ASA Swim Coach Laurie Dormer helps you evaluate your swim and make plans to improve .
The end of the season is the best time to sit back and think seriously about how to reach your full swimming potential in the future. The chances are that you won’t be racing for a few months, which gives you plenty of time to make significant improvements to your stroke and swim fitness.
At this stage of the year there is no single magic fix, but rather a range of things that you can gradually implement and improve upon to make your swim technique better. I hesitate to suggest anything too specific because every swimmer is different. Not only this, but each one has different facilities available in terms of pool time, technical support and training partners.
If any of these environmental elements are holding back your day-to-day training, now is the time to research new ways and means of improving them. For example, if you need more pool time and technical support (due to inadequate local facilities and resources) then consider travelling to occasional training camps or making guest visits to triathlon or masters swimming clubs. Even a few occasional visits will inspire and motivate you for many weeks of quality training back in your home environment.
Once you have thought about new ways in which you can improve your current swim training environment, it is a really good idea to remind yourself of the fundamental principles of swimming.
Mistakes to avoid
The most fundamental mistake that triathletes make is to think that hard work alone will ensure success. This statement is only ever true when the word ‘effective’ precedes the word ‘hard’. This particularly applies to swimming because it isn’t a natural activity for human beings: we’re not built for it like marine animals, so in order to swim well we need to adapt to a very particular environment. In this environment we are weightless and denied oxygen, whilst propulsion relies on complex movements.
You can train thousands of metres each week, but without a good skill base and regular fault correction you will be rehearsing failure by grooving faults into your subconscious. I always tell my athletes: “It’s not how many metres you do, it’s how you do the metres!”
Your stroke efficiency is of prime importance since, with skill, you will use less energy and travel faster. Without skill, you’ll burn more energy, swim slower and suffer more during the subsequent bike and run phases. Therefore, you must pay attention to detail and listen to a coach when they correct a fault, and then repeat it correctly in each and every stroke until it becomes automatic. Remember that you have to repeat a movement correctly 10,000 times before it becomes natural. If you repeat incorrect techniques, you are rehearsing failure.
Design your own training
Once you have made plans to improve your stroke efficiency, it’s time to start thinking about your training programme, which needs to be cleverly structured in order to be successful. To achieve this you need to implement three main things:
1. Keep it specific
If you want to improve an energy system, you must swim a session that uses that system. This requires training in particular intensity zones identified by specific heart rates. Speed endurance training is the most applicable to triathlon and demands a heart rate of 20-30 beats below maximum. This should be done over any repeated distance between 50 and 400 metres, resting 10 to 20 seconds between efforts. This is demanding work and should be limited to around 15 per cent of your total weekly swimming distance. You don’t need a heart-rate monitor; just calculate a rough figure by taking your pulse immediately after each hard rep.
2. Overload yourself
Not only must you use the energy system that you’ll use during a triathlon, but you have to make it work harder than it is normally used to working – that is, overload it. By doing this in small amounts you will encourage your body to adapt to the new training stimulus.
3. Progress gradually
It’s important to gradually increase the load on each energy system (over a period of weeks) to keep overloaded. Otherwise, within a few weeks you’ll get used to a level of intensity and you’ll stop improving. You should undertake a varied training programme incorporating all of these principles. Within the training cycle you should also allow regular adaptation periods, to give the body time to adapt to the physiological demands made on your body. By doing this and following all the advice above, you’ll take one big step closer to improving your swimming this autumn and being faster next season
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in triradar.com’s Training Zone section.