As we all know, Endurance athletes are generally super driven and highly competitive individuals.

Whether you are a runner, cyclist or cross country skier, the nature of the beast is very similar across disciplines. So when a new challenge is decided upon, and the decision made to go for it, there is absolutely no holding back.

Enter the decision to take endurance training from the uni-sport status of just running or cycling (perhaps bi-sport status - Running and cycling), to the Tri-sport status - in simple terms, adding swimming to the mix.

The majority of convertees come from the land based sport codes (running, cycling) report that their first encounter with swimming is not exactly what they had in mind.

You see the rules that apply to activities on Terra firma, are not directly transferable into the Aquatic enviroment.

Example 1: You are doing a track session, which consists of different distance intervals. The goal to is to tax the Anaerobic system, and ultimately improve speed.

To increase your velocity, you have 2 options:
  1. Increase your stride length
  2. Increase your leg cadence
  3. Both
More often than not, the increased cadence will be selected, and your legs will move faster to assist you to cover the distance more quickly. Done!

Let's move into the swimming pool, where you are busy doing some 100m repeats under 2 minutes. You take what you learned and experienced in running, and try to apply to it to the swimming set.

Faster arm cadence = faster swimming velocity.

You apply the theory, and come off second best - out of breath, very frustrated and very tired.

Example 2: You have been actively involved in running and/ cycling for many years, taking part in races and events, and have achieved a good level of Cardio-Vascular fitness.

You know that the transition into the swimming pool will be challenging, but you have good fitness, so you will be alright.

Unfortunately, when it comes to endurance sports, Cardio-Vascular fitness from running, does not necessarily translate into a good level of fitness in the water or on the bike.

In this instance, being well conditioned in one area, does not guarantee a good level of fitness in all.

We need to remember that there are so many differences that exist between water based activities and those on the land, that we need to look at changing our paradigm when approaching aquatic based sports.

First off, swimming is an unnatural activity for Human beings to take part in - we are not designed to be in the prone position, with our heads covered by water, starving our body from oxygen- so it basically goes against our hard wiring.

Secondly, the lack of O2 on demand, because we have to hold our breath and control our breathing (when our heads are in the water), and the involuntary swallowing of pool water can trigger panic and in turn the Fight or Flight response.

This can result in the following scenario:
  1. We begin to "fight through the water".
  2. An increased reliance on the Anaerobic energy pathways and the use of the Fast Twitch Fibers of the muscles is believed to be necessary to overcome the resistance of the water (*Isokinetic nature of water).
  3. This in turn leads to a reduced intake of O2 thanks to hyperventilation.
  4. Increased FTF and anaerobic Glycolysis increases the production of Lactic Acid a
  5. Energy starts to run out very quickly, and fatigue sets in,
  6. Swimming form and technique breaks down.
  7. We begin to Fight the water a little harder.
The *Isokinetic nature of water basically means that as we apply a force against the water, the water returns the favor, and pushes right back.

As we struggle and fight through the water, the water does exactly the same back against us.

Remember Newtons Laws? Remember the one that states: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction?

This is so important to keep in mind when swimming, because in order to be able to pass through the water, with little effort and as little energy wastage as possible, we need to:
  1. relax in the water
  2. no longer "fight" the water
  3. learn to control the anxiety that creeps in when the body starts craving O2
As is true with any sport or training, the more you practice and the more you learn about the requirements of the sport or activity, the more proficient you will become.
  • Get a swimming coach to teach you the basics.
  • Start with mastering the technique (see previous posts on drilling).
  • Accept that you are not going to rock the swimming world right off the bat.
  • Learn about swimming - become a pupil of the sport.
  • Revel in the joy of a) learning a new skill b) being able to learn a new skill.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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