You Probably Suck at Swimming

Triathlon is plagued with a problem.  That problem is that triathletes are shit-ass awful swimmers.  Really, guys.  It’s bad.  Watching the flailing semi-drown of even “good” triathletes is still pretty painful.

Let’s put it into perspective.  Russell Cox put together a distribution of IM swim times from 2013 (current aided and shortened swims were excluded).


Russ Cox Chart

Only 10% of these IM swims were 1:01 or faster (1:27/100y), 25% faster than 1:08 (1:36/100y) and half of all swimmers were 1:16 or slower (1:48/100y)!

Guys, 1:30/100y isn’t fast.  I hate to break it to you.  9 year-olds who swim 3x/week for an hour go much faster.  Before you go on and brag about ‘doing an ironman’, contemplate the likelihood that you suck at a full 1/3 of the event (and probably much more!)

Why do you suck at swimming?

Probably a couple reasons.

  • You don’t swim frequently enough
  • You don’t swim far enough
  • You don’t swim hard enough
  • You’re an ADD son of a bitch who can’t focus on deliberately performing a complex action for more than 3 strokes at a time.

How can you get better?

3 sessions/week isn’t enough.  Get your ass to the pool.

Your races are 4200y.  Swimming 2-3k/session and/or <10k a week isn’t enough.  Swim more.

If you have ANY doubt as to whether you can or should be swimming harder, then YOU SHOULD BE SWIMMING HARDER.  Even if you don’t have any doubts, you’re probably wrong.

Actually focus on what you’re doing.

Remove distractions and make each stroke perfect. ‘Doing it right’ only 25% of the time isn’t going to make you better. 100% will, though. Take off your goofy cheek-bone mp3 players, stop oggling the cute lifeguard, ignore the people in the lane around you, and deliberately concentrate on every movement you perform. Jackingoff for 2k doesn’t imply improvement. 4k of deliberate, focused swimming will make you better.


Your perception of what you’re doing is likely nothing like what you’re actually doing. Get a camera and film yourself. Compare what you’re doing to what an Olympic swimmer [Sun Yang, though a doper, is an excellent example of freestyle technique] is doing.

Whatever differences there are, defer to what they are doing. Even better idea, find a coach who knows what they’re doing. But then you’ll say that “Triathlete Magazine told me I shouldn’t swim like pool swimmers and that I should change my stroke for open water”. Sure, there are technical changes you can make to optimize for open water swimming, but until then, it’s kinda like putting a spoiler on a ’98 Honda

photo credit: LR#-1058 Whitney & Alyssa [Joel’s Model Portfolio Set] via photopin (license)

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About the Author

Kevin Ryan is a professional triathlete living and training in Lexington, Kentucky. He is a former distance swimmer at the University of Kentucky, though his true talent is in hiding his raw, sexual magnetism. You can catch him at the Challenge North American races in 2015.