Work Your Weakness Swim

Work Your Triathlon Weakness: Swim

Welcome to my Work Your Triathlon Weakness series. Each Tuesday this month, I will be focusing on one of the four sports of triathlon. Yes, four  – Transition counts. T1 and T2 deserve a little attention too. This week we are focusing on the swim.

Improving your triathlon swim can be achieved simply by putting in the hours. During your training, most of your swim hours will be in the pool, unless you happen to live in an area that gives you access to open water swimming pretty easily.

While it’s important to also find a way to get in some open water swim training, the pool will help you get the foundation you need to be a strong swimmer. You’ll definitely need this foundation when you hit the open water.

If you asked most triathlon coaches, they would tell you that the best way to improve your overall triathlon performance is to focus on your weakest sport. For many triathletes, that’s the swim. In order to improve you swim, you have to ask yourself what’s the weakest part of my stroke? Then, you or your coach can design drills that help you work on turning that weakness into a strength.

So, let’s break down the various weaknesses a swimmer’s freestyle may have:

Head Position. A neutral head position is very important in swimming. When you are face down on the water, your head and neck should be neutral and you should be looking directly at the bottom of the pool. As you take individual strokes, your head should remain in that position even though the rest of your body is rotating. The only time your head should turn is one the strokes you take your breath. Otherwise, you should be able to see all that gunk buildup on the bottom of the pool floor!

The Pull. I am a huge fan of the pull buoy for practicing my pull stroke. I only wish I could swim a tri with the pull buoy! It really takes my backend drag out of the equation. But, I digress. Your pull stroke is where you get all your power in the freestyle. If you waste it, you’re wasting a lot of your energy in the first leg of the event. As you pull through the water, it is important to get the maximum benefit from the stroke by pulling all the way past your hipline. This is one of the most important parts of your stroke to work on especially if you are new to swimming. You will reap the most benefit in the water from the propulsion forward you get in pulling past your hips.



The Kick. It’s somewhat common that the kick is where many swimmers need improvement. If you find yourself kicking too much through your legs and not more through the hips then you are wasting a lot of energy. Kicking too hard this way is often due to a swimmer trying to make up for what is really drag in the water. I spend a good bit of some of my weekly drills practicing nothing but my kick using the kickboard. I try to maintain my focus on kicking through my hips and not through my legs. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference, the clue is that you will find yourself kicking only from the knee down (meaning your knees are bending) rather than keeping your legs straight and kicking through your hips.



The correct kick technique…


The Crossover. Crossing one arm over the midline is considered a crossover. Generally, this happens when you breathe on the opposite side if you aren’t conditioned to keep your arm in extended straight. The portion of the freestyle stroke where your hand and arm enter the water and begin the pull is known as the catch. If you are more of a cyclist than a swimmer, think of it as the gain you get from the bottom pedal stroke to the top using clipless pedals. The best way to work on breaking this habit is the catch up drill with or without the use of a pull buoy.  If you are a beginner and not comfortable with the catch up drill, use a pull buoy so that you take your legs completely out of the equation. As you become comfortable kicking while doing the catch up drill, you can forego the use of the pull buoy.



Once you’ve corrected these issues, it’s time to start working on building endurance.

Participate in a Triathlon Clinic or Swim Clinic. These clinics will typically focus on helping you break your bad habits and the coaches will be able to provide you will both instruction as well as some drills for your specific issues.

Work Your Lungs. You’re going to need to build endurance as much as you can in the pool. Unfortunately, the way you swim in the pool does not translate to open water swimming. So, you will have to readjust once you start practicing in open water. I strongly recommend finding a few open water swimming opportunities in your area to practice before your event.

Try Master Swimming. Having that set of eyes watching you during your drill sets will give you the added benefit of someone correcting your issues. A swim coach won’t let you continue your laps with bad form. He/She will stop you, give you a dryland demonstration of your error and how to correct it and then send you down the pool to work on it.

Regardless of whether you are a beginner swimmer or a lifelong competitive swimmer, we can all benefit from continually evaluating our swim stroke and tweaking the things that need tweaking.

What has worked for you in improving your swimming?

Work Your Triathlon Weakness - Swim




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Cassandra Burke is a Forensic Scientist by day, and a Group Fitness Instructor, Swim Team Coordinator and Travel Agent by night. A Breast Cancer Survivor since 2010, she writes about her journey as well as her struggles – training for triathlons and races, struggling to get back her health, and balancing family life all while building her brand and finding her purpose after cancer. Subscribe to Cassandra’s newsletter for updates and follow @poweredbybling on social media! For endurance sport race travel and custom family vacation travel, visit her at


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