Off-Season Swimming Thoughts

For years we’ve been advising our athletes to swim less, or not all, during the off-season. We are not “anti-swimming.” Rather we want you to carefully consider your return on race day for every training minute, and dollar, you spend across the year. Our advice below is then based on our observations

We’ve found that pretty much everything slower than about a 1:15 IM swim is all technique. Meaning, the difference between a 1:45 and 1:15 is better technique, not becoming more fit.

Getting below 1:15…fitness starts to become more important, requiring a larger time investment, but still not crazy until about 1:08. Going from 1:08 to about a 1:05 usually comes from 1-2 technique breakthrus + a big fitness investment. Sub 1:05 is just a LOT of time and work for the age group swimmer. In the end, you’ve invested MUCH time to go from a 1:15 to a 1:05, when there are much easier places to find that 10′ on race day. 10′ is not walking a mile, not slowing down by only 1′ per mile in the last 10′, etc.

We recognize this diminishing ROI so it’s a matter the timing of that investment to swim, not just if you should swim. In the off-season, investing 3-5hrs a week in your swim comes at a high mental and logistics cost, and just does not pay out on race day. Better to bank that time to sleep in, not do the bag-packing, shower at the gym before work routine, keep your training volume and logistics committment low, and spend that swim time closer to the race, about 12-20wks out. We have a data set of 100′s that says you won’t give up anything on race day, may even be faster, with this approach. Most importantly, you are keeping your time committment as low as you can for as long as you can, making the months and months long process of training for an IM much less onerous.

So, rather than prescribe swimming in these plans because “this is triathlon and we’re supposed to swim all year,” we relate to your experience, explain why we feel that swimming in the off-season is not your best ROI decision, and encourage you to make your own decision about whether or not to swim. If you do, we encourage you to use our Swim eBook, as technique improvement is where the easy gains are.

Our team’s experience with this, across thousands of athletes since 2007, is that these folks haven’t lost “that” much swimming speed compared to their best swimming shape from the previous season. They get it most of it back in about 4-6 weeks of focused swimming, and get it all back and then some with another 8 weeks. What they have gained, however, is significantly faster cycling and running speed which can add up to multiple hour PR’s on race day.

In the end, this isn’t about not swimming. It’s about performing your own critical assessment of where your greatest return on investment (ROI) opportunities are and making your own decision about how to best invest your time.

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Coach P

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