Swim Testing for Triathletes

The days are getting shorter and colder in my home state of Kentucky.  But there is one place that I can count on to always be sunny and temps in the 80’s:  Mary T Meagher Aquatic Center.  It’s  about the only place I consistently get myself out of bed when needing to do an early morning workout before heading to work at my real job.  I don’t mind when its dark, or when its cold… but when its both, the sum of the two is much greater than the separate parts!

I don’t think I’m alone in the world with this mental problem of getting outside in the early morning for a run workout.  The winter also presents other challenges with slick road conditions and crazy drivers heading to Wal-mart to save money on buying all the things people don’t need for Christmas to only mention a few.  So why not spend more time in the pool perfecting your stroke, give your legs a break for a few months from the high mileage we abuse them with during the spring through fall, and getting a little faster for the first leg of the race that is often disregarded since it is typically such a small percentage of the race.  People will say you can’t win the race in the water (which is probably true), but the race can definitely be lost in the water.

But how does someone get faster in the water?  Aside from swimming more consistently and becoming more efficiently, the most important thing you can do is figure out what your limiter is in the water.  Are you more aerobic or do you lean toward the anaerobic side of spectrum?  There are several tests out there to help determine this, but my favorite is the following:


Test Set – 200/800

After doing an adequate warm up of about 700-1000 meters/yards with a few 50’s at race pace effort swim a 200 all out from the wall for time.  Get you 200 time and rest for one minute.  At the end of that minute, do an 800 swim at all out effort for time.

The 200 simulates that start of the race where you start out fast to find your place in the pack and hopefully find someone’s feet to swim behind.  The 800 simulates the remainder of the swim.

The 200 x 4 shouldn’t be equal to your 800 time.  The difference between the 200 x 4 and the 800 is what you are looking for to determine your strength/weakness.



Interpreting the Data:

Less than 8% Gap
If the swimmers estimated 800 split and actual 800 splits have a gap of less than 8%, this indicates the 200 segment of this test is weaker than the 800 segment. This points towards a lower anaerobic capacity, anaerobic power and/or low swim-specific strength
If the stroke rate is close, within 2-3 strokes from the first 50 and the last 50, it is an indication of low anaerobic capacity and/or power. If the stroke count drops off by 4-5 or more stokes, that points more towards a lower level of swim-specific strength.

Greater than 8% Gap
If the swimmers estimated 800 split and actual 800 splits have a gap of greater than 8%, this indicates the 200 segment of this test is stronger than the 800 segment. This points towards low aerobic conditioning, muscular endurance and/or a poor pacing strategy.
Looking at the stroke count again for more insight. If the stroke count is close, within 2-3 strokes, it could be an indication of muscular endurance (the ability to hold a pace for a long period of time) or possibly a poor pacing strategy.


Once you know what your limiter is, it should be relatively simple to do figure out workouts you need to do to work on your limiter in the water.  At the end of the day, however, triathlon is an aerobic sport and we shouldn’t neglect the aerobic side of training if that is your limiter.  By focusing on one side of the spectrum (anaerobic or aerobic) it will negatively effect the other… so balance is key.