Swim Pacing's Impact on Triathlon Performance

Swimming is the opening leg of the triathlon race and many athletes utilize this leg to establish position for the upcoming bike and run events of the competition.  Swimming remains the hardest and often most dreaded of the 3 triathlon components for many competitors.  For this group of competitors, a race strategy for the swim should be considered improve their performance and place them in a stronger position to enter the cycling event. 

A recent experiment was conducted to determine the impact of pacing on triathletes' swim performance.  Wu and colleagues (Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016) examined competitive, trained triathletes placing them first through a 750 meter swim time trial.  After the trial, athletes were placed in three pacing groups during 3 different sprint distance triathlon events.  Authors matched the swim time during each of the 3 triathlons but adjusted the pacing in three ways: even pacing, gradual increased speed (90 to 70% of swim trial times), or gradual decreased speed (70% to 90% of swim trial times).  

The authors reported improved performance and lower fatigue levels in athletes who started at 90% and moved to 70% of their swim trial time.  In addition, these athletes had better cycle times and overall triathlon performances than those in the other two groups.

Athletes should consider utilizing pacing during their opening swim legs to improve performance and decrease perceived exertion.