Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Conquering the Swim: 5 Essentials

1. Get in the pool early and often. Many people wait until the last few weeks before their big event. This is not so wise. One of the most common comments that I get from my athletes, pertaining to swim training, is the more often they are in the pool, the more comfortable they feel in their race. If you can get in the pool 2-4 times per week. Three sessions per week is a great start. I often have my athletes dedicate one workout to mostly intensity, one workout to mostly technique and distance, and one workout to follow a strength routine-I will explain later. Getting in the pool earlier in the season helps you maintain a relaxed training regimen. At the pool that I coach at, I will typically see an increase in out-of-shape middle aged men doing some combination/medley of freestyle, doggy paddle, breast stroke in the pool around the mid to late weeks of May…Hmmm maybe untrained duathletes hoping to make it in their "first triathlon." Save the stress, save the pain, and save the anxiety of nearly drowning in the open water-get in the pool and do the yards earlier in the season!

2. Have a swim/triathlon coach critique your stroke. Triathletes can be very meticulous people, but that doesn't mean they can always self-analyze your stroke. Get another pair of eyes to watch your stroke, or better yet, have a triathlon coach take a look at your swimming. My athletes get video analysis with the coaching that I provide them so that they can hear what I am telling them to do, but then they can also see what I am referring to; in doing this, my athletes not only improve their own stroke, but they become more educated athletes as well.

3. Design and implement a swim-specific strength routine. Most triathletes come to the sport with a deficient in the swim. Resultantly many of these athletes either have insufficient upper body strength or they have a disproportionate amount of upper body strength. Several of the athletes I have worked with come from running and bicycling backgrounds. Their upper body strength is minimal. Focusing on a swim-specific strength routine that targets the right muscles can help them adapt to the swim much quicker. Setting up a strength routine is not rocket-science, but it can help to have some guidance. Back to the strength-then-swim workout I mentioned above-due to the muscular strength insufficiencies, I find it very helpful to do a strength session and then immediately follow it with a short low intensity swim set. This could be as easy as a 500-1000 free swim with a bit of technique work. Anything to get those muscles stretched out some so that the blood can deliver the needed nutrients for muscle recovery. PLEASE NOTE: I have a couple athletes (all men) that are too bulky on top. This is due to long hours "pumping iron" and other manly things like that. Just remember if you are built like a brick you will likely slide through the water as such! Keep away from the 'roids and remember this isn't a Mr. Universe pageant!

4. Get out in the open-water; no flip-turns in triathlon! Many athletes work tirelessly in the pool throughout the prep, base, and build phases of their season, but neglect to get out in the open water and practice their newly found fins in the murky weed infested aquatic environment known as "lakes." Swimming in open water can cause many novice swimmers to panic and stress-out. Many triathlons competitions are hosted on lakes with murky, weedy, and smelly water bodies. Although it may seem weird, I advise my athletes get in the lake you will be competing in and actually taste, smell, and look at the water you will be swimming in. All of these senses will be engaged when you are racing and it is better to know what the water tastes like in practice than when a wave unexpectedly washes over your head and you cannot breath; better to smell the water in practice than when you get a nose full of water in the race…and so on. Sometimes these sensations can cause panic and paralysis for the beginner or quasi-phobic swimmer.

5. Lastly but most importantly: swim safe. Don't be an idiot and go swimming for your first open water practice swim on a lake with no one around and no form of flotation. Swim at a pool with a lifeguard-if the pool doesn't have a lifeguard don't swim in it. There are several fitness facilities in Minneapolis (I won't name names) that do not staff lifeguards to watch the pool during low-traffic times of the day; not only is this unsafe, but it's also a display of how much they care for their members! You aren't Michael Phelps, we both know this, and seriously who plans when they are going to have some kind of life-threatening emergency anyway!

Have fun, swim fast, and if you don't know how to swim contact me and we'll get an appointment set-up!

~Coach K