triathlon swim

Triathlon Swim: Swim slower for faster triathlon times

Most previous triathlon research has focused on the effect of the cycling leg on running performance but has not considered the effect that the initial triathlon swim may have on both subsequent disciplines. But new Australian research has concluded that completing the swim leg of a sprint triathlon at time trial intensity impairs subsequent cycling and overall triathlon performance.

In the study, nine highly trained male triathletes completed five separate sessions in the laboratory, including a graded exercise test, a swim time trial and three sprint distance triathlons. The swimming velocities of the three triathlons were 80-85% (S80) 90-95% (S90) and 98-102% (S100) of the time trial velocity, while subsequent cycling (on a cycle ergometer) and running (on a 250m grass track) were performed at a perceived maximal intensity.

The two most important findings were as follows:

  • The S80 and S90 cycle times were faster than the S100 time;
  • The overall triathlon time of S80 was faster than that of S100.

The overall mean time improvement of about 1 minute 45 seconds between S100 and S80 is clearly of huge significance to elite athletes when the difference between first and second place can be as little as one second. ‘The findings of this study suggest that swimming intensity had a significant influence on subsequent cycling and overall triathlon performance during a simulated sprint distance triathlon,’ conclude the researchers.

However, rather than recommending elite triathletes to swim slower, the researchers advise them to elevate their swim training to the same level as cycling and running. This should equip them to ‘swim the initial discipline of an event at an intensity below maximum, without losing touch with the first pack of swimmers.’

Br J Sports Med 2005; 39:960-964

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