Before I delve into the heart of this story I feel it is important to give you some context. I am not an elite level athlete; in fact I left full time training behind in 2000 after a decade of early starts and ten swim sessions a week. These days I am a full time swim coach, a coach who swims for health, recreation, social, fun and the odd competition. One of my foundations of coaching principles is practicing what I preach. I know my training principles, the equipment I use and the techniques I employ all work because I practice and use them myself.
My training is limited these days it consists of 2-3 swim sessions a week between to 2-3km coupled with 2-3 gym sessions. I find this amount of training keeps me balanced with other aspects of life and keeps me enthused about swim training and racing. It is minimal therefore the focus is on maximizing return. Hence one of my mantras ‘swim smarter, swim faster’. Don’t be fooled; if you have higher aspirations you need to do a lot more training than me. However respectable results with my training mileage are achievable with the right approach.
As a swimmer you’re always learning. As a coach the adage still rings true. That’s why I love the social aspect of swim events, both recreational and competitive. It’s an opportunity to share experiences and ideas and to learn.
In the last twelve months I have established good relationships with a number of respected brands in the swim industry such as blueseventy. In all cases I’ve used their product as a customer, liked it, made an approach and established a relationship. Make no bones about it, if I endorse a pair of goggles, swimsuit , wetsuit you can be assured I’ve used it, liked it and it’s not only performed but performed well. My fitness levels are no longer that of an elite athlete therefore I need to use every ounce of experience to assure myself of a respectable performance when I swim. That means getting the most out of my training and my swim equipment.
Let us get into some detail; swimming faster. Two key points with regard to training I have experienced myself over many years and I continue to share with new swimmers and triathletes.
- Challenge yourself with your swimming? Why? Your body is smart, it will adapt quickly. You may have some initial gains but at some point unless you change your regime you will plateau. So many athletes get in and swim continuously at a steady pace for 30 minutes to an hour or more. Sure you will improve but the benefits will gradually decrease until all you are doing is maintaining. Change distances, change frequencies, change intensity with your swimming. Keep challenging your body. Do it as part of a plan over a number of months to maximise your performance increases.
- Train with a group as much as you can. It can be loads of fun. You will learn more, you will be pushed and when your motivation levels are running low you will have added motivation to make it to practice.
‘Having the right equipment’; Who would argue with this statement? Not many I would guess. Still many of us will turn up on competition day with equipment that is not suitable for the task at hand. Being properly equipped can be the difference between finishing or not finishing or it can take minutes off your finishing time. Remember I don’t just talk about this stuff, I do it too; I am speaking from experience. Last year I purchased the blueseventy Nero swim suit to wear at the UK National Masters championships. I was only swimming short events, speed was essential. This suit helped me to achieve my goal of a national title. I could literally feel the reduction in drag compared to my old race suit. And although the suit was super form fitting it only took me few minutes to get into it. A small but important point, if a suit is difficult to get into it’s frustrating, tiring and you run a real chance of damaging your suit.
This year I competed in the La Grande and the King of the Bays swims, two of the six races that make up the www.oceanswim.co.nz . For the Le Grande I used my Nero swim suit to good effect, first non wetsuit out of the water and I was comfortable with my swim. However there were wetsuit swimmers I struggled to keep up with. The advantage of a wetsuit apart from insulation is definitely speed and in a half Ironman, full Ironman or a swim event of similar distance the wetsuit can knock minutes off your time. I use the word ‘can’ deliberately in my last sentence. In the past I too have had experiences with ill-fitting wetsuits, too big and it will let water in, it feels like swimming with a sack of potatoes. The wrong type or poor construction and it will tire your shoulders out quicker than you can say “am I around the first buoy yet”. Your first rule of wetsuit purchase must always be ‘try before you buy’. If you can’t don’t buy it! They are an investment so put any embarrassment to one side and let staff assist you. Correctly putting on a wetsuit is half the battle. If you don’t get the legs on and adjusted first the rest of the wetsuit won’t sit right. Here is a quick clip showing you how to get into your wetsuit… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fwi2B6s6vGM You don’t have to be this quick, just learn how to get it right.
For the King of The Bays swim I used a blueseventy 2012 Helix wetsuit. I am well aware that wetsuits are not cheap. That is why it is important to make an informed decision when purchasing. It is also a good reason to take darn good care of your suit when you have made a purchase. The first time I put the Helix on I broke out in a smile. Nothing and I mean nothing makes me grumpier than a wetsuit inhibiting my shoulders during rotation. The Helix uses a cool strip of blue stretch material over the top of the shoulder. From the shoulder on down the arm the suit tapers down to 1mm giving amazing flexibility. There are 5mm panels on the chest for warmth and buoyancy and 4/5mm down the legs. Out to the first buoy at King of the Bays I felt this kept my hips/legs slightly high but in hindsight my kick was not affected. The thought that has gone into the design really became apparent as I settled into a rhythm and noticed how effectively the suit was helping me to maintain body position. Yes it helped me swim faster with no rubbing or chaffing at all and I was very comfortable. It all just added to my enjoyment of the swim.
Goggles; I have done plenty of goggle reviews in my time. Very simply a good open water goggle will be different from a good pool racing goggle. In the open water we happily take an increase in goggle drag in return for greater comfort and visibility. Your goggles should always be comfortable and they should never leak. Hold them to your face without the strap around the back of your head. Will they seal around your eyes and stay on your face? They should, this a good indicator as to how they will perform. Put them on properly. Are they comfortable? They should be, don’t expect them to get comfortable with time. Also important in open water swimming is goggle lense shading. Clear lenses are ideal for cloudy dark days, tinted lense for bright sunny days or ‘smoke’ lenses will give us a happy medium.
With all your equipment test & try before you buy. Test & try before you race.
I trust that you find some or all of the information above helpful and it helps you swim faster. With the right training and the right gear you can have a massive impact on your finishing time without upping the number of hours you spend in the pool. Remember; Swim Smarter, Swim Faster.