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How I Learned to Love the Swim Leg

If you're like most people, the swim leg of a triathlon is by far the most intimidating. In fact, dreading the open water may keep you away from triathlons entirely. And some people just hate the hassle of getting wet. You've got a few options if you still want to dive into the multi-sport universe. First, you could do a duathlon and stay on dry land with just run and bike legs. Or you could try a race configuration that replaces swimming with kayaking or another adventure sport. But, cliched as it may sound, I want to encourage you to embrace your fear and learn to love the swim leg. You wouldn't be alone; many newbies who had never swum more than a pool length before training for a triathlon say they have come to enjoy swimming the most of the three sports. Don't believe it? Read on.

There's something so liberating about learning a new skill as an adult. Even if you took swim lessons as a kid and are reasonably comfortable in the water, you can boost your comfort so drastically by mastering a few key techniques like proper bilateral breathing. Once you've got the basics down, you can focus on other simple skills like keeping your hips up and minimizing unnecessary movements so all your energy goes to your stroke and kick. You might be amazed how quickly your times improve and, more importantly, how much more you enjoy your time in the water.

While nothing can replace in-person coaching from a skilled professional, here are our top three tips for improving your swim:

1. Get the breathing down. Focus on rotating your head only side-to-side and not up and down. In other words: rotate, don't lift. Imagine there's a thread connected to the center of your forehead, keeping your gaze slightly forward and not straight down to the bottom of the water. Exhale before you rotate your head to the side to breathe to minimize the time your face is out of the water. When your arm sweeps over your ear, your face rotates back into the water, like your arm is pulling down a curtain. Try to breathe every three strokes to keep things even and avoid straining one side of your neck. Key word here? Rotate!

2. Get your hips up and maintain a horizontal body position. If your hips sink, your feet will follow. Since deeper water means heavier water, this will make it harder to kick and will likely slow you down. Try to keep your hips and your heels at the surface of the water.

3. Slow and smooth is better than fast and choppy. While you're still finding your rhythm and comfort in the water, focus on your technique more than racing down the lane. Once you're comfortable with bilateral breathing, rotation, and horizontal positioning, you can turn up the speed and make jaws drop.

For us, swimming is mental floss and a critical part of our weekly routine. There's nothing quite like the instant rush that takes over when you dive into a pool or, better yet, the open water. Aside from muted splashes and a low hum, it's just you and the H20. It's like a meditation with the added bonus of getting in a workout at the same time. No matter how much we might not want to swim (cue those subzero, predawn morning workouts), we always feel better after we do. And that keeps us getting up and diving in every time (well, most times).

So join us in 2020 and embrace your fear/dread/dislike of swimming. It might just become your new favorite thing.

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