Thursday, March 13, 2014

Swim series continued . . . how to swim (and act) like a swimmer

Hopefully by now you are convinced that adding a little more swimming in your off season will do nothing but help you as you enter the next season of racing.

1) Caps and goggles
Let's start at the top, shall we? If you have been racing a lot you should also have a large wardrobe of swim caps. They are standard issue for every race, expect those that have been written on with permanent marker. This is all you need. The seam of the cap should line up with the bridge of your nose, not your ears. Take the time to make sure the cap is centered and tuck in ALL of your hair. It is not acceptable to have a significant amount of hair hanging out of the back of a swim cap.

Get a pair of low profile goggles. "Swim masks" are designed for open water swimming and more specifically to maximize visibility. Leave them at home when you are headed to the pool. Inside Out sells a nice variety and is in fact about to embark on a goggle tour online and at its Cary location. I personally recommend Speedo Vanquishers and/or Blueseventy Nero Race for your pool swimming pleasure. If you are feeling ambitious buy a pair of sweedes but I promise you will hate them.

2) Swim suits
Do not do your swim training in a triathlon suit. Ever, except race day. Do you ride your bike in run clothes? Do you run in bike clothes? No? Oh really? Don't get in the pool in your one piece trikit or even your tri jammers. First of all, triathlon attire is not designed to be chlorine resistant. You are wasting your money. If you are really into that kind of thing just give me your money and I will give you a real suit and pocket the difference. Deal? Kewl. Secondly, you are swimming, not triathloning. You don't need a fleece pad or small pockets to swim your one-hour workout. Let it go . . . and embrace the brief.

I am firm believer in the brief-style swim suit. This whole jammers trend has got to go. You know all of that "more is more" philosophy we have been tossing around? Well that does not apply to swim suits. I know you guys think you are doing the ladies a favor by erring on the modest side of life but jammers just aren't that flattering. Even if you have spare tire, big butt, huge quads, whatever, briefs are the way to go. Only when your belly hides your briefs should you switch to jammers. 

With that being said there is a right and wrong way to wear a "speedo." Swim suits are not underwear so do not pull them on as such. The waist line of the suit should be uniform around the hips. The phrase "high and tight" should not apply here. The suit should be worn so low it just covers your bottom's crevice. These are minor details but when it is done right, you know it and when it isn't you know that too . . . 

While guys' suits should not be "high and tight" yours should. When you go for a run, the girls should be compressed and supported. The same holds true for swimming.Your suit size should be two digits, ie 26/28/30/32/34/etc and it should match your waist size. If the diameter of your waist is approximately 27 inches, you should wear a 28. You should not be wearing a size 34 swim suit. If you need/want to incorporate drag into your workout, you wear a drag suit on top of a normal (tight) suit. One of the very best resources for suits is They almost always have suits on sale and most suits have been reviewed so you can find the right one for you.

3) Watches
Swimming is centered around time yet you go to a swim practice and the one thing you will notice is swimmers never wear watches. I know some of you are more comfortable wearing your Garmin 910 but learn to read a pace clock. It is the best instant feedback you will come across. Every pool worth swimming in will have a pace clock and probably two. Most pools have even switched to digital clocks which is suhweeeeet!
Old school
  • Monitoring your pace will help you stay engaged during your workout. I do a lot of pace work and I use the clock to help me determine if I am ascending, descending, or holding pace. I determine my threshold pace and I am usually above or below that pace depending on the purpose of the set. There are a lot of ways to determine threshold pace but a 1000 TT is the easiest. Use that pace as your guide. 
  • Keeping your eye on the clock is a great way to help you count. Doing 10x 100 on 2:00 and you started on the 16min mark? Your last 100 will start on the 34min mark. See how easy that is? Only when I completely zone out do I lose count. If you are losing count then you are not getting as much out of your workout as you think you are. 
4) Heartrate monitors
Ditch them. They are not accurate in the water. Unless your workout contains abbreviations like EN1 and SP2, I would suggest you just leave heart rate out of it.Completely.

4) Train like you mean it
There is no such thing as 3-4K receovery swim in a wetsuit.
  • Drill work should be hard, not a hard effort but hard to do. You are working on your weaknesses so they should be somewhat difficult. You certainly should not be able to do 1000 straight of drills worth your while. If you are just sailing through your drill work, it is likely you are doing the wrong drills. 
  • On that note, see stroke work as drill work and not as a waste of time. Incorporating the other three strokes in your workout will do nothing but improve your freestyle. Butterfly helps build power, backstroke helps with lower body and core engagement, and Breaststroke helps with timing and body position awareness. IM work is a great tool for creating aerobic/threshold sets. Do 6x 200 freestyle one day and then do 6x 200 alternating free and IM the next day. Note the difference. 
  • Flip turns are essential to making progress in the water. I know most triathletes use the excuse "but I don't do flip turns in open water." Let's just all agree to stop making excuses, mmmk? Flip turns are a training tool that will improve how you train which is directly correlated to how you race. 
  • Incorporate hard kick only sets. Most triathletes use kick sets as recovery sets only but they have soooooooo much more potential. I know you are scared a hard kick set will absolutely ruin your legs for your 4 hour bike ride but let's be realistic. 8 hard minutes are not going to ruin your life. Kick with fins will help develop ankle flexibility but kicking hard with an engaged core will help you improve your body position and hip flexor use and recruitment.  
Inspired by our very own Charlotte resident
5) Swim with the swimmers
I will be perfectly honest. I watch people designate themselves as "triathletes" in group swims all the time. These people never improve. If you attitude is "I am a triathlete so I do not have to swim this stroke stuff or kick or do anything other than freestyle ever (and the more pull the better) then there is a good chance you will not improve. For some people, like Billy Pilgrim, that's perfectly ok. If you are truly interested in becoming a faster triathlete, swim with the swimmers. 

Charlotte is fortunate to have three very good programs. There may be more but these three easily the best:
  • SwimMac Masters - Probably the most traditional masters program in town. There are practices available throughout the day with the main one taking place at 5:30 AM at the Charlotte Latin Facility. Two coaches run 22 lanes of swimmers of all abilities (as well as a subsection of triathletes) They do stroke work, big distance sets, starts, turns, kicksets, the whole schebang. The training calendar is focused around the local swim meets as well as short course masters nationals which is held in a different city each year in May. There is also a small group of swimmers who train for open water events such the Chesapeake Bay 4.4 mile swim. 
  • MSA - The Mecklenburg Swim Association is an adult aquatic training group that welcomes all ability levels to their Blakeney location. Adult fitness swimmers, competitive pool swimmers and triathletes train together in a team environment. But most importantly the workouts are lead by Patty Waldron, a professional coach who has 34 years of coaching experience, ranging from bubble blowers through professional triathletes to a Masters World Record holder. IMHO, Patty is the best coach in town for adult-onset-swimmers looking to learn to swim and develop proper technique work. MSA offers 11 workouts a week as well as private and semi private lessons.
  • MCAC Masters - I switched from SwimMAC to MCAC because I live and work close to uptown. The program was rather lackluster until Jonny "no H" Tango took over but his high energy and positive attitude keeps me coming back. JT coaches intense high volume workouts MWF at 6-7:30. Jeremy Gregory uses long course to focus on technique and pacing work at the same time TTh. Our very own Heather Hageman does a little of both at the workout she leads from 12-1 M-F. While the program takes up a mere 6 lanes at the MCAC, the range of ability levels is pretty wide. All the coaches give a lot of one on one time to make sure the athletes are getting the most out of the workout and ability.

And finally, just remember you were once the fastest and most determined swimmer of all!

Happy swimming!