By Brenton Ford.
For the past 11 years I’ve worked with over 1,000 swimmers and triathletes of all abilities. With athletes new to the sport, I see the same mistakes being made again and again when it comes to their workouts which are holding them back from swimming faster and improving their speed.
- Long continuous swimming
Unlike most run and ride sessions, your swim workouts shouldn’t be one continuous workout without stopping. Attend any squad and you’ll notice the workouts are often broken down into warm up, main set and cool down. The main set is usually a mix of different distances and e orts from 50m to 400m at a time. For athletes newer to the sport I usually give them shorter distance reps of 50m to 100m at a time – like 30 x 50m instead of 3 x 500m.
Maintaining speed over the course of a race involves holding good form and technique. Even after 100m of swimming this can start to deteriorate for beginner swimmers, so by breaking a set up into shorter distances with rest in between allows you to recover, reset and hold good technique for the next lap. It’s not to say you should avoid long continuous swims at all costs, they can be quite useful for building strength and confidence in long distance athletes but for the majority of people, shorter reps with rest are better.
- The Grey Zone
Growing up I would always go as hard as I could in every set, regardless of what the intended e ort was supposed to be. I had the mindset of ‘the harder I work the better I’ll get’. This is true to some extent, but it also worked against me. I was spending too much time training in the ‘grey zone’. This is what I refer to as the training zone where you aren’t going easy enough to allow recovery, but not going fast enough to get any real bene t. You might have experienced this when you feel like you only have one pace without the ability to go faster when needed.
The cure for this is to do your easy work easy and your fast work fast. This can take a lot of discipline, especially if you’re feeling good and you want to go harder. But holding yourself back when doing an easy recovery or aerobic swim will keep you in the right heart rate zone to get the bene t from the session.
- Training like a pool swimmer
If you’re training to race in the open water, you might want to consider adjusting some of your swimming towards preparing yourself for open water swimming. In our coaching we refer to open water skills as the ‘ fifth stroke’, because sighting, navigation and swimming in choppy conditions can make swimming feel like a completely different sport in the beginning.
Your swim stroke might be a little ‘uglier’ or ‘choppier’ when you change from the pool to the open water, and this isn’t a bad thing. A more assertive entry, split timing in your stroke and slightly wider and higher recovery can help many triathletes when they’re in a race.
To try and emulate Sun Yang’s (Chinese Olympic Swimmer) long and efficient stroke in the open water may not work, so don’t be afraid to try something different. We advise many of our athletes to increase their stroke by a few extra strokes per minute compared to when they swim in the ocean and this is easier to do with a wetsuit on, when your body is sitting higher in the water.
Making the most of your workouts
Your swim workouts don’t need to be complicated, and by avoiding the three most common mistakes we see being made by triathletes in their pool training you can start to swim faster and enjoy your sessions a lot more.
Session One – Speed
300m freestyle with ns easy 6x50m alternating 50m kick / 50m drill 4x50m as 25m fast / 25m easy
3 sets of: 8x25m fast (20 secs rest) 200m easy recovery (1 min rest)
Session Two – Technique
400m easy freestyle ns
– 4x50m as 25m drill/25m swim (15 secs rest)
- – 20x25m @ 70% e ort (hold excellent technique) (10 secs rest)
- – 4x50m as 25m drill/25m swim (15 secs rest)
- – 10x50m @ 70% e ort (hold excellent technique) (15 secs rest)
– 4x50m as 25m drill/25m swim (15 secs rest) - 6x50m as 50m easy/50m medium/50m fast
(hold excellent technique) (20 secs rest) 200m easy freestyle cool down
Session Three – Strength
300m alternating 100m free / 50m backstroke with ns 4x150m alternating 50m kick/drill/swim with ns
6 sets* of: 150m medium e ort (20 secs rest) 3x50m fast (15 secs rest)
30 secs rest in between sets
*Sets 1-3 with pull buoy. Sets 4-6 with pull buoy and paddles.