Triathlon SWIM Case Study: Jim Williamson


RTA Triathlon coached athlete, Jim Williamson, recently slashed 1:00 minute off of his 500 yard swim test. This equates to 0:12 seconds per 100 yards AND a time SAVINGS of 4:14 over a 1.2 mile half IRON-distance swim or 8:28 minutes over a 2.4 mile IRON-distance swim. Needless to say, this is SIGNIFICANT!

Jim did this in only 8 weeks.

Here are the 5 things he did and what you can do to SHAVE TIME off of your next triathlon swim split.



Quick Background

Jim is a very busy and highly successful business executive. He is married and is the father of two teenage sons.

He has been competing in triathlon since 2008 and most recently completed IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City in 2016.

This year Jim will be doing IRONMAN 70.3 Lake Placid and IRONMAN Louisville among other races. Louisville will be his first IRONMAN and it will be his “A” race for the year.


Previous Years

Jim has been swimming regularly for about 8 years. In the past he would swim 2-3 days per week and his weekly swim volume would be about 3,600 yards. His longest swim was 2,150 yards.

He never really had planned workouts and he didn’t have much of an organized program.

This year, Jim hired RTA Triathlon to map out and oversee his training as he prepared for his first IRONMAN triathlon.


5 things Jim did to improve his swim (so far):


1. Strength

Jim is not old, but he’s no longer a spring chicken (sorry buddy) and as we age, a proper strength and conditioning program can be extremely beneficial. It helps to create durability, strengthen soft tissue and increases overall strength and power. The goal isn’t to get BIG, but instead to increase the athletes overall strength to weight ratio. It also helps to prevent injury.

As such, we created a sports specific strength program and included it as a corner stone within his early season training.

He hit the weights 3 times per week with a specific and progressive recipe of sets and reps. During this period we scaled back on the overall swim, bike and run volume in order include a strength component and also keep his weekly training volume manageable with his busy schedule.

Jim had never incorporated strength into his training in the past. Needless to say, this addition has already led to some nice gains including a more powerful swim stroke.


2. Workout Specificity

As mentioned earlier, Jim never had any kind of workout specificity when swimming. Like many age group triathletes he would simply get in the water and swim for a certain goal time or yardage.

With RTA Triathlon overseeing his training program, each time he gets into the water now, not only does he have a specific workout to complete, but there are goals associated with the workout. For example, he may have a workout focused on strength endurance or a more intense anaerobic swim set.

Regardless, his swim sets are to be executed within his personal swim zones, which we create and recreate for each of our athletes as they test, re-test and improve. The swim zones are based off of his current level of fitness and change, as he becomes a faster swimmer.

Not only does this give RTA Triathlon athletes a clear cut speed or exertion level, but we can target specific energy systems, similar to heart rate training for running or using a power meter for cycling.



“Swim Pacing & Control For Triathletes”

“Importance of Testing in Triathlon Training”


3. Increased Swim duration

Typically, we will first increase the frequency in which an athlete swims THEN increase the duration they are swimming (each time & on a weekly basis).

However, during the past 8 weeks, the goal was to focus on strength conditioning in lieu of adding extra swim days. This approach made sense for the time of the year in relation to his goal race(s). There was no need to add to his weekly training hours and instead we just shifted things around based on the goals for his current block of training.

Instead of adding additional swim days, Jim continued to average 3 days per week in the water. We slowly increased his weekly yardage from 3,600 yards to 6,000 yards to 7,400 yards. This helped to increase his overall durability and endurance in the water.

As we begin to phase out strength sessions in the gym, we will begin to increase frequency and slowly continue to increase volume.


4. 1 on 1 Swim Instruction

In one swim session with Jim, we identified and addressed the following:

  • Hand/Arm entry (he was reaching too far out ON TOP OF THE WATER)
  • Depth of hand under the water
  • Weak Kick
  • Crossing

These are all fairly common flaws among triathletes that are easily corrected.

1 on 1 swim instruction something that cannot be understated regardless of how fast or slow one currently swims. We have helped athletes who couldn’t swim laps (period!). We have helped triathletes who swam 1:25/100 get down to 1:15/100 and still others who couldn’t break the 2:00/100 barrier finally dip below this mark.

Obviously, it’s 100% dependent on the athlete, how much they commit to practicing and where they are coming from, but often small tweaks can make a HUGE difference.

Here are the 3 things we offer each of our 1 on 1 swim clients:

  1. Video Analysis
  2. Instant feedback & correction
  3. Homework with things to practice


5. Commitment & Dedication

It goes without saying this is necessary, but it’s still important to mention.

It doesn’t matter how good your workout design is.

It doesn’t matter if you read swim books or watch videos on YouTube.

It doesn’t matter if you get 1 on 1 swim instruction.

No one can become a better swimmer overnight. It takes consistent (perfect) practice and LOTS repetition.

The most important thing is you have to PUT IN THE WORK. This is what Jim does on a consistent basis. Everyone has a busy schedule and a long list of family, work and social obligations, but it’s those that commit to finding the time and truly dedicate themselves to improving who GET THE RESULTS.



More SWIM related articles by RTA Triathlon HERE.



Learn more about RTA Coaching HERE

Learn more about RTA 1 on 1 Sessions for swim, bike & run HERE



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