Swim Club Blog: Variety is nice, but not necessarily better

A wise man once said to me "If you need a large white board to write your swim session on, then it's too complicated". He went further to add "Variety is for people who can't concentrate for long periods of time, or for those who are mentally weak".

The issue with variety during a swim session is that when you only have an hour to spare, by the time you've factored in some drills, some variety and a collection of swimming toys which fasten to your hands, elbows and feet, whilst an electronic gadget beeps into your ear.... there isn't actually much time left for swimming. Triathlon coaches love 'technique work' and 'drills' and they often prioritise these over conditioning.

Interestingly, my 'swimmer friends' do quite the opposite. In fact, I know several 'swimmers' who have stopped training with local triathlon clubs as they're unhappy with how much time is spent on drills, resulting in a low volume session.

If you've read any of our previous blog posts, you know where we stand on the 'technique V fitness' debate. Triathletes in particular like drills, swim toys and a good old debate on Facebook about hip rotation and high elbow catch. In reality, swimming long distances is largely about conditioning. Once you have the basics of the stroke, you need to add some fitness and once you are strong enough, you can start to fine tune things a little.

The reality is, most people 'lose form / technique' when they're tired, so a good level of conditioning is necessary to hold good form for the full race distance. It's also the case that some people want to believe 'swimming is 90% technique' as this gives them an excuse to avoid doing any hard swim training.


1. Get the basics - Balance, Streamlining, Rhythm & Relaxation
2. Increase swim volume and gain conditioning
3. Make small changes to fine tune your stroke

What's your race distance?

Most of the people reading this blog will be age group triathletes or open water swimmers, so how much variety is there on race day? My guess is that you're swimming somewhere between 1500m and 5k and you're hoping to swim it hard, without your stroke breaking down and come out of the water feeling fresh. If you're racing Ironman, how much variety is there in swimming hard for over 1 hour without stopping? If you want to swim a hard 3.8k without being fatigued and exit the water feeling fresh, common sense says your swim sets should be 4.5 - 5k in length.

What about drills?

As above, if you've read out blogs, we're not really a fan of drills, largely because people don't do them properly, they don't know why they're doing them and they don't see any change in their normal stroke. You'd probably get better results by trying to make a change / focus on specific aspect of your stroke, whilst your actually swimming.

What about kick?

Kick work is useful, but long distance swimmers and in particular triathletes, shouldn't be using their kick for propulsion. The most common issue we see with kicking is that it's very wide (whip kick) which creats drag. Kick work teaches you to kick from the hip, kick fast, narrow and shallow, which helps streamlining. Include some kick work, or to keep thing simple, just 'focus on your kick' whilst actually swimming. For example, swim 10x50m crawl, with focus on a narrow / shallow kick from the hip.

I've only got an hour!!

This is a key issue for many people, at this time of year we recommend that you should be doing at least one session over 3000m, preferably all of them. If you only have an hour to swim, most triathletes never get past the magical barrier of 100 lengths / 2500m. This will generally involve a warm up, some drills, some kick and they finally start the main set with 25 minutes of swim time remaining. If your time is limited, don't mess about and stop talking between sets. Get in on time, keep the session flowing and 3000m is very manageable for competent swimmers.

Repetition is your friend

When planning a schedule, progression is important, but it's more important to understand that adaptation take time. If you are constantly changing your session plan, you never actually get the chance to adapt and learn the session correctly. You can do the same session for 6-8 weeks until you feel like you have properly mastered it and feel ready to move on. Don't get drawn into the habit of making th session over-varied and thinking that you have to change them very week to keep them interesting. If your objective this year is to swim 3.8k hard and exit the water feeling fresh, conditioning will always trump variety.

Get in the water, swim 40 X 100, include paddles, band and pull work for upper body conditioning and crack on. Who knows, you might actually make progress!

What about open water?

Everyone will tell you it's easier to swim in a wetsuit, that is categorically incorrect. The resistance of the neoprene make your arms fatigue much quicker than in the pool. The neoprene acts like a giant 'elastic band' resisting your movement.

However... the buoyancy of the wetsuit means that you move faster through the water, even though your arms fatigue more quickly. So... technically it's HARDER in a wetsuit, but nevertheless you still move FASTER than without one. There's only one way to overcome the fatigue, you need to swim hard and long in open water, in a wetsuit, on a regular basis.

Join our coached open water swim sessions

We run a coachd open water swim session every Wednesday from May 8th. There are 4 groups from novice through to advanced and a coach leads each group. It's perfect for novices as you can learn front crawl and the water is only chest deep. You need to register in advance (it's free to register) and it's £5 on the night to swim. To read more and register GO HERE

Need a new wetsuit or buying your first?

We've got a range of wetsuits in store and a huge amount of experience! If you're buying from us, you're welcome to try them on and we can ensure you get the perfect size and fit. We're based just off junction 27M6, in Wrightington, Lancashire. Call us on 01257 251217.

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