Learn to Swim - Month 5

author : Sara McLarty
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This installment of the BT Swim Series will focus on open water swimming and four drills to help you better prepare for your event.

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Part Five of a Five-Month Beginner Learn to Swim Series
By Sara McLarty

If you are like most triathletes, a large percentage of your swim training will take place in a pool. There are a few exceptions for the lucky people that live in warm climates and have easy access to open water. With the right tools, drills, and preparation, training in a pool can properly prepare anyone for open water swimming and triathlons.

A beginner triathlete must be aware of the challenges that open water swimming presents. There are no walls to hold on to, no lane lines to separate people, no solid bottom to stand on, no black line to follow, and (usually) no clear water to swim in. Right away, on perfectly dry land, these realizations can cause panic and fear.

Panic is good! Fear is great! You need a little bit of both to keep you on your toes and prevent you from undertaking a challenge that is beyond your current capabilities. If you cannot swim four lengths of the pool (100 yards) without stopping, you are probably not ready for a quarter mile (400 yards) swim in open water. Making smart decisions is the first step to being a triathlete.

If a personal assessment of your abilities concludes that you are capable of completing the open water distance, here are some ways to train for open water in the pool.

Turning @ the ‘T’

No matter how quick you turn at each wall, you are still getting a moment of rest every 25 yards (or 50 meters for long course swimmers). To prepare for the non-stop swimming that is required in a triathlon, do a long swim once a week where you don’t touch any of the walls! I call this “Turning @ the ‘T’”. Think of the black ‘T’ near each wall (about 1 meter away) as your turn marker. Push off the wall only at the very beginning of the swim, a 300 for example. Every time you near the wall, turn or flip your body in the opposite direction without using the wall. This will replicate the fatigued feeling you might get during open water swimming.

Tarzan Drill for Sighting

Triathlon events will place large and brightly-colored buoys in the water marking the swim course. It is your responsibility to understand the course, know which buoys designate a turn, and what direction to go. Once you are in the race, you will use a method of “sighting,” or lifting your face out of the water, to see where you are going. This is one of the easiest things to practice in the pool with Tarzan Drill. Swim half the pool with your head out of the water, looking forward toward the opposite wall. This will make your neck very tired at first, but with practice, it will strengthen important sighting muscles.

Lifting your head out of the water will help you with direction, but it will also affect your swimming technique. Counter balance your sinking hips and legs by arching your back even more to keep your feet at, or near, the surface.

Hypoxic Breathing Drills

The crowds of people in the water can be the most daunting part of triathlon swimming. Many times, another competitor might accidentally swim over you or push you under the water. Bring prepared for these situations before the race starts is a good idea! Hypoxic breathing drills are a simple way to improve your lung capacity and make some of the open water fear disappear. A Hypoxic breathing set will look like this: 6x50, :30 sec rest, with 3/5 breathing pattern by 25. This means you will swim six 50s with :30 seconds rest between each 50. During the first 25 you are allowed to breathe after every third stroke. On the second 25 you are only allowed to breathe after every fifth stroke. Intermediate swimmers can try breathing every seventh stroke while advanced swimmers should practice nine strokes between breaths.

Practice Swimming with Friends

Bumping, touching, and other forms of friendly and unfriendly contact are common in a triathlon swim. You can use your teammates and friends to help you get comfortable swimming close to other people. Start with one other person in the same lane. Push off the wall next to each other and swim one lap. Did you touch the other swimmer? Are you comfortable with that?

Next, try swimming Three-Wide. Add a third person to the lane, push off at the same time, and swim one lap. Things should have been a little more crowded with lots of bumping and jostling. After each lap, trade places and let a different person try being in the middle!

Practice at Least One Open Water Swim

These four simple drills will prepare you for many aspects of open water events. Mix them into your swim practice routine to add creativity and fun. Before your first open water competition, I highly recommend at least one Swim in Open Water. The best option is swimming at the race site a week or a month before the event. When that option is not feasible or permitted, find somewhere close by that is open and safe. Bring other people, a safety boat, and brightly colored swim caps. Don’t rush into the water and immediately start to swim. Instead, spend a few minutes playing in the water with friends and teammates. This will create an enjoyable atmosphere, give you a positive attitude, and help to bury your fears.

Before you know it, you will be swimming in open water and enjoying the new experience. Bring the same positive and fun attitude on race day. It will help keep your energy high and create a successful race experience. I want everyone to have a fantastic swim…now, get in the water!

Good luck and happy swimming,
Coach Sara McLarty

TERMS

Workouts can be swum in a 25 yard, 25 meter or 50 meter pool
Kick: use a kickboard, keep your feet at the surface of the water
Drill: Single-Arm, Fist Drill, Finger-Tip-Drag, Thumb-Drag, etc
Pull: use a pull-buoy between your thighs, do not kick your legs
Fins: optional piece of equipment, but good for improving kick strength and flexibility
Rest: when you complete an interval, look at the clock (or your watch) and wait the suggested rest period before starting the next one

Open Water drills: Turn @ ‘T’, Hypoxic Breathing, Tarzan, Three-Wide
Safety first when swimming in open water situations! Be prepared!

Week # 17

Workout #1  1500 total

  • 250 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 10 x 75 (25 kick with board/25 drill/25 swim)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 75
  • 300 swim
    Turn @ the “T”
    :60 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #2  1700 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6x75 pull
    3/5/3 breathing pattern by 25
    with :30 seconds rest after each 100
  • 20x25 swim
    with :15 seconds rest after each 25
    count the number of strokes you take on #1
    try to take at least one less stroke on #2, less on #3, less on #4, less on #5
    start over and repeat for remaining #s
  • 6x75 pull
    3/5/3 breathing pattern by 25
    with :30 seconds rest after each 100
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3  1600 Total

  • 4x100 warm up swim
    :30 seconds rest between each 100
  • 5x100 with fins (25 kick no board/25 choice Drill/50 swim)
    With :60 seconds rest after each 100
  • 6 x 100 pull & 50 swim
    With :60 seconds rest after each 150
    After 100 pull, quickly remove buoy and immediately start 50 swim
  • 100 cool down swim

Week # 18

Workout #1  1700 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 200 kick with fins & board
  • 8x75 (25 swim/25 Tarzan Drill/25 swim)
    With :30 seconds rest after each 75
  • 20x25 swim
    With :20 seconds rest after each 25
    Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 a little faster, #4 even faster
    Start over and repeat for remaining #’s
  • 200 cool down

Workout #2  1700 Total

  • 300 warm up
    Alternate 50 swim/50 kick
    1:00 min rest
  • 8x50 Sailboat Drill
    Use kickboard between legs
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 8x50 Catch-up Drill (with kickboard or stick)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 8x50 Single-Arm Drill with Fins
    25 with right arm/25 left arm
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #3  1700 Total

  • 400 warm up swim with fins
    :90 seconds rest
  • 400 swim
    Turn @ the “T”
    :90 seconds rest
  • 400 pull
    :90 seconds rest
  • 400 swim
    Swim the 2nd half (200) faster than the 1st half
    :90 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim
    Mix some backstroke/breaststroke into your cool down swims

Week # 19

Workout #1  1700 Total

  • Warm up: 150 swim, 150 kick, 150 pull, 150 swim
    :60 seconds rest after total warm up
  • 10x75 swim
    With :45 seconds rest after each 75
    Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 faster
    Start over and repeat for #’s 4-6 & #’s 7-9
  • 10x25 Drill (your choice of drill)
    If you have training partners: 2-Wide & 3-Wide
    With :30 seconds rest after each 25
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2  1500 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 6x100 swim
    With :45 seconds rest
    Swim the last 25 Tarzan Drill (head out of the water)
  • 10x50 pull
    3/5 breathing pattern by 50
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #3  1800 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :15 seconds rest
  • 4x50 drill (your choice)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 4x100 pull
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 1x200 swim
    Turn @ the “T”
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 4x100 pull
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 4x50 drill (your choice)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :15 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down

Week # 20

Workout #1  1750 Total

  • 200 warm up (swim with fins)
  • 9x50 swim
    With :30 seconds rest
    Count number of strokes on #1, try for 2 fewer on #2, and fewer on #3
    Start over and repeat on #’s 4-6 & #’s 7-9
  • 8x75 swim
    w/:60 seconds rest
    first 25 is easy, second 25 is medium, third 25 is FAST!
  • 6x50 your choice of drill (use equipment)
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #2  1800 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 300 pull
    3/5 breathing pattern by 50
    :90 seconds rest
  • 400 swim
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 400 pull
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 300 swim
    Turn @ the “T”
    :90 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim (mix in some backstroke & breaststroke)


Workout #3  1700 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 7x50 (25 kick/25 Sailboat Drill)
    With :20 seconds rest
      
  • 7x50 (25 Shark Drill/25 pull)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 7x50 (25 Catch-up Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 7x50 (25 Fist Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim
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date: December 2, 2010

Sara McLarty

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete training in Clermont, Florida. She started competing at the elite level in 2004 after completing college at the University of Florida and narrowly missing the USA Swimming 2004 Olympic team. Her first triathlon was 20 years ago and she has competed in over 200 events since that fateful day as a 7-year-old.

Sara's passion is for all things triathlon...coaching, racing, training, and writing. While she travels the world representing the USA at races, she contributes to Triathlete Magazine as a swim specialist and USAT Life as a youth columnist. Sara is looking forward to sharing her swimming knowledge with BeginnerTriathlete.com's readers and newcomers to the multi-sport world!

avatarSara McLarty

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete training in Clermont, Florida. She started competing at the elite level in 2004 after completing college at the University of Florida and narrowly missing the USA Swimming 2004 Olympic team. Her first triathlon was 20 years ago and she has competed in over 200 events since that fateful day as a 7-year-old.

Sara's passion is for all things triathlon...coaching, racing, training, and writing. While she travels the world representing the USA at races, she contributes to Triathlete Magazine as a swim specialist and USAT Life as a youth columnist. Sara is looking forward to sharing her swimming knowledge with BeginnerTriathlete.com's readers and newcomers to the multi-sport world!

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