Ironman UK winner Fraser Cartmell’s tips for keeping focus in the pool during long sessions
I think about my technique 75% of the time during a swim session. Like all people, my stroke breaks down the harder I go and the more tired I get, so it’s even more important to try to focus when you’re working hard. To be honest, I also spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to have for my breakfast too. After all, it’s not all fun and games in the pool. In fact, swimming could easily be described as a ‘chore’ so I need something to get me through the session!
I’m sure many of you find swimming tough too. It’s many people’s least favourite discipline and usually the one they learn last of all. So the best thing to do is make it as easy as possible. If you’re a beginner, you should focus on short reps (and I mean 25 metres), so that you have enough energy to concentrate on improving your level of technique. The longer you swim in each repetition, the more chance you have of getting tired and embedding bad habits. So swim lots of single lengths with short rests, trying to think about your one or two (three at most!) key technique issues.
Thinking about your stroke when you swim is important, but striking a balance is the goal. You could easily overthink things too, so try to have, at most, a couple of key points you want to focus on in any one period of training. For me it’s the entry position of my left hand and my habit of breathing only to the right when I go hard. I often ask whoever is on poolside to keep an eye on these points for me.
Have a look at my other main technique weaknesses (see below), and see if they’re anything like yours. If you don’t know what your weaknesses are it’s time to get some help. Swimming isn’t something you can learn by yourself, so think about getting some lessons, attending a weekend course or joining a triathlon club. That way you’ll get someone to watch over you and point out your faults. Then you can join me in thinking while you swim. Trust me, you’ll learn far quicker when you start engaging your brain.
Here are my main focus points during a swim. These are the types of things you should be thinking too:
- My coach reckons that I should be able to maintain a consistent bilateral stroke (breathing every three strokes) but in reality this rarely is the case. I usually end up breathing solely to my right when I get tired, so in training I try hard to focus on avoiding this.
- I am a very flat swimmer, and I have little or no body rotation, which is certainly not ideal. When looking at the best swimmers you see they have fantastic rotation being driven from the hips, which generates much greater leverage with each arm stroke. I have a habit of looking forward, which can block good rotation. I need to make sure I focus on looking down more.
- I don’t kick that much at all – mostly just a two-beat ‘flutter’ kick to maintain some semblance of body position. During a race, a strong six-beat kick is essential at the start and finish, and when entering and exiting turn buoys. I try to focus on this during hard swim sets.
- The ‘catch’ phase of the stroke is where your arm enters and grabs hold of the water. This is the powerhouse of an open-water swimmer’s stroke and without a strong catch you can struggle to get the propulsion required in choppy, turbulent open water. This is the major difference between a traditional pool swimmer’s stroke and what is needed in a triathlon. I try to watch my arms to see what my catch is doing during easy sets.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe