June 6, 2011

Swim Training 101


I have tried it all when it came to swimming and had swum 10 000 hours by the age of 17. I know how to go mega long…

We used to swim 100 x 100m leaving on 1:30 every 1 January for a few years.

I swam 6 x 1500m in one session.

I now swim 2km twice a week and I find that tiring. Really though what I am looking for in the pool now is getting to a certain level. This requires benchmarking my swimming carefully to make sure I am ready to get through the swim so that I can kick ass on the bike and run. The idea is to build effort through the race, not peak in the first 1000m of a 226km day.

Here are some basics to follow:

1. You should be able to swim your race distance in training.
2. If you can achieve point 1, you should try and swim your race distance with very, very little rest in a few sessions.

Once you can do those 2, benchmarking is easy. I like to follow the Endurance Corner tests:

Once you have mastered the ability to swim your race distance comfortably, and continuously, it is time to develop the ability to change speed while swimming. While the bike and the run are mostly individual time trials, an open water swim is the aqua equivalent of a road race – drafting, pace changes, group tactics.

The first step of being able to tolerate pace changes is learning how different paces feel. A lack of pace perception is a common limiter for triathlon swimmers – most masters swimmers go-til-they-blow, daily.

There is a smarter way to train!

Here’s your first test set:
• take your race distance;
• divide by 5;
• swim each interval on 10s rest; and
• swim each interval faster.

Specifically, in meters:
• Sprint Distance – 5×150 on 10s rest
• Olympic Distance – 5×300 on 10s rest
• Half IM Distance – 5×400 on 10s rest
• IM Distance – 5×800 on 10s rest

You will learn a tremendous amount from being able to swim these sessions well. Aim to swim your final interval at least 10s per 100 faster than the first interval. If you can develop a comfortable range of 15s per 100 then that would be even better.

If you have access to a heart rate monitor then track your average/max heart rate for each interval as well as the entire session. After you complete the main set, analyze how much faster you had to work for the gain in speed you achieved.

An even more enlightening main set is to use open water and swim five continuous loops – tracking the average/max heart rate data can be incredibly enlightening. If you struggle to believe the benefits of moderate swim pacing then the open water test set is a great way to check if your hard effort is buying you any race speed. You’ll likely be surprised at how many heartbeats you save from backing off 1-2s per 100. Those heartbeats can buy a lot of run speed!

Essentially though I am aiming to do one thing well when swimming. This is the forearm catch, high elbow look. Like this:


If I can get that right AFTER 1500m in the water, I am going to be seeing great times on the wall clock and be happy for the rest of the day.

Keep it simple and focus on the basics – elbow high, head down, forearm pointing down.

One Comment on “Swim Training 101

June 7, 2011 at 8:20 am

Brilliant, going to have to try it in the pool tomorrow!!


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