Your most recent swimming questions: getting started and getting faster

I’m absolutely loving my swimming during this half ironman training block. It is fantastic cross training, gets your heart rate up without the impact to your joints, helps build muscular strength and endurance, plus there is something about being in the water which makes you feel truly free. I’ve been sharing my swim progress on my instagram page and answering your questions along the way, here are some of the most recently asked swim Qs. Whilst I’m not a coach, I am a self confessed swim addict!

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Photo credit: London Aquathlon

What are your tips for getting faster?

For me swimming regularly, using my time effectively and focusing on technique / efficiency has been key to improving my speed. Like with running, many of us choose to do speed sessions, tempo runs, long slow runs and drills to improve our performance and it is the same with swimming. Instead of ploughing up and down the swim lane at one speed, trying mixing things up. Start with a warm up, then go on to practice some drills (my favourites include finger drags and swimming with closed fists). You can also isolate your pulls and kicks by using a pull buoy or a float. You can then begin adding sets to your workout, focusing on differing your speed and using variations of ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ swimming. I do two of these sessions per week with my tri club, then every two weeks top this up with a longer, slower endurance swim. That is another great way to improve your swimming-joining coached sessions. Many clubs/groups/lessons take non competitive swimmers from across the ability spectrum. You’re never too old to have a swimming lesson!

How can you practice technique/ speed when others are in the pool?

Again if it is possible to join a group session, it is really helpful. Swimming with people of similar speeds, doing similar drills/sets is not only really motivating, but much less stressful. In a busy public pool it can often be difficult to get a good session in. When I swim alone I prefer to pick a pool that offers lane swimming, then vary the lanes I swim in. For example for my warm up and drills I’ll pick a lane that offers a similar speed to what I swim those at, then when I want to swim faster I move into a faster lane. For rests between sets, try take a look if one end of the pool seems busier and take your rest at the opposite end. That way you’re always guaranteed a space and you can stay out of the way of others as best as possible.

If you need to overtake others do so in a polite and safe manner. Gently touch the feet of the swimmer in front and they should (in theory!) let you pass at the wall. Similarly if someone needs to over take you, return the favour. You can read Speedo’s top tips for swimming lane etiquette here. Sometimes you have to accept that when the pool is congested your  session might not go as smoothly as hoped. If this is a persistent problem then try varying your hours if possible. I’ve found swimming later in the evening much quieter, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings.

How many times a week should you swim?

The honest answer is, I don’t know. I know how many times a week I like to swim (2 – 3 times) but I guess it depends on everyone’s individual circumstances and training goals. I don’t think there is any right or wrong, but I think you’ll quickly learn what works for you and what you need to chase your goals/ keep you happy.

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Photo Credit: Andy Astfalck for ASICS FrontRunner

Are swimming lessons a good idea to improve your form?

ABSOLUTELY!!! Swimming lessons aren’t simply for people wanting to swim, they can be for people wanting a re-introduction to swimming, to work on form/technique or for more advanced technique. Many coaches or swimming pools offer specific coaching/lessons focused on form and asking at the reception desk is a great place to start. Improving your form, posture, technique and balance in the water are all aspects that can make you a more efficient swimmer and therefore ultimately make you faster or just make swimming feel more carefree.

What is the best equipment to invest in?

A comfortable set of goggles is a must. I alternate between Speedo Biofuse and Zoggs Predator Flex (which you can also use in open water). A swim hat is important for cleanliness- unlike many swimming myths they don’t actually keep your hair dry. Instead, swim hats are for reducing drag and for hygiene reasons (many pools will not let you swim without a swim hat). Wear whatever swimming attire feels comfortable and always rinse this after your swim in cool tap water as chlorine can rot swim wear. Hydration tablets are also great for keeping hydrated and helping avoid cramp (you can read more here).

If you want to work on technique more, then a pull buoy and a float are my favourite pieces of kit. A pull buoy is a float you place between your legs so you can focus on your arm strokes without the kicks. They’re also great for working on your balance and posture in the water. Plus when I feel the cramp kicking in during an endurance swim I start alternating lengths using the pull buoy to alleviate the symptoms of cramp. A float is great for practising your kicks. There seems to be an endless list of kit you can get for swimming, from paddles to fins and snorkels but I think floats are a great place to start.

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Best tips for a complete non-swimmer?

Don’t feel afraid or feel awkward. According to the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA, 2019) 1 in 5 adults in the UK cannot swim and 30% of those who can haven’t been swimming in over a decade. So if you are, or you feel like a complete beginner, you’re in good company. Swimming is a privilege that many have the chance to learn as a child. But lessons can be expensive, daunting, or not structured in a way that suits the swimmer.  If you’re in the position to be able to have a lesson as an adult then do so as it will give you the chance to swim in a safe and structured manner. If that isn’t possible, finding a local pool that offers lifeguard supervised swimming and a 25m of less pool with a shallow pool depth  can be a great confidence boosting way to swim safely. Focus on staying calm and avoid tension in your body. If you don’t want to put your head under then that is absolutely fine (sometimes this can take time). Build up gradually and take the positives- just making the decision to try and to keep coming back is possibly the biggest and bravest steps you’ll take.

Best tips for a swimmer wanting to get into triathlons/ open water?

Don’t underestimate the change from pool to open water, but don’t be afraid of it either. Open water and pool swimming can offer some varying challenges in terms of water depth, temperature, clarity, sighting, currents etc. Get comfortable in the pool and start focusing on increasing your ability to swim without stopping. Challenge yourself to swim without pushing off the wall, attempt swimming in a trisuit and when you feel confident in the pool start thinking about transitioning to the open water. Look for a registered open water swim centre and speak to the team there about your first swim- check what you’ll need (towfloats/wetsuits/brightly coloured swim hats can often be compulsory) and what distance routes they offer. Take the pressure off and enjoy it- it can often take a few attempts before you’ll feel comfortable in open water. Alternatively, if you’re keen to try tri but haven’t dipped your toe into the world of open water, you can look for tri events that feature a pool swim. For some more tri tips see my dedicated blog.

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Photo credit: The Race Organiser, Dorney Lake Triathlon

How do you know if you’re fit enough to enter events?

The answer to this really depends on how you feel and what event you want to enter. If you’re feeling confident and comfortable in the water, then it may be the time to give an event a go, however one thing I would caution against is making an immediate transition from pool swimming to an open water swimming event (as above). Looking at pool events like the Cancer Research Swimathon, London Aquathlon or amateur competitions are a great way to start. If you’re worried about keeping up then look at previous event times and test yourself against these. Everyone values swimming fitness in a different way, for some it is how fast they swim, some how far they can swim and others it’s just about confidence/enjoyment. I think you’ll only really know by giving it a go.

 

 


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