Do Triathletes Really Need to Swim in the Winter Months?


IT'S COLD AND DARK...the alarm rings at 5:30 am. You could roll over and get an extra hour of sleep or get to the pool. Your sleepy brain says nahhh... I'll stay put, triathletes don't really need to swim in the Winter. Have you had that conversation with yourself before?

There has been a long-time rumor in the triathlon community that triathletes who are decent swimmers don't need to swim during the winter months. The idea is that triathletes will get fewer gains from being a couple of minutes faster in the water and they should spend that time swimming or cycling more. Yes, that may be true but...

The problem with this theory is that swimming is still a big part of the race. First of all, if you come out in the front of the pack in a draft legal race, you can grab a faster cycling group and set a faster cycling pace. If you're not in a draft legal race, you will be surrounded by faster cyclists and more likely to push your personal pace.

If you're thinking... I'm not that competitive in triathlon, look at it this way. Swimming also has cardiovascular benefits which will tie over into your overall endurance. If you're doing a long-course triathlon, endurance is your golden ticket to the finish line! The recovery from a swim workout is not as hard on your body as the recovery from a hard running workout. The result is you can reap the rewards from the swim workout, keep building your endurance tank, and still put in a hard run and bike workout during the same week.

Do you see the pros staying out of the pool? I don't think so! They swim at least 3 days a week so they can keep the feel of the water, build a stronger endurance and speed tank, work on their swimming skills and increase their overall power. If you are a weaker swimmer, you will definitely want to be in the pool at least twice a week so you can improve your technique. So many swimmers have panic attacks in races because they are just not confident enough in the water.

Swimming is extremely sport-specific. So unless 1) you think you're Lucie Charles Barclay who still swims as part of her training btw OR 2) you're feeling the water in the bathtub, when else do you do anything remotely similar to gliding your body through the water?


Julia Aimers
CSEP Clinical Exercise Physiologist
CSEP High-Performance Specialist

Certified Triathlon, Cycling, Yoga and Swimming Coach
USA Cycling Level 2 Coach
Training Peaks Accredited Coach


Team Triumph Triathlon Club offers group swim practices, private swim coaching and underwater swim video analysis. Find out more here.

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