The Norwegian Method Podcast: Simplifying the Swim Training Process

This is the fifth episode in this series. If you haven’t yet listened to Episode 4, click here to read our 11 takeaways and […]

This is the fifth episode in this series. If you haven’t yet listened to Episode 4, click here to read our 11 takeaways and listen to the episode in full. 

In the fifth episode of The Norwegian Method Podcast presented by Santara Tech, hosts Dr. David Lipman and coach Olav Aleksander Bu, discuss arguably the most technical element of triathlon—swimming. 

From technique tips to mindset advice and beyond, here are 10 insights from Episode 5. 

1. Exploring the Keys to Improvement in Swimming 

Your number one priority should be quality swims. It is a technically intensive sport that is heavily drag-dependent, meaning you need to move as efficiently as possible in the water at all times.

One way to do this is by using a camera to look at your position in the water, both from the front and the back. Recording yourself while you swim will allow you to check in on your technique and identify opportunities for improvement. 

You can make this an experimental process to help ensure you are not just swimming with brute force to go faster but improving through improved technique and reduced drag. 

2. Understanding Power vs. Drag

No matter how hard you train your swimming power output, your ROI on these efforts will be nullified if your drag stays consistent or worsens. 

There is significantly more to be gained through improving hydrodynamics, such as how your body moves through the water based on proper body position and technique. 

3. Navigating Swim Drill Volumes 

In the world of swimming, there are a vast number of philosophies. Many people do abundant drills, others do less.

The ultimate goal of your training is to swim faster over a predetermined distance, whether that’s 1,500 meters or 3,800 meters. 

In any case, specificity is king.

It’s critical to set as specific of a time target as possible for your race and then tailor your training to help you achieve it. 

When it comes to swimming drills, the big question is this:

Why do you have drills in your swimming program? 

Looking back at the concepts discussed in Episode 4, swimming requires key sessions, development sessions, and maintenance sessions. With swimming, these translate to high-intensity, medium-intensity, and low-intensity sessions. 

Within the Norwegian Method philosophy, drills fall into the category of maintenance sessions—it’s important to build awareness of your body in the water, but there has to be a balance of how many drills you incorporate into your training. 

There’s a common misconception among triathletes that all drills are valuable to them. But while it’s difficult to generalize about how many drills should be in your program, the key is that your program should be focused on you and your areas for development.

In fact, some drills were invented by coaches to solve specific challenges for specific athletes and they became widely accepted—but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. 

4. Finding Swimming Drills That Matter to You

You can expect to find a few specific drills that really move the needle for you, whether that be kick drills, pull drills, or any number of others. 

When you identify those drills, it is better to focus on those than eliminate others—do a higher volume of a smaller number of specific drills that meet your needs rather than a lower volume of many different drills. 

Your goal should be to identify a drill that solves one of your challenges, practice it until you are very good at it, and then bridge it into your overall swimming. If you can’t do that, forget about that drill. 

With every drill you do, ask yourself if it creates improvement. If not, why not? Then swap it out for something else. 

5. Determining How Much Time to Dedicate to Specific Drills

When trialing drills, it takes time to assess their impact on your overall goal of increasing velocity over a pre-set distance.

But there is a balance that needs to be kept in mind.

Avoid jumping around too much if you don’t see immediate improvements—it takes time to assess the value of a specific drill. But, on the other hand, don’t be afraid to make changes either.

Consider a four-week window to assess each drill, and measure your progress along the way so you have a data set to measure against.

It’s important to understand that improvement from drills is not always linear. Sometimes you may take two steps forward and then one step back, and in other cases, you may take one step back and two steps forward. 

6. Balancing Intensity vs. Duration and Volume in Swim Training 

Triathlon is a complex sport because there are three disciplines to practice.

Ultimately, the goal of your swim is to set yourself up for a brilliant bike ride and run. So, you should avoid exhausting yourself while swimming—both during training and on race day. 

Early in your training season, you want to push your velocity curve with higher-intensity sessions. 

But as you get closer to competition, your goal should be to prioritize becoming better in your specific race distance. This calls for longer reps at your goal race pace with shorter rest in between. 

Remember, high-intensity sessions can be fun, but they don’t necessarily align the overall goal of your swim during your race. 

Don’t be afraid to lose a little bit on your 100-meter or 200-meter times as long as your longer distance times are getting better. 

7. Being Mindful While Swim Training 

Many people like to go in the pool and clear their minds while they swim. After all, it can be incredibly meditative.

However, that is the opposite of what you should be doing.

While training in such a technical endeavor, you need to be mindful, identifying moments where you should make pivots to your approach to ensure you’re performing optimally. 

8. Weighing the Importance of Open Water Swimming

As a triathlete, you will most likely do your race swim in an open body of water. So, this begs the question: how much open water swim training should you be doing?

The good thing about swimming in a pool is that it’s a controlled environment. There is very little noise that creeps into the data. So, as long as you’re using your data to make informed decisions and tweak your training, it is fine to do most sessions in the pool.

However, it is vital to incorporate some volume of open water swimming into your training. There is a discrepancy between how you feel and perform in open water due to: 

  • The elements, including waves and wind
  • Potentially cold temperatures
  • Often low visibility in the water

For many triathletes, this can be a very intense and jarring experience that alters your ability to perform. 

9. Apportioning Swim Sessions Appropriately

When you’re training for long-distance races, you don’t always have to train to the full distance of your swim, bike, and run.

But balance is crucial.

As you heard in Episode 1, it is important to put a dent in your curve with shorter high-intensity sessions—you need to raise your floor in order to raise your ceiling. 

You also need to have longer swims—a few times per month rather than a couple of times per year. 

Typically, you want to break these longer swims into intervals, but it’s essential to keep your breaks short between sets. 

Take, for example, a 3,000-meter swim session. You could break it out as: 

  • 600 meters of warm-up
  • 2,200 meters swimming at a higher velocity than your race pace, broken into 400 meter sets with short breaks in between to check your performance
  • 200 meters of cool-down 

Your goal with these longer-distance sessions is not to reach exhaustion, but to bring in enough fatigue that you are forced, at some point during your swim, to focus on technique while improving your aerobic system. 

You should strive to keep some repetitions in reserve. So, at the end of these sessions, you should feel as though you could still execute one to two more intervals at very high quality.

10. Choosing the Right Wetsuit

Picking the right wetsuit is an extremely personal process, but there are a few fundamental things to consider:

  • Find a wetsuit that helps you maintain the most horizontal (otherwise known as neutral) position in the water
  • Avoid gimmicky details that don’t actually help you swim faster 
  • Look for a wetsuit that helps with biomechanics, especially those that allow for easy movement in your shoulders to avoid fatigue or over-straining

In most cases, this comes down to neoprene distribution in the wetsuit.

For example, if you find your legs sink down while swimming, compromising on upper body buoyancy and finding a wetsuit that has more neoprene in the legs can help you stay neutral in the water. 

Also, finding a wetsuit that has less neoprene on the lats, shoulders, and arms can allow you to move more freely to ensure you don’t tire out during your swim. 
If you’d like to learn more, you can listen to episode 5 in its entirety. You can also find brand-new video content, news, and updates from The Norwegian Method on the VO2 Master blog.

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