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Swim success in seven days?
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Friday 23rd May 2014


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Are you stuck in a swimming rut? Have your performances plateaued, and motivation dropped.

In this piece swim coach Dan Bullock from Swim for Tri (www.swimfortri.co.uk), suggests that perhaps seven days is enough to get you back on track. Backed up by some impressive results from his annual training camp in Italy with Steve Trew, creating a (frequency) habit could be the best way to achieve it.

Here, Dan's explains why - and how to implement it, as well as outlining a seven day plan to trial. Give it a try!


Seven Swims – Seven Days – A Chance Of A Breakthrough?

This time last year I completed the somewhat daunting challenge (for me!), of running 5km each day, every day, throughout May. For the non-runner, this was harder then I thought. In fact, I would have much preferred to swim 5km each day.

This new challenge forced me to go out and get it done regardless; there was a Charity relying on me and I could not let people down. As the final week came though I started to notice feeling a little lighter on my feet, a little more agile on the rutted terrain of Richmond Park, my breathing getting easier and the time passing by a little more smoothly, rather then 30mins feeling like days. I think I had developed a bit of pattern, a habit you might call it?

I would not go as far as to use the word enjoyment, but it was less distressing then the very first week. This period of running also coincided with a training camp with Steve Trew as his swim coach out in Italy.

Steve Trew coaching

I get to spend a lot of time overseas with triathletes who are not distracted with the toils of usual life. Enabling them to train every day allows me to observe the massive swim improvements quickly made by spending time in the water each day. Sometimes twice a day, sometimes three times if you count two pool swims and the early morning wake up sea swim that often takes place. I also make use of dryland and other techniques to accelerate learning. This article is more about the frequency of training rather then the volume. Greater frequency of getting in the water should not necessarily equal more volume.

I don't want to sound like a dieting magazine and promise the world if you follow ABC religiously. What I am saying here is that if you are stuck on a swim plateau then you need to gain some momentum to break out. Feeling better about something is a sure way to get you to try it a little more often. Even good swimmers can benefit from a little more time in the water.

Dan Bullock coaching

Christine Lutsch, a 2011 World Aquathlon Champion dropped her 400m PB from 5:49 to 5:30 at the end of last years training camp in Italy after seven straight days in the water. More gains are available if you are starting from a less advanced position. Doctor Chris George dropped from 9:15 to 7:34. For a 65 year old ex-international oarsman turned triathlete, this was a remarkable achievement given biking and running were taking place as well, so the fatigue factor was building throughout our week.

This years figures were no less impressive - DETAILS HERE.

With no other concerns such as work and family - unless you brought them with you - creating commitment and habit is a lot easier at a training camp, I appreciate. Making regular swimming a pattern and a habit is far more likely if all you need to do is walk downstairs to the pool from your hotel room knowing breakfast will be served once you have finished in the pool.

Even if time only allows four sessions per week, this improved familiarity with the unfamiliar watery environment will allow improvements to shape. The feel for the water is an unnaturally occurring phenomenon that will develop as frequency in the pool increases. Feeling and holding water is essential to improve the distance swum with every stroke. Making the water feel more solid is your ultimate aim here, it will not happen by swimming once a week.

The frequency we are looking for generates less time between sessions to allow bad habits to creep back. You waste less time in the first 30mins of your session getting back up to speed from your last swim if you prevent too much time between sessions. Skills and swim technique that you acquired in the previous session will be present when you get back in the water if you try not to leave it too long. Hit the water with the familiar sensations of feeling good in the water from just 24-48hours previous, and you will start this next session more positively. If the warm-up and subsets feel like you are swimming through treacle then by the time the main set starts, psychologically, you are going to be struggling.

Dan Bullock and Steve Trew coaching

Think about the following schedule for your seven days of swimming if you can commit to it. There is no point just turning up to the pool and swimming aimlessly each day.

We need to focus on areas that are going to help; we need a check of current ability to gauge progress against. I would suggest at least a 400m FC TT; any less and you are relying on improvements to pure swim speed, which is a much longer-term goal.

Minimising drag through better technique is a far more instantly rewarded improvement to longer swims. Swimming fast for shorter distance can be achieved through improvements to power and strength but rarely do they carry over into your longer swims. The technique aspects should work as a reminder of what it is that is slowing you or exhausting you.

How to recognise drag should be a key session. Deliberately over exaggerating some bad technique can help you recognise ineffective movements in your full stroke. Some fitness work should be included since if you try this you will want to put the improvements under some stress. Most will be familiar with the idea that their swim feels good when it is being performed easy. Technical Endurance is of use since it allows another fitness block but with good technique pointers punctuating the otherwise continuous nature of a long steady swim where technique often escapes us as the mind drifts.

A Seven Day Session Plan

  • 1 Test&Tech, at least a 400m TT and leg kick work, usually a triathletes worst enemy as it creates the most drag
  • 2 Pure Tech, recognising a streamlined body position and maintaining minimal drag. Learn to channel water in a direction that is beneficial to forwards momentum.
  • 3 Fitness, elevate the HR for at least 30mins, maintaining a BP of 3 could be enough to do this. Bilateral breathing will help with stroke symmetry.
  • 4 PureTech, Body position work; effective upper body rotation driven from the legs. Keep the head still when not breathing, another key issue that can slow progress and interrupt streamline.
  • 5 Fitness, aim to go over race distance in some capacity or match it. Our broken race distance swims are always popular, 3x200 rest 30, 5x100 rest 20, 8x50rest 10 for an add up 1500.
  • 6 Endurance Tech, No pull buoy here. Punctuate a long steady swim with Tech pointers between lengths, at the wall, off the wall for just a few metres before completing the length full stroke.
  • 7 Fitness&Test. A challenging main set of 50m FC rest 10, 100m FC rest 10, 150m FC rest 10 etc up to 400m. I would not be surprised if this final 400m FC is equal to or better then day one's 400m TT. If exhausted you could isolate the TT with more rest or a swim down after the 350.

I mentioned if you are looking for a breakthrough on your swim that this might be worth a try. Obviously it is not going to be sustainable week after week, but having found time for seven swims then getting four swims in regularly per week is hopefully going to be manageable. For Dr Chris who reduced his 400m time by two mins this suggests he is going to be at least five minutes quicker now over 1500m this summer. That puts him into a position on the bike where he will ride with stronger cyclists rather then work hard to catch them up. The ride might now even be easier allowing a stronger run.

In fact allow me to let Per Cunningham who swam with us for the week at Club La Santa back in January to have the last word having qualified for Kona at Ironman Texas:

“I felt a much more comfortable swimmer in the build-up, and I never seemed to be gasping for air or spiking the heart rate like I used to, and compared to my last Ironman I moved up from the first 13.4% in my age-group swim to 8.9%. I think I burned much less energy in the swim than previously and fatigued the back and shoulders much less too, helping set me up for a strong finish much later in the day.”


For more information on open water sessions, swim coaching, workshops and overseas camps visit www.swimfortri.co.uk

Swim for Tri


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