The swim is frequently the most daunting part of a triathlon for new and seasoned racers alike. Aside from practice, practice, practice here are my recommendations on how to get the most benefit out of your time in the pool:
1. Flip turns. Many triathletes don't bother with flip turns because, after all, there are no walls in open water. But aside from making you faster in the pool, being able to do flip turns can make you a faster swimmer overall by eliminating the tempting ability to loaf at the wall. Plus, flip turns make you look cool.
2. Switch up the strokes. Aside from breaking up the monotony of all that freestyle, practicing other strokes exercises new muscle groups and helps decrease the risk of repetitive-motion injuries.
3. Start each workout with drill work. Good form is key to a fast, efficient stroke. But there's enough going through your mind on race day as it is without having to worry about high elbows. Similarly, intense sets are not the time to fine-tune the minutiae of your stroke. Focus on your form during every warmup, and over time those mechanics will just come naturally.
4. Vary your workouts. As my coach always says, "The only way to run (or bike) faster is to go faster." Translation: long runs and rides are great for endurance, but to really tap into speed you need to do interval work. Swimming is no different.
5. Find a fast friend. Let's face it, most of us have a bit of a competitive streak. That interval that is always just out of reach when I swim on my own is magically much more achievable when I'm chasing someone. Swim with someone who will push the pace and, in turn, force you to push yourself.