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Sat 16th Oct 2021
Getting over a bad swim session
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 12th November 2014

Tags  Dan Bullock  |  Swim For Tri  |  Swimfortri

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Have you had a bad swim training session recently, and felt like you are going backwards? Don't despair, it is quite normal at this time of year.

One man who has seen it time and again is Head Coach Dan Bullock of Swim for Tri (, and here he outlines his advice on how to deal with this, why it happens and how to prevent it.

The key thing? A bad swim does not make a bad swimmer!

Some perspective...

Ali came to our Manchester weekend workshop in 2013 hoping to bring his swimming up to par with his biking and running. His biking in particular was very strong after a competitive career overseas. Running was coming naturally but swimming was tough. That first summer season had gone ok but it was no fun biking through the field from so far back. I was pleased to hear that Ali was making great progress through the winter after the swim workshop and the early season Abu Dhabi race had gone well with a much higher swim placing then usual. Unfortunately a very serious accident then followed. More on that here: (

It was pretty bad, as Ali puts it, “I had a broken neck and a broken back, nine vertebrae in total, several of them unstable and I'd fractured my skull to boot.”

Recovery and rehab went well, probably not as quickly as Ali would like but swim, bike and run were all eventually possible. It could have been much worse. In an effort to assess the situation on the swim with a view to getting back into swim training, Ali came to see me in London for a one-to-one swim assessment. Despite the scars and bolt holes where various framework had been supporting his head and neck, Ali's swimming was a lot better then I had been prepared for. So much so I had to dig a little deeper to see what might help him to return to former speeds. This was when something cropped up I was not expecting.

"Ali, your hands are clenched so tight, they are going to slip under the body. There will be little anchoring so that the body moves forwards past the hand."

"Crap, am I still doing that?", he asked!

I had forgotten that this was something that Ali and I had discussed on the weekend workshop and the submerged filming had quickly highlighted it. Go easy I thought, you have had quite an ordeal this Spring. I know triathlon does seem to attract those who are determined for progress and keen, but hang on dude! You can be forgiven for not staying on top of your swimming while you were in that coma back in the Spring...

We paused for a moment and then chuckled about the absurdness of what we had just exchanged!

A bad swim does not make a bad swimmer...!

Post break training in the Autumn might be a little sporadic, attendance not as you hoped for, a job and family, social commitments etc - you are bound to arrive at one of your weekly swim sessions not feeling great. Perhaps tired? Carrying a minor injury or shattered from a lunchtime spin class? It is easy for this isolated session to overwhelm and leave you feeling like your swimming is going backwards. In the week of 9-10 swims as a competitive swimmer, one of them would always be bad but it was glossed over. You would slip and miss holding the water. There would be nothing solid to the water. Arms tired, breathing out of synch and legs feeling like they were anchors you just had to get through it. This would all be expected and with so many more options to swim per week it would not be that worrying. I recall a time where swim performances did plateau for a bit and my coach could see my frustrations. He advised you don't become a bad swimmer inside of a week. You have a bad swim, make the best of it then move on.

However, with only 3-4 swims taking place in a week a bad swim seems a much bigger deal within a triathlon training week. Only two swims in a week and 50% of it feeling not great is going to be a concern. It will worry you, you can't help it. It is harder to record stats in the water compared to bike and run and more often we rely on feel which is highly subjective. I have made a point of filming swimmers in January after the short break and most were surprised how ok their strokes looked compared to how they had imagined they might be.

The swim is not a natural environment for us and I think the brain will try to trick you out of the water by exaggerating how unpleasant the potential negatives are, hoping you will leave the water. Record some stats to let you know it is not that far off where you might have been.

You do not become a bad swimmer overnight after months and months of training. Do something to rectify the problem, either rest, work on technique, swim easy or add a skinsuit to help body position as a temporary measure. If there is a time of the week you have to swim due to certain factors and it falls back-to-back with a tough run or bike session, then leave the swim as a technique swim or active recovery. Don't plan any performance swims during this time and make it easier with skinsuit and/or fins. Do not judge your overall swim state from such a small snapshot of ability. You would not rewire your house if a bulb blew in one of your rooms. If two or three blew each week for a month, then a rewire could be in order...

The important thing is to bounce back and get back in the water as soon as possible. I am fond of the saying one swim per week equals six days of unlearning, so don't rest too long or it will be weeks before you know it and then you really are starting out at a low point. Swimming a mixed and varied week with perhaps only 2-3 days not in the water each week will have the skills you acquire carry over into your next swim. The next session will start out at a higher skill level due to not allowing bad habits a chance to sneak in.

For more information on open water sessions, swim coaching, workshops and overseas camps visit

Swim for Tri

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