Posted On:
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Focus on Fundamentals

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Helllllloooooo and welcome back to Coach Tip Tuesday!!

This week I’m going to talk about focusing on fundamentals.  This is a phrase that has popped up in other Coach Tip Tuesday posts, but it’s not something that I’ve truly elaborated on yet.  Specifically this week, we’re going to talk about focusing on swimming fundamentals (cycling and running will be discussed in future Coach Tip Tuesday posts ;) ).

A lot of triathletes have one goal in mind when it comes to the swim portion of triathlon: survive it.  I want to encourage those of you who feel that way to strive to do more than just survive it.  Strive to crush it.

How do you move from merely surviving to crushing the swim??  Unfortunately the answer isn’t a magic pill or a “super-secret” formula.  You have to focus on fundamentals and do the work.  What do I mean when I say “fundamentals??”  I’m talking about the very basics of swimming - your breathing, your kick, your arm stroke, and your overall form.  This time of year, when race season is pretty much wrapped up and most athletes are in Maintenance/Transition Phases, is a great time to really focus on these fundamentals.  I would like to take this a bit further and encourage you to start focusing on fundamentals now, and to carry that focus through to your swims all year long.

Yes, indeed, I’m not only saying that you should swim all year long; I’m saying that you should be focusing on what you’re doing in your swim year-round.  Some coaches will say that swimming year-round and multiple times a week is unnecessary, that drills are for off-season only, and that as race season approaches that the focus needs to shift to swimming the distances required for racing.  And yes, it’s true that in a good, periodized training schedule that athletes will start to focus on race-specific tactics as they move into race season.  But I don’t think that drills or fundamentals should be completely thrown out the window; I think that athletes should reinforce fundamentals all year long, and that they should swim a few times a week all year long.

How does one figure out which fundamentals to focus on??  In my experience, it’s rather difficult to self-assess during the swim.  I am very good at assessing other athletes’ swims, but even I need another coach to assess mine so I know what I need to work on.  Once you’re clued in to what you should be working on, it becomes easier to drive your focus when you’re swimming.  So, for instance, if a coach tells you that you are crossing over when you’re swimming and gives you drills to reinforce proper hand entry, you’re more likely to be able to be in-tune with where your hands are when you’re swimming on your own.  

Doing drills as part of your workout will help develop good technique, proper neuromuscular patterns, and increase your swimming self-awareness.  One of the big keys to getting the most out of any drill is to make sure that you are slowing way the heck down when you’re doing it and getting enough rest in between each drill interval; you need to be able to focus on the drill, and the “why” behind it (i.e. what is this drill doing to help me with my swim form??).  Remember when we talked last week about checking your pace ego at the door??  That same principle applies here, my friends.  Drills aren’t meant to be blasted through, and quite frankly, if that’s what you’re doing when you do them, then you’re negating the positive effects that they will have on your swimming form.

Getting to the pool and getting a workout in is a win, but the truth is, you could be reinforcing poor form or bad habits.  EVERY swimmer, no matter how fast or how experienced they are, can benefit from focusing on fundamentals, having a coach assess their swim, and from doing drills during each workout.  Increasing your proficiency in the water will help you move away from merely surviving triathlon swims, and will help you get to the point where you crush them.  If you want to become the best swimmer you can be, or if you want to talk about how an assessment or some drills might step up your swim game, you know where I am. :)


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

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