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by Linda Shoenberger

February 1, 2007

What Masters Swimming has to offer Triathletes

Ten years ago I joined a gym close to my home and discovered a Masters swim group just forming.  I felt fortunate to find a group of adults to swim with because I had not swum competitively for years.

As it turns out, many of the swimmers in the group are triathletes.  They came to the group because the coach, Scott Young, is a professional triathlete and an excellent swimmer.  They were looking for guidance in that part of the triathlon that so many triathletes struggle with – the swim leg.

Today, Scott works at the University of Nevada, Reno running the pool and teaching triathlon classes.  I now coach the masters swim program during the week and Scott trains us on Saturdays. 

Ten years ago I didn’t even know what a triathlon was.  When I learned they have to not only swim, but also bike and run, I was amazed at their athleticism.  Yet, it appears to me that some of these athletes are less adept at swimming as they are at running and biking.   After spending so much time with them, I now know many triathletes struggle with swimming and some come to us with the attitude that it is just something to get out of the way before they get to bike and run.

I know our Masters group has changed a lot of triathlete’s attitudes over the years.  They’ve not only improved their swimming and race performance by joining us, they have learned to enjoy swimming.

What Happens?

By joining a group of diverse swimmers, triathletes get to experience swimming in lanes with other people of complementary ability.  They feed off each other, perhaps initially competing for last place in the lane and later moving up.  Not only do they learn by doing, they gain motivation to improve from fellow Masters.

Endurance + Technique

Of course triathletes are masters of endurance.  They have to be because they’re out on the course a long time.  But swimming requires a different type of endurance because it exercises muscles that aren’t used as much in one-dimensional sports like running and biking.

In order to move through the water a swimmer travels through three planes.  Coordinating all these movements can be confusing for inexperienced swimmers.  A Masters coach, with his or her “deck-level-view,” can make invaluable corrections.  This makes the triathlete’s experience in the water much more enjoyable and contributes to improved race performance.


Countless times I’ve seen triathletes come into the pool for their workout alone only to leave after just 30 minutes because of a combination of boredom and fatigue.  But Masters workouts usually last 60 to 90 minutes.  The camaraderie of the group alone can motivate a swimmer to stay in the pool for the full workout.Plus having a coach on deck giving encouragement and instruction holds the athlete’s attention.


If you watch a triathlete come alone to the pool to workout, usually the first thing they do is put a buoy between their legs and start swimming.  And then they keep swimming.  And swimming.  And swimming.  No wonder they’re bored! 

By joining a masters group, the triathlete not only gains camaraderie and technique instruction, he or she gets to experience a variety of sets, strokes and drills.  Masters coaches usually have a tremendous background in organized swim training, whether as a swimmer, coach or both.  Masters coaches also often ave the experience to conduct interesting and valuable workouts.


During the time I’ve been swimming and coaching masters I have yet to meet a triathlete who joined our group who didn’t improve in some way.  Many of these triathletes have been enjoying the group since the beginning 10 years ago.   And those who are new to the sport are thrilled to join us.  Our gym caters to a large group of triathletes so it’s fantastic to have the pool and coaches right there where they come for spin classes, running on the treadmill, meeting each other to go out for a run or bike and lifting weights.


By joining a swim group, triathletes can learn to enjoy the swim leg of the triathlon.  I’ve seen this happen over and over throughout the years.  The old attitude of “let’s just get this over with” disappears when they join the Masters program.