As I’ve discussed before, the swimming discipline is one of the most mechanically dependent for any triathlete.
This isn’t to say that running and cycling don’t have their own mechanics and gains from improved bio-mechanical efficiency, of course. But for the beginner triathlete — who might be new to swimming — getting into the pool and attempting your first workout can sometimes seem like one of the most challenging workouts they’ve yet done.
It’s not uncommon to see someone in the lane next you making things “look easy.” Almost effortless.
Don’t worry, time and determination will get you there.
There are a lot of basic training methodologies to keep in mind and incorporate into your training to help you get your swim training moving in the right direction.
But even with the best laid plans and quality swim programming at the ready, it’s not uncommon to feel absolutely beat after a very short period of time in the water. With that said, what are the primary causes of the muscle fatigue that is almost assuredly experienced by everyone as they begin their swim training on the way to their first triathlon?
Let’s start with your breathing.
You need to have a complete air / gas exchange while you swim. What do I mean by that? I mean that after you inhale during your stroke recovery, you need to exhale when your face is in the water (through your nose, mouth, or both).
This is critically important, as without a complete air exchange, carbon dioxide (waste product from muscular exertion) begins to build up and your muscles begin to become deprived of oxygen (the primary fuel for creating energy during aerobic exercise). When this happens, muscular fatigue begins to set in.
This isn’t to say that by doing a good exhalation when your face is in the water you’re going to get ‘all’ of the waste product out of your system. But it alleviates the most common mistake made among new swimmers or triathletes: holding your breath between inhalations.
When you hold your breath between inhalations, as small and fractional as it may seem, his incremental build-up of carbon dioxide is called “stacking.” And it doesn’t take long for this build-up to begin to cause fatigue.
Now, there are a couple schools of thought on the exhalation portion of the swim. To keep it simple, just give a steady exhale when your face is in the water so that when you turn to breathe, your exhale is finishing and all you’re doing is inhaling.
It’s quite common to work with an athlete who says that they swim 25 or 50 meters and “feel exhausted.” By incorporating this breathing change, it’s almost a guarantee that the huffing and puffing they experienced after 50 meters of swimming will disappear.
The key here is to relax.
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