Learn to Swim - Month 1

author : Sara McLarty
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Part One of a Five-Month Beginner Learn to Swim Series
By Sara McLarty

Triathlon is experiencing a surge of growth and participation in the USA. Close to half-a-million people participated in one or more events in 2009. More Americans than ever before are being introduced to triathlon by family, friends, and colleagues. No matter what reason or inspiration has brought your attention to this challenging multi-sport, everyone can become a triathlete!

The largest percentage of new participants is in the 35-45 age groups with empty-nest parents finding more time on their hands and middle age men and women looking for an exciting way to increase their fitness. Many of these beginner triathletes have not participated in organized sports since their high school years. As a result, the first leg of the triathlon, the swim, is usually the most intimidating.

What causes the fear?

There are many parts of the triathlon swim that causes anxiety and fear among non-swimmers. Most triathlons take place in open water like a lake, ocean, or river, but you can easily find small races that utilize the local pool for the first leg of the race. In open water, swimmers must be aware that there will be limited visibility in the murky water, no lane ropes or pool edges to cling to, no solid bottom to stand up on, and the weather might whip up a few ripples on the surface.

If you have watched a triathlon live, on TV, or a friend’s home-video, you might know that the races starts with waves of people. All of the other participants in your category (ex: Men 40-44 or Women 30-39) will start together and this causes a few minutes of disorder as everyone tries to find some open space and get into their stroke rhythm. Areas near the turn buoys can also become crowded as multiple waves of people converge to take the shortest distance around the course.

Getting comfortable in the water

These are just some of the reasons why learning to swim and being comfortable in the water is very important before starting a triathlon! There is a big difference between splashing in the waves at the beach and swimming a quarter-mile beyond the breakers. The first step is to get in the water and practice, practice, practice. Time spent in the pool will improve your swim stroke and time spent in open water will help with the psychological preparation for race day.

Breathing

This installment of the BeginnerTriathlete.com Swim Series will focus on breathing. Before you can swim fast, you must learn how to control your breathing so that easy swimming does not leave you gasping after one lap. Right now, sitting at your computer, imagine how you inhale and exhale while cycling and running. It should be a short but steady inhale followed by a short and steady exhale with no pausing, no holding your breath, and no gasping for air. That is exactly how we breathe while swimming!

Get used to the water

Start by jumping in the water and holding onto the edge of the pool. Perform a couple of slow ‘bobs’ where you inhale through your mouth when your head is above water and then exhale out your nose and mouth underwater. As soon as your face goes under, start a steady and continuous exhalation as you slowly count to three. Lift your head back out of the water, take a quick inhale and return under the water for another exhalation.

The feeling of ‘being out of breath’ or gasping, is caused by holding your breath and letting the carbon dioxide build up in your lungs. This feeling rarely occurs on dry-land because we are never forced to hold our breath. After bobbing at the edge of the pool, swim a lap using the same breathing technique. Try to find a good rhythm by inhaling during every third stroke. This breathing pattern is optimum because you will breathe on both sides of your body. Bilateral-breathing also results in a balanced stroke that will be straight and even.

As you become more comfortable and relaxed with a steady inhale and exhale, you will be able to complete more laps of the pool without stopping to catch your breath. This is a critical element to open water swimming and triathlons because there are very few places to stop during the race. If you do start gasping, roll onto your back to take a few deep breaths, regain your composure, and then roll onto your stomach and continue swimming.

The following workouts are designed for a beginner swimmer who is training for their first triathlon in the open water. There are three workouts for each week this first month (12 total) and each should take between 30-45 minutes to complete. When you go to the pool during this month, focus on breathing and relaxing in the pool. These workouts are part of your ‘base’ yardage and should only be swum fast if there are explicit directions. Otherwise, swim slow and steady to work on breathing and technique.

Good luck and happy swimming,
Coach Sara McLarty

TERMS

Workouts can be swum yards or meters
Kick: use a kickboard
Pull: use a pull-buoy
Fins: optional, but good for improving kick
Rest: when you complete an interval, look at the clock (or your watch) and wait the suggested rest period before starting the next one

WEEK #1

Workout #1  600 total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6 x 25 (2 kick, 2 pull, 2 swim)
    with :30 seconds rest between each 25
  • 100 swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6 x 25 (2 kick, 2 pull, 2 swim)
    with :30 seconds rest between each 25
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2  700 Total

  • 150 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x50 swim
    with :30 seconds rest between each 50
  • 8x25 swim
    -With :30 seconds rest between each 25
    -Count the number of strokes you take on #1
    -Try to take one less stroke on #2, one less on #3, one less on #4
    start over and repeat for #’s 5-8
  • 150 cool down swim


Workout #3  800 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x75 (25 kick/50 swim)
    With :45 seconds rest between each 75
  • 4x75 pull
    With :30 seconds rest between each 75
  • 100 cool down swim

WEEK #2

Workout #1  800 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 6x50 (25 kick/25 swim)
    With :30 seconds rest between each 50
  • 8x25 swim
    -With :30 seconds rest between each 25
    -Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 a little faster, #4 faster
    -Start over and repeat for #’s 5-8
  • 100 cool down


Workout #2  800 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x50 kick with fins
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 4x50 swim
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 4x50 pull
    With :30 seconds rest
     
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3  850 Total

  • 200 warm up swim with fins
    :60 seconds rest
  • 200 swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 200 pull
    :60 seconds rest
  • 200 swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 50 cool down swim


WEEK #3

Workout #1  800 Total

  • Warm up: 100 swim, 100 kick, 100 pull, 100 swim
    :30 seconds rest between each 100
  • 12x25 swim
    -With :30 seconds rest between each 25
    -Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 a little faster, #4 faster
    -Start over and repeat for #’s 5-8 and #’s 9-12
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2  900 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 4x75 swim
    -With :45 seconds rest
    -Swim the middle 25 on your back (backstroke)
  • 3x100 pull
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3  900 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :40 seconds rest
  • 3x50 pull
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 2x100 swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 3x50 pull
    With :40 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down


WEEK #4

Workout #1  800 Total

  • 200 warm up swim with fins
  • 6x50 swim
    -With :30 seconds rest
    -Count number of strokes on #1, try for 2 fewer on #2, and fewer on #3
    -Start over and repeat on #’s 4-6
  • 4x50 swim
    w/:60 seconds rest
    First 25 is easy, second 25 is fast
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2  900 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 200 swim
    :90 seconds rest
  • 300 swim
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 200 swim
    :90 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3
  900 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6x50
    With :30 seconds rest
    25 kick/25 swim
  • 4x100 pull
    With :60 seconds rest
     
  • 100 cool down swim

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete living in Clermont, Florida. In 2004 she won the silver medal at the SCM World Championships in the 400m free, and a bronze medal at Open Water World Champs in the 5-kilometer swim. In her spare time she leads triathlon camps at the National Training Center .
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date: August 2, 2010

Author


Sara McLarty

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete training in Clermont, Florida. She started competing at the elite level in 2004 after completing college at the University of Florida and narrowly missing the USA Swimming 2004 Olympic team. Her first triathlon was 20 years ago and she has competed in over 200 events since that fateful day as a 7-year-old.

Sara's passion is for all things triathlon...coaching, racing, training, and writing. While she travels the world representing the USA at races, she contributes to Triathlete Magazine as a swim specialist and USAT Life as a youth columnist. Sara is looking forward to sharing her swimming knowledge with BeginnerTriathlete.com's readers and newcomers to the multi-sport world!

Author

avatarSara McLarty

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete training in Clermont, Florida. She started competing at the elite level in 2004 after completing college at the University of Florida and narrowly missing the USA Swimming 2004 Olympic team. Her first triathlon was 20 years ago and she has competed in over 200 events since that fateful day as a 7-year-old.

Sara's passion is for all things triathlon...coaching, racing, training, and writing. While she travels the world representing the USA at races, she contributes to Triathlete Magazine as a swim specialist and USAT Life as a youth columnist. Sara is looking forward to sharing her swimming knowledge with BeginnerTriathlete.com's readers and newcomers to the multi-sport world!

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