he just gets the laps in. In his mind, slow technique work is a waste of time. Swimming is just a matter or getting fitter.

So, with our goal of exiting the water into T-1 feeling comfortable and ready to attack the bike course. What might Technique Tom experience on race day?

Technique work is generally done in shorter swims and at a slow pace. This type of swimming doesn’t give you the physical adaption you need to get swim fit for a race.

Technique Tom’s stroke may look beautiful but because he has no swim fitness his pace will be so slow the rest of the pack will leave him behind.  He’ll enter T1 tired (because he’s swum way further than he’s used to) and well behind the rest of the pack!

So, what are the problems with the Endurance Ed’s approach?

With little regard for technique, Endurance Ed will be practicing bad movement patterns. Swimming with bad technique results in slower swim times. You will fatigue faster if you’re using the wrong muscles. It can also result in injury. Because you’re repeatedly putting your body into positions it shouldn’t be in.

Endurance Ed might be able to easily finish the race distance but his lack of efficiency will cost him later on in the race. Additionally to keep getting faster the endurance guy is going to have to add more and more training hours to progress.

So which is more important?

To really succeed in swimming for triathlon you need a mixture or technique and fitness.

How can you incorporate both fitness & technique into your workouts?

Focus on technique in the off season or in the early season. Use the time when you don’t have a looming race to refine your skills with technique work. As race day gets closer you will be doing more training than technique work.

Incorporate technique work into your warm up in every workout. It doesn’t matter if my swimmers are 1 week 10 weeks or 15 weeks away from a race, we will incorporate some technique work into every warm up. Sometimes the technique work is designed to fix a problem. Other times its simply there as a reminder to the body of what it’s supposed to be doing to move efficiently through the water.

~ Rory

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