Podcast, Swimming

Triathlon swimming with Conrad Goeringer and Rob Sleamaker | EP#255

 October 12, 2020

By  Mikael Eriksson


In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The differences between swimming demands and swim training for triathletes compared to pool swimmers
  • Maximising efficiency and improving your swim technique
  • Improving swim fitness, and why you cannot neglect hard, fitness-boosting training
  • Training for the demands of open water swimming
  • Workout structure, weekly training structure, and periodisation through the season
  • Performance testing and setting target intensities in workouts
  • Tools and equipment for training in the water and on dryland

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03:15 -

  • My name is Conrad Goeringar and I am a triathlon coach based in the USA, I founded the company called the ”The Working Triathlete” and also wrote a book with the same name.

    Recently, I also wrote another book called ”Triathlon Freestyle Simplified” together with Rob Sleamaker.
  • My name is Rob Sleamaker and I am also based in the United States, I founded and own the company known for making the VASA erg swim trainer, which makes other swim training and sports equipment as well.

    My background is as an exercise physiologist and I have also written two books: ”Serious Training for Serious Athletes” and ”Serious Training for Endurance Athletes”.

Swim training challenges that triathletes face

06:45 -

  • Lack of time is probably the biggest challenge (especially age group) triathletes face when it comes to swimming, however, other major challenges include anatomical limitations such as inflexible shoulder joints and poor proprioception in the water.
  • I think it is important to understand the individual limiters that different triathletes have with their swimming and in the next step approach these limiters in the most adequate way.

    This could for instance be to first identify ineffectiveness in the stroke from a technical perspective, and after addressing and improving those aspects one can then move on and address the fitness part of swimming.
  •  In general I would advocate a macro cycle, which starts off with plenty of technical and aerobic work, after the athletes then moves on as the season is approaching towards more intensity and open water specific work.

Approaching the technique

17:15 - .

  • Once form limiters have been identified, drills are a great way to approach these weaknesses in the stroke, but it is important that the drills are immediately followed by regular swimming.

    As an example, if a triathlete crosses over the central line with one (or both) of the arms, which creates a ”worm like” way of propulsion in the water, a great drill to address this is swimming with snorkel, pull buoy and a strap around the ankles.

    This drill will help the swimmer get rid of his or hers scissor kick (legs spread when kicking, a common fault among triathlete swimmers), which creates a lot of drag.

    The ankle strap will also help you to remove ”dead spots” in your stroke, which basically is parts of the stroke where you slows down and not propelling yourselves forward.
  • Technique is obviously incredibly important in swimming, however, many triathlete are too obsessed with improving the technique that they forget about doing high intensity training in the water.

    For instance, many triathletes pull with a ”mono-speed pull”, i.e. the arm has the same speed during the whole pull phase, which is really ineffective, you want the arm to change speed during different phases of the pull in order to get a an effective pull.

    When the speed of the arm changes during the pull, you activate very important muscles in the torso as well as forcing yourself to rotate the body in a good way, and hence improve you technique massively at the same time, but this you will only achieve with some high intensity swimming!
  • In terms of when it is time to start to do some intensity work (building fitness) during a ”learn how to swim” process and not only try and perfect the technique or just get familiar with the water, I would say that ”cut off” is somewhere around 2mins per 100m pace.

    Another approach for a beginner or slow swimmer could be to start off by swimming with plenty of gear (fins, pull buoy, center snorkel etc.) and then when the technique, familiarity with the water and/or fitness is getting better one can start remove one gear at a time.

    However, typically I think that triathletes pay too little focus on building swim fitness and too much focus on perfecting their technique

Training structure

36:55 -

  • A swim session is typically divided into a warm up, a pre set, a main set and a cool down.

    The warm up is normally just easy swimming with perhaps a few technical drills, the prep set is either technical with drills or some shorter intervals to really prepare the swimmer for the main set, which is normally about building swim fitness and has a clear goal (typically between 1000 and 2500m), then there is just a couple of 100m easy swim as cool down.
  • I think a three-swim-session-a-week approach to swimming is the most realistic one for age groupers, which also makes it possible to develop as a swimmer.

    The first session has an endurance focus, a longer workout with intervals of around 400m.

    The second session is a speed session, with 100m or shorter intervals faster than threshold pace.

    The third session comprises a threshold set, and is in my opinion one of the most important sessions for triathletes.

    A fourth type of workout can sometimes also be thrown in, which would then cover technical aspects, open water skills and race tactics.

    Generally I would say that one should aim for two of the weekly swim sessions to comprise some kind of intervals, and during a period when one is really trying to build te fitness, two of these session can be threshold sessions.
  • In terms of lengths of the sessions, typically I would say that 2500m is a good target to have as most triathletes can cover that in 60mins.

Executing the workouts

46:50 -

  • Normally I prescribe sessions based on pace, which is based on that athletes threshold pace.

    To establish an athlete’s threshold pace, I use a 3x300m test set where the athlete is trying to average the best pace on these 300m intervals with 30s rest.

    The threshold pace is the average pace the athlete held during the test set (all three 300m intervals).

    For instance, if an athlete is averaging 1:30mins per 100m for the test set, then that pace will be this athlete’s zone 4, and for every zone one typically adds or subtracts 5s/100m pace.
  • A typical set for a swimmer of a threshold of 1:30 pace, is 12x100 @ 1:30 with 10s rest.

    That is a quite big work to rest ratio (about 9:1), which is very common in swimming, but wether this is mostly based on tradition or actual science is another debate…


59:20 -

  • I think that fins are an extremely important tool for triathletes, mostly because it enables the triathlete to execute drills without worrying about sinking…
  • Another good tool is the center snorkel, which takes away the complications of breathing.
  • The Vasa swim erg is also a really good training tool, it helps to build swim specific strength and the fact that one can have it at home makes it possible to achieve great continuity in the swim training.

Open water swimming

1:07:45 -

  • Open water swimming is definitely in many ways different from swimming in the pool.

    In order to be an effective swimmer in open water, one needs to master sighting (which should be practiced all year around in the pool) and drafting really well.

    In open water, one needs to continuously generate propulsion since waves and/or chops constantly slows you down, and in order to make sure to always propel yourself forward you need to have a slightly higher stroke rate.

    This also makes the fitness aspect of swimming even more important for open water swimming, since it takes plenty of strength and fitness in order to have a high turnover rate.

    Swimming open water also makes it even more important to have a really strong core that can withstand outer demands like waves and chops, so that the body can remain firm and stable in all conditions and hence work as good spring board for the arms pulling the body forward.


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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