While repetition might sound boring, consistently doing something with the correct amount of load is a great way to make improvements. Consistency is key in triathlon, but by spending a little more time swimming, whether you’re a fast swimmer or not, can led to significant break throughs. This month Triathlete Europe’s resident swim coach, Dan Bullock, recovers from a month of running to tell you how swimming consistently for a week could help bring your swim times down.
Before I talk about swimming seven sessions in seven days I’d like to talk about running. I have just completed the somewhat daunting challenge of running 5K every day throughout May. This was harder than I thought and I would have preferred to swim 5K each day. Getting out the door for just 5K was harder than I anticipated. I’d previously got my runs up to 1 0-1 5K but this was over two or three sessions per week. This made sense because it was balanced and gave my legs time to recover before the next session. Doing the challenge for charity forced me out of the door because I didn’t want to let them down.
By the final week I felt lighter on my feet, my breathing easier and more agile. At this point I’d developed a pattern and running 5K was now a habit. The same can be said of the pool if you stick with it.
This period of running coincided with my latest bout of coaching overseas on a training camp with Steve Trew as his swim coach. During my swim camps when I am working I rarely get to train personally because they include such busy days. This amount of time spent observing triathletes who are not distracted by the usual toils of life means I am suitably qualified to notice the massive swim improvements made quickly by spending time in the water each day. Sometimes this is twice or three times a day if you count two pool swims and the early morning wake up sea swims that often take place.
At the risk of contradicting myself from an earlier feature on making the most of a training camp and being careful to not overdo, this article is more about the frequency of training rather than the volume. Greater frequency in the water should not necessarily equal more volume.
I don’t want to sound like a dieting magazine and promise the world if you follow ‘ABC’ religiously. What I am saying here is that if your swimming has hit the plateau I described last month then you need to gain some momentum to break through. Feeling better about something is a sure way to get you to try it a little more often. Even good swimmers can benefit from a little more time in the water.
Christine Lutsch a 201 1 World Aquathlon Champion dropped her 400m PB from 5:49 to 5:30 at the end of the fore-mentioned camp in Italy after seven straight days in the water. More gains are available if you’re starting from a less advanced position. Doctor Chris George dropped his 400m PB from 9:1 5 to 7:34. For a 65-year-old ex-international rower turned triathlete this was a remarkable achievement given he was biking and running too throughout our week, which meant this happened despite fatigue building.
Making regular swimming a pattern and a habit is far easier if all you need to do is walk downstairs to the pool from your hotel room knowing breakfast will be served once you’re finished. Even if time only allows four sessions per week this improved familiarity with the unfamiliar watery environment will allow improvements to shape. The feel for the water is an unnaturally occurring phenomenon that will develop as frequency in the pool increases. Feeling and holding water is essential to improve the distance swum with every stroke. Making the water feel more solid is your ultimate aim here and this will not happen swimming once a week.
The frequency we are looking for generates less time between sessions to allow bad habits to creep back. You will waste less time in the first 30 minutes of your session getting back up to speed from your last swim. Skills and swim technique that you acquired in the previous will be present when you get back in the water if you don’t leave it too long. Hit the water with the familiar sensations of feeling good in the water from just 24-48 hours previous and you will start this next session more positively. If you leave it longer the warm-up and sub-sets feel could like you are swimming through treacle, then by the time the main-set starts psychologically you are going to be struggling.
To feel things get easier, even if it’s only for one-week try to swim for seven days straight and notice the difference as the days pass by. Commit and stick to it. It’s also important to not just turn up and swim. While this will help you’re not going to get the biggest return for your time. On page 79 I have outlined a seven-day schedule to help you on your way. We need to focus on areas that are going to help and need to test current ability to gauge where things are at throughout the seven days. For this I would suggest a front crawl time trial of at least 400m, anything less than this and you’re relying on improvements to pure swim speed, which is a longer-term goal. The important thing to work on is minimising drag through better technique because this will instantly reward longer swims. Swimming fast for shorter distances can be achieved through improvements to power and strength, but rarely do they carry over into your longer swims.
The technique aspects should work as a reminder of what it is that is slowing you down or exhausting you. How to recognise drag should be a key session. Deliberately over exaggerating some bad techniques can help you recognise ineffective movements in your full stroke. Some fitness work should be included since if you try this you will want to put the improvements under some stress. Most will be familiar with the idea that their swim feels good when it is being performed easy.
Technical endurance is of use since it allows another fitness block, but with good technique pointers punctuating the otherwise continuous nature of a long steady swim where technique often escapes us as the mind drifts.
1. Test and Technique: Time trial of at least 400m after a good warm up and subsets. Work on leg kick because this is often the worst enemy of many triathletes and it creates the most drag.
2. Pure Technique: Recognising a streamlined body position and maintaining minimal drag. Learn to channel water in a direction that is beneficial to forwards momentum.
3. Fitness: Elevate the heart rate for at least 30 minutes maintaining a breathing pattern of three could be enough to do this. Bilateral breathing will help with stroke symmetry.
4. Pure Technique: Work on body position with effective upper body rotation driven from the legs. Keep the head still when not breathing, which is another key issue that can slow progress and interrupt streamline.
5. Fitness: Aim to go over race distance in some capacity or at least match it. Our broken race distance swims are always popular, 3x200m with 30 seconds rest, 5×1 00m with 20 seconds rest and 8x50m with 1 0 seconds rest for example will cover 1 500m for an Olympic race. Naturally add more if you’re doing 70.3 or Ironman.
6. Endurance Technique: Punctuate a long steady swim with technique pointers between lengths at the wall, and off the wall, for just a few metres before completing the length full stroke. No Pull buoy here.
7: Fitness and Test: A challenging main set of 50m front crawl rest 1 0 seconds, 1 00m rest 1 0 seconds, 1 50m rest 1 0 seconds and so on until you reach 400m. I would not be surprised if this final 400m of front crawl is equal to or better than the 400m time trial completed on day one. If exhausted you could isolate the time trial with more rest or a swim down after the 350m.
While you might be able to complete a week of swimming every day for most this will not be sustainable long term. I would advise most to give it a go and then try to get four swims in regularly for continued improvement. Improving you swim will not only put you in a better position getting of the water but you will do it with less effort and feel better on both the bike and the run. It will also put you in a position to ride and run with better runners that will help pull you along as you race.
A good example of someone who made a break through swimming consistently for a week on one of our camps is Per Cunningham. He spent a week with us at La Santa in Lanzarote earlier in the season and recently qualified for Hawaii at Ironman Texas. I will leave you with this quote from Cunningham: “I felt a much more comfortable swimming in the build-up, and I never seemed to be gasping for air or spiking the heart rate like I used to. Compared to my last Ironman I moved up from the first 1 3.4 per cent in my age-group swim to 8.9 per cent. I think I burned much less energy in the swim than previously and fatigued the back and shoulders much less too. This helped set me up for a strong finish much later in the day.”