What is the game you are in?
As a swimmer, at the end of your swim effort you are done. You don’t need carry your swim fatigue or your swim physique any further.
As a triathlete you have to carry any accumulated fatigue and swim specific physique through to the end of the race. For 70.3 and Ironman, a significant distance.
In swimming your have four primary opportunities to get faster; reduce drag, increase propulsive effectiveness, increase propulsive force or increase power durability.
Power = Energy produced in a given amount of time.
As a swimmer all four are targeted to get to the wall in the quickest time, however as a triathlete a focus on force and power needs to be balanced with the rest of the event.
Increasing force builds upper body muscle mass. You can, as an age grouper, overcome drag with force however there is a cost in having to carry the upper body mass across 110 km (70.3) or 220 km (Ironman).
Increasing Power puts a focus on heart rate to support the effort, swimming close to or above threshold will have a cost in durability in the latter disciplines, especially the run.
As a triathlete the game is to get out of the water in the quickest time with reduced impact on the run and bike. This means we temper the investment in force and power so that the impact on bike and run is kept in balance.
Simply put, an increase of 4 kg of upper body muscle for a 68 kg athlete could cost 11 min in the marathon alone. To counter the 4 kg increase in weight on the bike your would need to increase FTP by 16 watts.
For novice to intermediate 70.3 and Ironman triathletes with drag or propulsion inefficiencies, efficiency needs to be the focus, not force and power.
We need to ask ourselves the question when we turn up to squad. Are we always chasing a time to the wall? Are we doing mindless drills without knowing what we are fixing? Are we smashing our heart rate above threshold constantly when our race demands sub-threshold?
When last did you spend quality time swimming slow with a focus on efficiency, keeping your hips and feet high in the water, keeping your body aligned, maximising the time your hand and forearm are facing the back wall in you pull. Building muscle memory for the perfect stroke is a key investment.
The bottom line: A athlete who attends a swim squad, a run squad and a bike squad is unlikely to achieve their full triathlon potential. We need to get out of the water fresh, temper the bike, and run on fatigued legs. Training and race execution requires a very different approach to the individual sports. Low Heart rate in the swim, lower cadence on the bike and training to your race pace on the run, not your fresh pace, are some keys to success.