As pools and lakes tenativly open and races look like they may finally happen, many athletes will be turning their attention back to swimming for the first time in many months. All of us are going to be a little rusty in the pool and many will be a bit apprehensive about how we will perform in that first race, especially if that happens to be a 3.8km at an Ironman! In addition to this, pool time and training will be hindered for many by reduced pool capacity, booking requiremnets and the lane rules imposed by some centers.
So how do we get the most out of our pool time to bring on form quickly and arrive at the start line confident we can put down a respecatble result in the water? Hopefully the following thoughts will give some pointers on how to proceed.
We all know our splits, our best pace and we all expect to hit them- we’re athletes after all it’s what we’re about, going faster! But with months out of the water even the best swimmers are going to have to accept a drop in performance. Swimming in particular will feel strange after a layoff- even the best swimmers will have that ‘swimming through treacle’ sensation in the first few sessions. Get in the water at peace with the idea that you are going to feel a bit rubbish and have to take a few steps back to go forward.
I would even suggest you ignore the clock and pacing devices, swim on feel. Start each rep when you feel ready and don’t worry about the pace clock! This will make it easier to focus on your stroke, getting the famous ‘feeel for the water’ and quite likely increase enjoyment, as the tyranny of the clock will be gone and you wont be feeling stresssed or frustrated at swimming a few second slower.
Public swimming in particular can be a weird somewhat frustrating affair at the moment. Sessions can be at inconvenient times, limited in duration, lanes are often more crowded and rules on everthing from overtaking to allowable strokes can all conspire to make getting a set done all but impossbile.
So, go into the pool with two or three simple sets that can be done regardless of the conditions and time constraints. Short distance reps such as 25m, 50m or 75m are usually easier to get done in crowded lanes and it is often easier to adjust your rep start on these reps so that overtaking is minimal.
In the same vein have a few drills lined up that will help get your stroke uop to speed but be prepared to ditch them or adapt them if pool conditions dictate. It is pretty pointless trying to do a smooth skate drill in a pool turned into a chop-fest or a slow laser lead drill with a lane full of front crawlers churning past you.
Whilst it is tempting to go for the slow and easy approach to getting back into the water, Racesnake would encourage you to consider a different approach. Swimming at high speeds improves nueromuscular co- ordination and muscle strength more effectivley than long slow swimming. Improving co- ordination leads to a more effecient stroke and better swim economy- these two things are more likely to lead to improved swim times than a larger volume of ‘easy swimming’.
However, initailly you are going to need more recovery than normal between reps so that you can maintain a high pace and maintaining a high pace per rep is more improtant than completing more reps in the time you have! So aim to complete reps with a 1:1 rest to effort ratio or even 2:1 early on in your comeback. Or maybe, and I know this is almost heresy, forget about the clock and just start when your ready to go fast again! Keep the volume low so that he quality is high. Aim to get maybe 10- 20mins of good quality fast swimming done in a 45 min session.
As an example, pre lockdow, we had an athlete who was knocking out 20x100m at 80space and swimming 400m in 4.55min. Thorugh the early spring he got some pool time and his main sets looked like this:
week 1: 10X50M @35s pace off1.15min
week 2: 10X25M @15s pace, off 45s – 5x50m@35space off 60s – 4x75m@55s pace off 90s
Week 3 8x (25m off 45s/ 50m off 60s / 75m off 90s) all at 70s/100m pace
Now everyone needs something different when it come s to technique improvement but at the same time when coming back from a long time out of teh water, there are few core areas on which all triathletes should focus.
Alignment, balance and timing are the basics of every stroke and in every session of the first few weeks back, aim to work on these. Ultimately these are the things that lead to that ‘feel for the water’ everyone bangs on about and improving them will quickly rehabilitate your technique. It is hard to beat ‘Skate drills’ for developing all of the areas mentioned. Laser Lead, Speare Swicth (sometimes called underswitch) and 3 stroke swicth (sometimes called Stroke- Stroke – Skate) are great drills that can get you moving smoothly through the water again.
Don’t skimp on the drill but try and intersperese it throughout the session so the sensations are fresh in your memory when you swim full stroke. Like the fast swimming don’t skimp on the recovery, make sure to take enough rest that each drilll rep can be done with full focus and perfect (ok, as close as possible) execution.
As always in swimming, technique is king so rehabilitaing and imprving the stroke basics will pay far quicker dividends than long plodding endurance swims. It might also be more fun!
Good luck and enjoy you pool time!
If you have any questions or want further information, dont hesitate to contact Racesnake-triathlon.com