Good swim technique is vital to effective swimming. However once you’re working along the right lines, from a technique perspective, conditioning is essential. The important point to remember when training for swimming is to be specific. Being ‘swim fit’ is very different from any other sport, in that it is difficult to replicate outside of the pool.
Going The Distance In The Water
Simply speaking in swimming terms, metres matter. Someone may look what ‘society’ would call strong or even ‘ripped’, but in reality our arms are super weak compared to - for example - our legs which even by standing around are continually being trained at an endurance level. When was the last time you walked to the shops on your hands? In endurance swimming, your arms and upper body take a battering.
The average intermediate triathlete will swim around a stroke per metre. This means that in an Ironman swim of around an hour utilizing 4 different muscle groups the swimmer will be doing altogether 7,600 repetitions on those muscles per arm. When was the last time you did a gym set that involved those numbers?!
Further to this your core takes a hammering in the swim which is why even for Ironman where the swim is proportionately much shorter you still need to get the swim sessions in. Otherwise you’ll find yourself struggling on the bike but particularly the run as you are unable to transfer power with an exhausted core. This is actually why HUUB wetsuits really focus on supporting your core helping you not only in the swim but through the whole race.
Balancing Endurance and Threshold in Swim Training
So how do you structure your swimming? To make progress you’re going to need to do a very bare minimum of two sessions, endurance and threshold but to make proper gains you need to include speed too.
Do not just go and swim. This is the biggest mistake people make. This is the equivalent of only ever going for a light jog or a multiple coffee stop ride for your run and bike training.
Endurance – This is your base work but also very important for long distance racing. This could be anything upwards of 400m intervals and indeed even some race distance length efforts built into a session. An example of this could be 3 (800m Descending 1-3, Rest 3min) – this means the third effort is the fastest. If you’re feeling confident you can also add in a negative split to each interval. This is a great endurance session that really helps with your race pacing but importantly pushes some performance too.
Threshold – Typically this is race pace or marginally quicker with a short rest. Something like 20 (100m, Rest 10sec) would fit. These sessions allow you to keep tabs on your speed and make incremental gains. It will also really help with pace management as you begin to get a closer idea of your effort levels. Typically, the slowest and fastest efforts should be no more than 3-4sec difference.
- Speed – To swim quickly you have to push yourself to swim faster than you usually would as with running or cycling. Often athletes struggle with this but you should achieve the same stomach churning, dizziness inducing effort as with the bike and run. A good set here would be 4 (200m MAX effort, Rest 4min) – if you feel like it’s too much rest, you haven’t worked hard enough…