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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".

The issue with variety 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 also comment on this as their background was quite the opposite.

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. Remember:

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?

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 fast / 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 sesison 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!

The Endurance Store

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