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How Important Is Swim Fitness IN IM?

Posted By: KP
Date: Thursday, 31 January 2008, at 12:05 p.m.

Is it a good idea to sink time and effort into deep swim fitness? Is an athlete getting a fair return on training investment in the pool relative to bike and run time invested? If you have the opportunity, I think it is worthwhile to develop deep swim fitness so that steady efforts keep you competitive out of the water at Ironman. Over-swimming will lead to decreased power on the bike and your ability to run (see Alan Couzens post on the Endurance Corner Forum http://endurancecorner.ning.com/forum of research findings in short course triathletes speaking to "Effects of swim intensity on subsequent cycling and overall performance in triathlon", with PDF file at "How does the swim effort affect your race" thread, started by Justin Daer).

Consider this: if you have good cycling fitness at this time, the time needed to increase your bike fitness and drop 15min from your bike split may be more than what is needed to drop your IM finish time 15min through increased swim fitness. How? Read on.

Over-swimming will likely lead to decreased ability to fuel and hydrate the bike and run. Being very fit in the water affords us the opportunity to stay competitive on the swim while protecting bike fitness (power), the ability to fuel and run fitness. Developing swim strength will save you more than the 5min you drop from your swim split. Our ability to swim long and strong without generating fatigue is critical in Ironamn. As stated above, we don't want the swim to materially impact your bike or run splits. It is our desire to come out of the water absent fatigue, seeing steady type HRs in T1.

Some athletes feel that they can skimp on swimming because with very little work they turn in nearly the same swim split they would generate off 8-10k a week as they would on 16-20k a week. However, with limited swim fitness they are probably using too much effort over 2.4 miles. To make time, they raise HRs beyond what is advisable, compromising the body's ability to assimilate calories on the bike. The remaining 90% of an IM becomes more challenging. When coming out of the water in :57min as opposed to 1:03 there is the option of riding with superior athletes. The minutes saved in the water through superior swim fitness take on more meaning. The athlete fuels better, is fresher, rides with faster athletes and is likely get to the run much earlier than the six minutes the faster swim split would indicate.

Swim volume adds aerobic fitness without adding risk. Scott Molina points out that "for most people reaching for a better end result through swimming, more volume carries very little risk of over-training or injury.

For many athlete’s who care about a 15min difference in finish time, consider getting into the pool more often. I use high maintenance swim volume because it matters and makes a difference. If an athlete desires to be near the front of his or her race category, everything matters. What if we can find minutes in the pool, minutes through better sleep, minutes through improved nutrition, additional time through increased flexibility and core strength? Other athletes are thinking and training like this.

coach KP

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