Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Swimming Post

After my last triathlon, I promised a post reviewing the swim and why I thought I'd had such a weak swim.  I did the 500 metres about a minute slower then I thought I should have.  I was disappointed in my performance, but rather then wallow in the disappointment, I needed to figure out why I didn't swim well.  The reason was pretty easily identifiable.  It had to do with my training.

I didn't race fast because I didn't train fast.

Simple as that.  I'm going to get into my swim training a bit more, but ultimately, I hadn't done any speed work in the pool since my coached swim course ended early June.  Now, it's not exactly that I decided to leave out speed work; more a fact that I didn't really have a plan going into the pool.  I put in the time, and did lots of drills, but don't really know how to develop a swim training plan.

A bit of background on my swim training:

May 2010: I decided I wanted to do a triathlon.  I didn't know how to swim - at all.
May-June 2010: I did my first adult swimming class.  By the time I finished it, I knew how to do front crawl, but couldn't even finish a full length without stopping for a break.
August 2010: I managed to swim a full 500 metres without taking a break.  I could do it in about 16 minutes.
Oct 2010 - Nov 2010: I took my second adult swimming class.  I theoretically learned side stroke and breast stroke and got a few tips on front crawl.  I could finish 500 metres in about 15.5 minutes.
Fall 2010: I continued to swim three times a week.  My training consisted of nothing but swimming endless laps.  I'd usually do three sets of 500 metres.  By the end of 2010 I could swim 500 metres in about 15 minutes.
Jan 2011: I started the coached program with Angie.  She introduced me to drills and started correcting numerous flaws in my stroke.
Feb 2011: I felt like I swam better but not faster.  I timed myself once on 500 metres, and could do it in about 14.5 minutes.  I decided not to time myself for a while since I was a bit disappointed I hadn't gained more speed.  I continued to use the drills Angie had taught in my own swim workouts as well as the coached sessions.
April/May 2011: Angie started doing speed work in most of the coached sessions.  Early April we did a timed 500 metre swim, which I completed in just over 12 minutes.  I continued to swim 2 additional times a week and do drills during my own swims.
June 2011: The swim session ended.  It was originally going to end in May, but got extended for June.  Unfortunately, we were going away, so I had my last coached swim at the beginning of June.
June 2011 - Aug 2011: I continued to train on my own 3 times a week.  I generally did drills and steady swims.

Hmm, see what changed?

After the swim session ended, I stopped doing the speed work that had been a key part of the coached swim for the last couple months of the session.  Not surprisingly, I slowed down.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the fact that I didn't have a plan in the pool.  I would go in and pick a few drills to work on.  One part of my technique to focus on, perhaps body roll, or high elbows.  Sometimes keeping my entry wide enough or slipping my hand into the water rather then flipping my wrist up.  All important things.

But, I didn't work on speed.

And, I think that is why my swim suffered in my last triathlon and I slowed down.

Once I realized this, my plan didn't change significantly in preparing for my Olympic triathlon.  I did start doing some faster swims, but with only three weeks between Strathmore and Banff, it wasn't the time to bring in a new plan.  It does make something clear about next season though.

I need a swim plan.  I would love to have a coach.  Ideally, there will be somebody giving me my swim workouts who knows what they are doing and helps me balance technique work, speed work, and endurance work.  I don't know if that's in the budget yet though.  In the absence of a coach, next year's training plan is going to have more then just the minutes I am supposed to swim.

The group coached sessions start again in a few weeks...


  1. There are two essential components to swim speed.
    Raw cardiovascular capacity.
    You can tell which you need to work by how you feel after a strong swim. Are your arms falling off, or are you gasping for breath?

    The first can be built by any other aerobic exercise, and is mostly translatable to swimming. The catch is that most aerobic exercise works the legs not the arms.

    Technique is the holy grail of swimming fast, especially if you want to go anywhere on a bike right after. The single best thing you can do is attend a swim camp to get your stroke captured on video. Then have the pro tell you what needs to be fixed. Then swim and video. Even better, you get to see other people's stroke, and what they need to do. After a while it sinks in. Plus you get the video on disc to watch again and again if you want to.

    I highly, HIGHLY recommend the camps Sara Gross does over the winter. You get Clint offering his advice on what to do, and this guy knows what he is talking about. Ante up, it's worth it.

    Almost every swimmer needs to be reminded often (as in every 100 m) to keep their elbows up. Almost every swimmer needs to be reminded about their body position.

    Now I'm going to talk heresy. I don't think much of swim drill, unless the coach is there watching to make sure you do it right. Well, it's pretty hard to do fist wrong, and it's a great drill. But many of the others don't really help you swim better, unless you are trying to change your technique. It becomes too easy to do the drill, or sort of do it, and not translate what the drill is supposed to be training you to do, into your stroke.

    You get faster in the pool by paying attention to time and how you feel in the water. When I'm trying to swim for a certain pace I look at the clock every 100 m. I know to within a couple seconds where I should be. Then you will start feeling the water, not just on your hands, but your entire arm, and flowing past your body.

    About the only other drill I like doing, and it's a killer, is the so called golf drill. Swim 50 m as fast as you can, timing yourself to the second. Count your strokes, and add seconds and strokes together. Lower is better.

    You should be just about on the cusp of seeing major improvement in your swimming. Tweaking some small things should see you going from 500 m in 12 minutes, to 1000 m in 20 minutes and that pace for a long way after. Believe it or not, that change can happen between one swim and the next once you clean up your stroke. Then it starts getting harder to improve.

  2. Thank you for this post. Interesting reading, and I'm very impressed to see how far you've come in such a short time. I've always been a competant swimmer as far as taking kids to the pool and the beach is concerned - but definitely need help this winter with form and technique to get ready for the try-a-tri I have in mind for 2012. Good to see that it's possible to make improvements like yours given time and dedication. Very inspiring!

  3. Improved technique will get you faster with less impact. Drills, if done properly, can get you there. The problem is without feedback you don't know if you are doing them properly or not.

    Marker sets are important but as tests to see if whatever you are doing is working or not.

    A physical coach is more effective (assuming you have the right one) for swimming. You can get away with workout definitions for running and cycling especially if you are instrumented properly.

    Ping me with specifics if you want.

  4. Hi Deb!
    I thought I'd send this link along as my cousin gave it to me (she trains on her own but is very into triathalons now after we did Christina Lake in June(she went onto get third place at the Nelson Tri in her age group in July!)
    Though its not a coach per say it is swim lessons adapted to your speed, etc. and its FREE online :)

    Happy swimming :)