Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Years Resolution: Improve my swimming.

With the new year usually comes new resolutions, and for those that find swimming the least enjoyable of the three tri disciplines, a really good resolution is to spend some quality time working on that stroke.

Not everyone is blessed to have started swimming before they could walk… gliding effortlessly up and down the pool like it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Some of us look a little less, er, graceful, pounding up and down the pool with maximum effort and minimum results, and usually clocking a few of our lane mates with a wide swung arm in the process.

The best thing to do is get some coaching.  Not just “write a set up on the board and drink coffee” coaching – someone who will actually work with you throughout the session, providing feedback and advice on drills and technique.  I can remember leaving some sessions more mentally exhausted than physically, after concentrating so hard on technique!  Join a local tri or swim squad – masters squads are usually a great place to train and usually have a great balance between training and socialising after!  There are also some great open water coaching programmes like Future Dreams.

But we don’t all have easy access to a coach, so here are some other ideas on how to work on your stroke.
  1. Quite often your local tri club will be hiding ex competitive swimmers amongst its ranks.  Those (bleep) athletes that are out of the water and half way round the bike before you even step on dry land.  With a bit of asking around you may find someone suitable to offer a few tips.  Even just working on one aspect of your technique can do wonders.
  2. Look online.  There are heaps of great sites that offer tips on everything from open water sighting to great video examples of freestyle technique, and even lane etiquette and tumble turns!  We love the work of Swim Smooth, but you can also find great tips and videos at Go Swim and Tri Swim Coach Online.  Do a bit of googling…
  3. Spend quality time in the pool.  There are some really different ideas around about how many km’s a triathlete needs to do in the pool, and it varies on your race distance, but at least consider these few questions
    • Do you often miss your scheduled swim sessions?
    • Do you swim less often than you bike and run?
    • Is swimming your weakness?
  4. If you answered yes to all these questions then you probably need to consider making swimming more of a focus for you to improve.  As a guide, three quality swims a week is a minimum for improvement. 
  5. So what is “quality”?  Well it’s not leaning on the wall yacking to your mate anyway.  Quality swims (like all your bike and run sessions) should have a purpose.  It can be to work on technique, endurance, strength, speed, or just recovery, but know why you are doing it, pre-plan the sets, and stick to it. 
  6. You also need to be “in the moment”.  Cheesy I know, but if your brain is off day-dreaming about your dream bike or planning your day ahead at work, then you are missing much of the benefit.  Swimming is a technique sport – you can’t just potter up and down and think that will make you the next Michael Phelps.  Particularly in technique sets, you need to think through the action and listen to the feedback from your body.  Use a clock for timed sets and stick to rest periods and target times.  Again, if you need advice on what sessions to do, work with a swim or tri coach.  Check out your national federations website if you want advice on finding a coach, or talk to your local club or training mates.
But don’t forget to also just do the odd swim for the pure joy of swimming.  I love heading out for an open water swim at lakes and beaches, not as training per sae but just for the love of being in the water.  Remember all work and no play makes (anything) really dull.

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