Growing up, I wasn’t what one would call athletic. Sure, I played outside and rode bikes with the neighborhood kids, but I was a slow runner, a bit on the pudgy side, and not at all coordinated.
I had a brief soccer-playing stint in middle school, but I was pretty terrible at it; my feet and the ball seemed to always be moving in separate directions. Shortly before the eighth grade though a neighbor suggested I check out a local swim team. I loved swimming, but it had never occurred to me that swimming was a sport that I could compete in. My mom got some information about the team, and less than a week later I showed up at my first practice. I was hooked.
off the blocks… circa 1994
It wasn’t a totally smooth transition. I had to learn how to do flip turns, and master the butterfly. But swimming was something that felt natural. I imagine it’s the same feeling that basketball players feel with a ball, or runners feel on the track. For the next five years, I swam three to five days a week, generally logging about two miles a day.
I gave up swimming when I went to college. I had my heart set on Northwestern’s journalism program, and I knew I didn’t have it in me to swim for a Division I school. Since then though, I’ve continued swimming, sometimes with a master’s team, but usually just on my own. Being in the water still feels like second-nature, though I’m not nearly as fast as I was at 17.
my “home” pool these days
Now that I’m tri training, my goal is to log at least one swim workout a week. But I realized recently that I can’t just wing it in the water. Just like with my runs, I need a training plan. Since the swim is the only part of the race where I’ll use my arms, I need to work on maximizing using my upper body in the water, so I can save my legs for later in the race. I also need to train for distance, so the 10×50 yard sets I generally do probably aren’t going to help me much.
Last week, I did some internet perusing and came up with a set of six workouts to get me through the next month. The workouts generally start and end the same: a warm-up of 200-swim, 200-kick, 200-pull, and then a cool-down of 200-pull. The main sets vary: some focus on speed, and some focus on stamina. Since most triathletes struggle with the swim, I though it might be helpful to post them when I do them, along with thoughts on what to focus on as you go through the workout.
swim workouts for the next few weeks
The set I did last week was pretty simple:
warm up: 200-swim (freestyle), 200-kick (alternate flutter kick and breast stroke kick each lap), and 200-pull (alternate 50-yards free, 50-yards back stroke)
I use my warm ups to focus on technique: keeping my hands close to my body, making sure my fingers are closed, and doing stroke drills to maximize efficiency.
main set: 5×200 swim (freestyle, back stroke, breaststroke, back stroke, freestyle- no rest between 200s, simply switch stroke)
My main goal here was to swim consistently and try to focus on maintaining my speed with my upper body, rather than relying on my legs for power.
cooldown: 200 pull (freestyle)
Total yards: 1,800
My favorite drill with a pull bouy is to drag my fingertips on the top of the water and think about keeping my elbows high and hands close to my body. Here’s a full description and video of this drill.
I’m still recovering from a shoulder injury and working to rebuild my strength, so I’ve been alternating freestyle (which tires me out fast) with back stroke (which doesn’t bother my injury as much). I think it’s good to mix it up and do different strokes, but you could do this workout with all freestyle.