Improving your performance in the swim for triathlon is dependent on your ability to correctly and effectively pace your workouts.
There are three energy systems that supply energy to our muscles when we exercise. The release of energy by these three systems can be very complicated. You don’t want a PhD in exercise science, you just want to swim faster. So I’m going to make this really simple for you to apply to your training.
I like to think of the three energy systems as “tanks” of energy that we use as we exercise. Tank 1, Tank 2, and Tank 3.
Regardless of how long it takes you to finish a triathlon race, even at it’s shortest distance, triathlon is heavily dependent on the aerobic energy system. Tank 3 is the key ! While the other two tanks play a role in your races. Improving your performance in triathlon is largely dependent on your ability to train and develop your third tank.
So how do we do use that knowledge to build your swim fitness for triathlon?
To increase your speed in tank 3 we need to find the fastest possible pace you can sustain without moving into tank 2. We then train your body to repeatedly swim at that pace in the main set of your swim practices. Over time your body will begin to adapt to this pace and it will start to feel comfortable.
That’s when you know you’ve made tank 3 taller!
Your speed in tank 3 will be faster. Which means you can finish your triathlon swim faster without majorly fatiguing yourself for the bike and run.
How Do We Find That Pace?
The simplest and most effective way is to find your Critical Swim Speed. The Critical Swim Speed Test or CSS test uses a 400m and 200m time trial to find your CSS Pace, the fastest possible pace you can sustain without moving into tank 2.
It was developed by a guy called Enid Ginn in the early 90’s and it’s used by swimmers and triathletes all over the world. You can read his study HERE.
Your CSS pace isn’t necessarily the measure of how good a swimmer you are. Rather it’s a measure of how fast you can swim while staying in tank 3. And that makes it very useful to us as triathletes.
Using your individual CSS Pace
- Teaches you to swim at a sustainably fast pace over longer distances
- Teaches you how to pace your swim correctly
- Doesn’t tax your body so much that it needs days to recover