To Improve Triathlon Swim Times Focus On Conditioning And Consider Using A Sleeveless Wet Suit


Hi folks,

Choptank river, Cambridge Maryland, FitOldDog's view.

This was the view I had of the Choptank river, whilst cooking my meals in the hotel parking lot.

Rick Fee, my local swim coach, has been telling me about his frustration with triathletes, who as a group seem to believe that they will pull up their swim times by focusing on technique. When Rick started coaching me, three months before the Eagleman Half Ironman 2012, I would have been lucky to hold 1:50 x 100 yard repeats. After some pretty solid swim sets 3x/week with Rick, my 10-20 x 100 yard repeats dropped to 1:45, then 1:40, and just before the race to around 1:35, with one swim of 400 yards where I comfortably held a 1:30 pace, to complete the set in 5:59. This was my fastest swim set yet (ever), and I’ll be 69 years old in a couple of weeks. What did Rick stress during this coaching? CONDITIONING!! He said forget technique for now, as that will come, so I did, and it did, as I managed to pick up my pace.

Whilst at the subsequent Eagleman race 2012, I was talking to a very experienced competitor, whom I admire, and he said the same thing that Rick had been complaining about, “The swim is all about technique.” Rick’s coaching has convinced me that once you have a half satisfactory stroke it is really all about conditioning, and going off of that wall like clockwork, with solid sets totaling at least 4500 yards.

Rick seems to know what he is talking about, as my 1.2-mile swim time at Eagleman 2012 was my best ever, at 35:18. But I wasn’t happy with my swim, because something was bugging me the whole time, throwing off my concentration: my arms felt imprisoned in my wet suit for the whole swim, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the thing. I thought my suit had become too tight due to my recent training. Rick cleared that up for me too, saying, “Kevin, now that you are in better physical condition, and moving more quickly, you are feeling the water more effectively with your arms, but the suit comes between you and the water. This is why I always competed with a sleeveless suit.

Interesting! Let’s see if it pans out at the Lake Placid Ironman in a few weeks. I think that I will try my sleeveless suit, cold water or not!

-k @FitOldDog



  1. For a minute I thought you were going to cut the sleeves off.

  2. I would have if I’d had scissors out there. Would have saved me a couple of minutes of discomfort. -k

  3. Pauline Watson says

    I have always resisted the constriction of a full wetsuit and stayed with warm water swims and a cheap, shortie suit. (I had a bad experience once in a rental suit that was too tight). I’ll look for a sleeveless suit now!

    • Yep! Got mine out of storage and I’ll try it on for Placid. It was a very odd experience, but I think that Rick is right, I just couldn’t feel the water. -k

  4. Good luck at Placid! It’s right around the corner.

    I agree with you on the sleeveless wetsuit. I get my swimmers to do a lot of fist drill as it teaches the importance of the forearms in addition to the over-appreciated hands.

    On technique though, I find drills double as a great aerobic set and good technique helps weaker swimmers outperform supposedly stronger athletes, and save energy doing so.
    So up to a certain point, I preach technique over conditioning.

    Great blog, lots to digest here.

  5. Hi Eamon, thanks for the feedback.

    I used to preach technique over conditioning (which I didn’t really think about all that much). Both are critical, but, as Rick says, there is a tendency to overfocus on technique at the price of conditioning. I think I’ll write a post to clarify my thoughts on this, as it is really about ‘getting the algorithm to converge towards the asymptote of ‘as fast as is possible for you at the time.” Both are critical, but conditioning is harder work, which makes technique a great excuse. Rick almost always includes drills (think I’ll blog about that too!).

    I’ll post a blog of my thoughts in a few days, and any input from you would be great. If you want to follow up with an invited post that would be even better.

    Yep! LPIM just around the corner, and I don’t feel ready – is one ever ready?

    When it comes to fists, I found that the fist gloves worked well, but now that my pace is up my body grabs any water it can find for traction, and it avoids any water it can that is causing drag. It is like learning to swim all over again, but much faster.
    Very interesting stuff.

    Watch this space and please consider an invited post.

    -k aka FitOldDog aka Granddad Kevin

  6. Hi Eamon, how about expanding on this statement from your blog, but put in a twist for older athletes or inspiring older athletes?
    “At last you can improve significantly without floundering for hours.”
    Cutting to the chase is really important, I agree.
    That would be great.
    You can send the text (with photo if possible), and I’ll insert and send you a draft -> OK?

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.