Swim technique mistakes - Fix this one thing to fix your Ironman swim

Swim technique mistakes – Fix this one thing to fix your Ironman swim

Swim technique mistakes - Fix this one thing to fix your Ironman swim

Former elite swimmer Reece Barclay reveals the biggest swim technique mistake he sees Ironman age groupers making on their Ironman swim on this edition of The Kona Edge.

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Swim faster without spending more time in the water

Discover the 4 most common swim killers and how to fix them so that you can shave minutes off your swim time.


BRAD BROWN:  You’re listening to The Kona Edge. I’m Brad Brown and we head back to London once again and we’re joined now by Reece Barclay, Reece welcome back onto the podcast. Thanks for joining us today. It’s good to have you back on.

REECE BARCLAY:  Good to be back, thanks.

BRAD BROWN:  Reece, we spoke at length about your sort of build up to Ironman Kona in the last chat we had. You mentioned that you came from a very competitive swimming background, you swam at national level.

Do you think that’s been a big advantage? I mean you’re never going to win a triathlon in the swim but getting off to the best possible start sure helps.

REECE BARCLAY:  Yeah, definitely. As you say you can’t win and Ironman from the swim but you can certainly lose it from the swim. So knowing that I’m going to be one of the first, if not the first out of the water is a great motivating factor for me.

BRAD BROWN:  You said you actually only started swimming sort of in your early teens. That’s when you discovered the sport. How soon after that did you actually realise you were pretty good at it?

Having the background as a competitive swimmer

REECE BARCLAY:  Yeah, as you say I started reasonably late for a swimmer. Most competitive swimmers who reach national level start from about nine, ten years old and I started when I was 14.

I had quite a big background in sports before then and I think that kind of played at an advantage. By the time I was getting to national level a lot of my competitors were either burnt out from the intensity of it or just generally getting quite bored with the sport of swimming

So a lot of them who were quite a lot better than me at that point sort of phased out and I gradually climbed the ranks, but I think ultimately starting late was what stopped me from reaching international level.

BRAD BROWN:  You obviously know swimming really well. Your swim technique is obviously pretty decent. You wouldn’t be doing what you were doing in the water if it wasn’t. What’s the biggest sort of mistake that you see Ironman Age Groupers making in the water? What could they change that would improve their performance massively?

The swim technique mistake a lot of Ironman age groupers make

REECE BARCLAY:  Oh, that’s the hard one. I’d say probably the most common thing I see is people turning their head too far to breathe. They’re almost pulling all of their head out the water. You only really need to have you know half of your face out the water and do the sort of pop-eye mouth thing to get the air in.

If you rotate your head too far everything else sort of goes off as well. That’s quite a common thing. I just remember seeing people that, and think oh, if they didn’t do that so much they’d be a bit quicker.

BRAD BROWN:  You’re not going to tell them that though, are you?

REECE BARCLAY:  That’s too many people to tell.

Work on your swim technique to improve your Ironman swim

BRAD BROWN:  Reece as far as something that you’ve done in the water that’s made a big difference to your triathlon swimming performance.  You’ve obviously been good for a long, long time but is there something you’ve done that has made a big difference to your triathlon swimming performance?

REECE BARCLAY:  Yeah, I think that once you’ve obviously got the swim technique side of things. Most people don’t actually ever get over the swim technique side of it. If you can get your swim technique up to a  good enough standard you can actually make swimming a really, really effective, sort of a lactate tolerance session.

I find that working at intensity in the pool is a great advantage over doing it on the bike or maybe on the run. Than is because you don’t feel as battered afterwards, especially on the run. If you go out and do, you know a high intensity run session you’re probably going to feel it for a couple of days. But if you go and do a really hard VO2 Max session in the pool you can normally sort of recover fairly quickly from it.

What your your favourite swimming workouts?

BRAD BROWN:  Looking at some of your favourite swimming workouts.  How much time would you generally spend in the pool in a normal week? Do you tend to sort of lean towards your weaknesses or do you tend to build your strengths?

REECE BARCLAY:  This has kind of changed recently. I’d say before 2015 Ironman UK I hardly did any swimming really. I probably averaged, 10km a week and for me that’s probably about 2, 5 hours’ worth of swimming. That was just because I had to really focus on the other disciplines especially my Ironman bike.

I was a long, long way behind on the bike but after that and in the build up to Ironman Kona I started to pick up my swimming a lot more. Certainly more recently even after Ironman Kona I’ve really gone back to my roots and started throwing in those more regular intense swim sessions.

Reece’s favourite swimming workout

BRAD BROWN:  What is your favourite swimming workout in the pool, what do you love doing?

REECE BARCLAY:  I know you’ll all hate me for this but my favourite swimming workout is 30 x 100’s. It’s just… I must say I enjoy that, so.

BRAD BROWN:  Straight up, 30 x 100, what sort of pace are you doing in that? Is it steady, do you tend to go faster? How does it work?

REECE BARCLAY:  If I’m doing it at intensity I would do it short course off of 1:20, 1:10’s but I tend to train long course so about 1:20 off of a 1:25 turnaround and hitting anywhere between 1;15, 1:20, something like that.

BRAD BROWN:  And try and keep them as close together time wise as you can.

REECE BARCLAY:  Yeah, that’s why I quite like the set. It just seems to, as I say you focus on your time and you don’t have that much time rest to think about it so the set just seems to go really quickly.

BRAD BROWN:  What sort of break do you take between those?

REECE BARCLAY:  In terms of when would I do them throughout the week or just -?

BRAD BROWN:  No, no, no with regards to you say there’s not much of a break between each one of the hundreds, I mean do you, sort of five seconds, how long a break do you take between each hundred?

REECE BARCLAY:  Okay, so yeah I do it off of a one minute, 25 second turnaround. Every one minute, 25 I would go regardless of what time I came in.

Learning better swim technique from others

BRAD BROWN:  Aha, right brilliant. As far as swim squads go. You spent hours and hours growing up in swim squads. I’ve recently gone back. I mean it’s weird I’ve also swam fairly competitively as a kid and I hadn’t swum swim squad for probably close on 20 years.

I joined one about three weeks ago and I can’t get over the difference. Is that something you’d recommend Ironman age groupers do? Find guys and girls that are better than them and the structured sessions and go and smash those?

REECE BARCLAY:  Yeah, for sure. If you can get in a pool with someone who’s better than you you’re only going to up your game and your swim session would just be so much more beneficial for it. Yeah, I highly recommend joining a swim squad. Even if it’s just getting in with someone who’s a little bit better than you. Not necessarily to join a swim squad, but if you can do that then yes, even better.

The role of swim squads in Ironman training

BRAD BROWN:  Yeah, I mean I can’t get over it Reece, like it’s ridiculous. I sort of just wrote it off. I thought it can’t make that much of a difference. Honestly, I cannot fathom why I didn’t do this years ago.

REECE BARCLAY:  Yeah, definitely. I mean you just learn so much from just watching better swimmers as well. You can see what’s going on with their swim technique under the water. When someone’s better than you and swimming past you, have a look. You can just learn from watching and swimming at the same time, so it’s a win-win really.

BRAD BROWN:  Yeah, without a doubt. Reece as always great to catch up, look forward to doing it again and I’m very keen to find out what you did on the bike. As you say that was your weakest discipline but you’ve worked really hard at it. You’re getting great results so we’ll save that for next time.

REECE BARCLAY:  Great, thanks.

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About Us

Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).

Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.

He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.


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