A Coached Swim

I’ve always been a fairly good swimmer, at least, as far as I can remember I have. I don’t remember really ever having had any proper coaching though or going to a proper swim club when I was younger. Somehow I just picked it up as I went along, trained hard here and there and became a fairly efficient swimmer.

Kindly Refrain From

Kindly Refrain From

I’m not the best swimmer there is though so any opportunity to improve is always welcomed. I haven’t really ever had any proper coaching since I started training for triathlons either. I’ve been to group coached sessions such as swimfit and the occasional triathlon club session and I always do prescribed sets and various drills in my own sessions, but I’ve never had anyone look closely at what I’m doing in the water.

Winter Swim Emphasis

With this in mind and winter training upon us I’ve decided to change this and get some one-to-one coaching. I won’t be able to do too many sessions like this as my bank balance won’t allow it, but the plan is to have several sessions under the watchful eye of a swim coach over the winter. Hopefully they can then give me some tailored swim sets that will work on my weaknesses. I’ll go away and do my ‘homework’ for a few weeks and then meet up with them every so often so that they can track my progress.

I thought the winter would be an ideal time for this as bike and run training intensities will be reduced for a few months allowing me to do a little more swimming. Hopefully the fact that swimming is low impact and relatively less stressful will mean that I can do a little bit more swimming than usual without too much of an impact on my overall training stresses.

Years of Malpractice

It won’t be easy of course as fixing weaknesses in a swim stroke is never easy, especially if you have been practicing it wrong for year upon year. Clearly my stroke isn’t perfect, if it was I’d be faster than I am, but I’ve been doing it this way for 40 years. Just think how many millions of strokes I must have done in that time, ironing out flaws in something I have done that many times in the past will be difficult, but its worth a try!

I’ve been looking forward to working on my swimming for a while and I’ve even ordered some funky new goggles to help with the motivation.

A Testing Time

I had my first session with my new coaches on Tuesday. Yep, there were two of them, a mother and daughter pair, so that meant 4 beady eyes watching me plough up and down the pool. It’s a little disconcerting at first knowing that people are watching you that closely, I’m not used to such scrutiny, especially whilst only wearing speedos! You feel as though you have to do things right for them, but I know them fairly well so it wasn’t too uncomfortable. I guess just the fact that you are under such observation makes you think about your stroke a little more than usual so that has to be a good thing in itself.

The session itself wasn’t too taxing. A nice warm up and then some tests to see where I am at the moment. The timed swims were quite hard, but then, doing anything as fast as you possibly can is always going to be hard. It was all about data gathering so that we can monitor my progress (or lack of as the case may be) over the coming months. As well as timed swim over a set distance they also had me doing 4x 1 length sprints with lots of rest. They timed these and I got down to a sub 14 second length, and then they had me do 4 lengths straight off. Again they timed this to see what my drop off was. The 4 length swim was 11 seconds slower than the combined time of my 4 individual length sprints. This was just a way of showing me that I can swim fast for a single length, and if I could keep that speed up for a longer distance (I wish) then I’d be quite a lot faster.

We did various drills as well and now they will produce some sample swim sets for me to do over the coming weeks with an aim to improving my technique and improving my swim fitness so that my times can tumble. OK, they are unlikely to tumble but even a small amount of improvement would be good.

A Matter of Balance

I feel as though my stroke has become a little sloppy this year, and that I’ve lost a little bit of my balance in the water. I tend to veer off to the right a bit at the moment so have already been working on that myself with various self-imposed drills. My coaches last night seemed quite pleased with my stroke though and said there were no major problems, so I think much of the work they’ll have me doing will be on swim fitness – which is quite different to run or biking fitness. I’m even going to swim with one of them each week which will make me try a bit harder in the pool for that session. I know she’ll be faster than me but trying to keep up will make me work hard which has to be a good thing. I’m looking forward to it already.

Hopefully with a little more emphasis on the swim over the winter months I’ll see some improvement. As long as my running and biking improve too then it’ll all be good. Obvisouly in triathlon the swim portion is relatively short so any gains made here are generally smaller than those made elsewhere. Balancing time and effort spent on swimming with time spent on the other disciplines is therefore essential. It doesn’t matter how much work I put into my swimming, I’m only likely to shave a few seconds off my swim time in a Sprint Triathlon, whereas working on the bike could potentially save me minutes. However every second counts in such races and this time of year feels like the perfect time of year to try to gain a few seconds in the swim.

Knowing that I’m planning to work on my swimming has me quite motivated, whereas I’m quite happy to just plod along with the biking and running at the moment – There’ll be plenty of time to work hard on those come the Spring, and it’s all a matter of balancing my time and effort.

4 Responses

  1. Richard Skerrett says:

    Interesting blog, Alan, and very well written. I suppose you have seen all the on-line stuff from swimsmooth.com and Total Immersion.I went on a Total Immersion course a few years ago at Millfield School, which was very interesting. It didn’t revolutionise my stroke and they failed to teach me butterfly – in fact the coach advised me to give up, which I thought was a bit defeatist, although he was probably right. There is a swimsmooth coach in Cardiff, and I have considered going for a session with him. They do underwater video and I gather the lessons are very good value from speaking to a lady from my club (Carmarthenshire Masters) who had had a session with a swimsmooth coach.

    As you probably know, Terry Laughlin is strongly of the opinion that the swim in a triathlon is the place to take it easy and not go too hard, although obviously the faster you can go while swimming in a relaxed fashion the better.Probably the same applies to a certain extent for the bike stage, although I know nothing about cycling and very little about running. I used to run when I was young but was absolutely useless.

    • Alan says:

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for that, I did look into the Swim Smooth stuff and the coach in Cardiff but decided I wanted something closer to home so that I could afford a few sessions over the winter without the added expense and time of travelling to them. I’m sure they are very good but it works out quite expensive by the time you factor in the travelling costs as well.

      It may be the case for some that the swim in a triathlon is the time to take it easy, but for me in sprint distance triathlons, if you want to win you have to be going pretty much flat out all the way through!

      How are you getting on with your channel swim? You must be getting close to a third of the way through it by now?


  2. Richard Skerrett says:

    Not quite a third of the way yet. I managed a reasonable amount at the weekend but Monday and Tuesday were less successful – too much traffic! Today I have to stay home so I suppose I have to take the optimistic view that rest is good. With a bit of luck the rest of the week will be more productive.

    You’re right about the costs of travelling. It adds to the cost of going to galas because they’re usually quite far away from here.The last one this year is going to be Cardiff – if I don’t decide to leave it out because of my slight tendon problems. I’m seeing a physiotherapist soon and should be getting the results of my knee x-ray soon too.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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