Bilateral breathing. At the intermediate level, breathing effectively on both sides is an essential skill. Bilateral breathing means alternating breathing pattern from the left to right every third, fifth, seventh stroke. Bilateral breathing gives your stroke symmetry and balance and helps with navigation in open water. But, any pattern of breathing to both sides works as well. For example, alternate breathing to the right for a 25, then to the left for a 25. Or, breathe for five strokes on the right, then five strokes on the left. Strictly adhering to breathing every third stroke can leave you oxygen deprived. When swimming faster, breathe more frequently. When stretching it out and swimming easier, breathe less frequently.
Intermediate level gear. Some new gear to add to your list: fins, paddles, pull buoy and a snorkel. The fins help with leg propulsion, ankle flexibility and support doing drills; pull buoys aid leg flotation so you can focus on arm propulsion and efficiency; the snorkel helps improve lung power, breathing comfort and drill execution without having to turn your head to breathe. Paddles are fantastic for helping with pull strength and power, but only use them when your pull is relatively efficient. Otherwise, you will reinforce bad habits without knowing it.
Dives and flip turns. Learn to dive with goggles on. The critical skill to focus on is keeping your chin glued to your chest with arms reaching overhead. Flip turns are faster, but can take a while to learn; a great skill to start learning in the off-season. You’ll need to do several thousand to get the technique to become automatic. Flip turns help with breath control and continuous swimming needed for the open water.
Triathlon race prep workouts. Here are three main set sample workouts to work on triathlon specific skills:
- Breath control and lung power. 10×100 breathing every 3, 5, 7, 3 strokes by 25.
- Variable pacing. 6×200 as alternating 50 fast/50 steady aerobic.
- Prepare for a fast start. 3×300 as: 100 sprint/200 race pace. Followed by 400-800 pull with paddles and pull buoy.
Open water skills practice in pool. Get a jump on the challenges of swimming in open water by practicing some of your skills in the pool. Open water usually means dark water with sighting and navigation above the water. Sight breathing technique is one of those critical skills to practice in the pool: pop your eyes (only) forward and up to take a quick peek, turn your head to the side to inhale, head down to exhale. First get the basics of the technique, then pick smaller and smaller objects to sight on and swim toward in the pool. Getting in the open water as much as possible will help you overcome any anxieties and dial in your navigation and sighting. Make this part of your weekly swim training as conditions allow.