Before I got into triathlon, I took a pretty significant hiatus from the pool. In other words, five years of intense swim training were followed by five years without so much as a lap of anything resembling any of the four strokes. That means I haven’t been coached since I was a sophomore in high school, which in turn means I could probably use a little refresher from someone who knows their shit.
Enter: my club coach, an Olympic medalist and swimming expert.
Before I headed home for Thanksgiving, I contacted Coach Bill, who I haven’t seen since I walked out of the Aquatic Center for the last time years ago. He’s stayed in touch with my family via a mutual Starbucks addiction and I’ve continued to follow the team’s growth and progress, but I was a little nervous about catching up and having him critique my stroke. The good news is that some things never change.
So I headed to my team’s Saturday practice, held at the same pool I to which signed my life away for all those years:
We spent a few minutes chatting about on the goings-on with the current crop of GCAT swimmers (a lot of college scholarships to schools like Auburn and FSU) and my transition to triathlon. Then it was time to hit the water. I definitely wasn’t prepared to jump in on the really long and hard pull set the college group was fighting through (hello, drowning in wake), so I grabbed a free lane to start on my own 3000m workout and wait for Bill to wrap up practice.
I feel like my swimming is all over the place. Some days are really good, others are really bad. My stroke is smooth when I’m fresh but goes to shit when I’m in open water and get tired. I do the same drills I learned back in high school, but who knows if my technique is actually improving with those. According to Bill, I didn’t forget how to swim, so, hooray!
He did have some constructive criticism to offer, however. I’m super tight and don’t rotate all that well — I’ve always been that way — and need to focus on loosening up in the water. My position is also a little off, as apparently I have a slight bend in my torso (what Bill calls a “check mark”) rather staying completely streamlined. All in all, not game-ending problems.
Here’s what he had to say as far as training to kill my next 1.2 mile swim:
- Drills. His favorite drill is straight-arm catch-up, which is similar to what I already do, and he also suggested I continue with 50m single arm and rotation drills to help my flexibility. Add in some fingertip drag and zipper drill and that gives me a lot to work with.
- Intervals. The best way to get faster is to swim fast. Duh. One of the myths of tri training is that you just have to swim long and steady free all the time. IM swims are all about Z2 survival, sure, but if you want to improve you have to do more than that. So, 100m repeats or 200m repeats or even 50m, starting at a manageable interval for my level right now and working my way down over time. Train fast, race fast.
- Power kicking. Another triathlete myth is that the kick doesn’t matter. You save your legs for the bike and run and use them as little as possible on the swim. Hence all the workouts written using paddles, pull buoys and straps to basically render the legs useless. I think there’s some value in that. But Bill made the point that your legs can actually help rather than hinder. When you get tired on the second half of the swim during a race, strong legs will help you stay strong overall. It doesn’t mean wear your legs out; rather, use them to your advantage. So, he recommended fast kick sets with fins and doing catch-up drill holding a PVC pipe to work the lower body.
- Stretching. My shoulders are super duper tight. I used to get out in the middle of sets to get knots massaged out. Building flexibility in my shoulders and lats will definitely help my stroke. Bill reminded me of a few stretches we used to do — the only thing you need is a wall to push on.
December is hardcore swim month to coincide with USAT’s National Challenge Competition (who can SBR the most over three months?!?), so I’ll be putting these suggestions to the test. I won’t be maximizing swim volume during spring marathon training, but sticking to intervals once a week will keep me sharp for when tri season finally rolls around. I think a little bit of coaching will go a long way to getting me out of this distance freestyle rut…