Mark Spitz reveals how to swim like an Olympic great

As a few City A.M. readers prepare for London Triathlon, the gold medal hero explains how to make a splash

IKNOW more than anyone how tough swimming can be, let alone swimming in open water and then following it up with a cycle and a run, so big respect to anyone doing a triathlon.

Hopefully I can pass on some training tips which make at least the water part a little easier and maybe even turn a weakness into a strength.

This may sound obvious, but the difference between swimming and the other two disciplines is that your upper body is pretty important. These days most swimming coaches worth their salt know there is a pretty strong relationship between pulling strength and swimming speed.

You need to be careful because you don’t want to carry a huge upper body around a triathlon – so it’s important to get stronger without getting bigger. Try incorporating some of the following exercises into your training and you’ll soon find your swim times coming down.

These are the exercises for improving your pulling strength. They are pretty tough though, particularly for females, so I have taken it easy and given some progressions from an ‘anyone can do’ version to seriously tough!

You can either use gym machines which reduce your body weight or even use resistance bands to help you out (ask your local gym instructor). Try working on four sets of five reps and build yourself up until you can do five reps with little or no assistance.

Using your own bodyweight, mix these up so sometimes you have palms facing you (chin-up) and sometimes facing away (pull-up). You can also vary how wide you have your hands. Try this as a session:

I. Five to eight reps with hands wide, palms facing away, followed by two minutes’ rest;
II. Five to eight reps with hands wide, palms facing in; two mins’ rest;
III. Five to eight reps with hands narrow, palms facing away; two mins’ rest;
IV. Five to eight reps with hands narrow, palms facing in; two mins’ rest.

This is only for the seriously hardcore – you need to very strong to even think about trying these. A muscle-up is basically a very aggressive pull-up where your chest comes way up over the bar and you finish the movement by pressing with your arms so that they are locked and the bar is by your hips! As I say, only for the very hardcore.

My final tip would be to practice swimming in open water with another person – lots of white water can make even the strongest swimmer look weak. I’ve done plenty of this and the difference is huge. Not only will this physically prepare you better for competition, but mentally you will be far stronger. Practice in all kinds of environment – warm, cold, choppy, calm. This way you leave nothing to chance and will be ready for anything.


Some 25 athletic City A.M. readers are preparing for the London leg of the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship in Hyde Park on 6 and 7 August, where they will help to raise money for sports charity Laureus, global partners of the ITU. British Olympic great Daley Thompson, one of 47 Laureus Academy members, has helped to train the team. They have also benefited from exclusive tips from fellow Academy members Mark Spitz, Lord Coe and Miguel Indurain. For more information please visit: