Happy New Year! It is resolution time. Don’t make unrealistic resolutions but do resolve to work hard and stay focused.
Going to the pool for a workout doesn’t always have to be about swimming, especially not for a triathlete. Although water aerobics classes are not standardized with some raising the heart rate and providing good exercise, others are less demanding. But you don’t have to depend on an instructor to get a workout that will benefit your heart, lungs, and legs. Water adds resistance to any “running” workout. Go to the pool and “run” laps. As you get stronger and more fit, run laps with clean sneakers on. Get in the deep end and do some vertical kicking. This will benefit your leg strength and, if done correctly, can help with your swimming as well. In the beginning, you might want to do this with fins on, but as you get stronger and your body position and core strength improve, shed the fins for an even better workout. Just get in the deep end and with your hands held at the level of the water, kick. You can do flutter kick or dolphin kick, not breaststroke or water polo kick. Kick for 15-30 seconds and then raise your hands above your head and kick for 15 more seconds. Rest for 30-60 seconds. It is very important to hold your body straight and relaxed, keeping your shoulders aligned with your hips. Don’t lean forward or backward and don’t fight the water. Do this about ten times. Add more as your strength improves. Pointers to be aware of—relaxation is vital and little bitty fast kicks are less effective than smooth, larger kicks. After you do some vertical kicking, try kickboard kicking with the kickboard held vertically and halfway submerged for good resistance.
Water exercising is also good for working on your abdominal strength, a key to good swimming. Doing sit-ups and crunches on land can be very hard on your back, but the same exercise in the water is easier and more fun. Just lie down in the water on your back with your arms out to the side. Keeping in that prone position bring your legs up to your chest as far as you can and then straighten them again. Repeat that about twenty times. Then with your torso and arms in the same position, bring your legs up to the left, roll them over to the right, then back to the middle and down. Repeat that about twenty times. You might get some funny looks and if your pool is too crowded you should wait until there is an empty lane to try this, but it is much easier on the back than dryland workout.
So now you are probably wondering why you would want to do any of that. The key to good swimming is good body position and one of the keys to good body position is strong abdominal muscles. If you stand on the deck as tall as you can with your entire body stretching upward, and then just relax that tension about 10%, that is how tight your abdominal muscles should be when you swim. Nice body roll with everything aligned makes for smoother, faster swimming. Swim a few lengths freestyle paying attention to head position, hand entry and body roll. With your head held aligned with your spine (not looking up at all) you will reach forward while rolling slightly to that side. Your hand should enter the water, fingers down, then extend on a two beat count as you roll to that side while pushing forward with your hip. After the two beat count (not a two second count), pull your hand smoothly back toward your thigh as you begin to roll toward the other side. Then your other hand enters and repeats that motion. At no point in the stroke cycle should you be pressing straight down on the water. At no point in the stroke cycle should your arm be completely straight. Breathing happens as part of the body roll, not as a separate motion of the head. So do a few 25’s working on hand entry, reach, and roll, keeping your abdomen tight so that head, shoulders, and hips all work as a unit. After you begin to feel a smoother rhythm, count your strokes for each 25. Doing a set of six 25’s, try to drop a stroke on each of the six. If you start at 22 strokes per 25, you will finish on 17 for your last 25. This can be accomplished by doing several things. You can glide longer on your push-off. You can add glide between strokes. Or you can kick harder. Each of those techniques has a purpose, but for a triathlete, the glide between strokes will be the most important technique to incorporate into your regular swim cycle since most triathlons are in open water where there is no push-off and most are longer distances where a vigorous 6-beat kick will just wear you out.
Here is a good workout to work on pacing and rolling.
Warm Up is always a relaxed 500 yards or meters.
Kick 10 x 50 alternating a hard, fast 50 with an easier paced 50. If you like the easier paced 50 can be with that vertical board. Your rest interval should be about 15 seconds after each 50.
10 x 50. Numbers 1 through 4 should be a good moderate pace and they should all be the same. #5 should be at least five seconds faster. Then repeat that pattern for numbers 6-10. Your interval should be the same for all ten 50’s so that you do not get more rest after the hard one at 5 but go straight back to a good moderate pace. There will come a time in most races where you will want to pass someone but you need to be able to speed up and then return to your good race pace after passing not speed up and then die because you have no gas left.
Now do the same with 75’s. Once again, you should move smoothly from a strong but moderate pace to a faster pace and then back.
And then do the same with 100’s.
Cool down with a very easy 200, alternating freestyle with backstroke to stretch out your arm muscles.
That makes 3450 yards or meters and you should feel quite tired.
NB—If any of the distances above seem too long at this point in your training, change them to shorter distances. So the 50’s can be 25’s and the 100’s can be 75’s if that is where you are right now. Keep in mind that overdoing at this point is not a good idea but that you need to get used to swimming longer distances without stopping.
*Glossary of swim terms
Recovery—the recovery portion of a stroke is the part of the stroke where you are not actively pulling. In freestyle it is the part of the stroke from when your hand leaves the water until it enters the water. Keep your hands low with fingers down during recovery in freestyle.
Entry—this just means the point at which your hand enters the water. Your fingers should be pointing down but not perpendicular to the water which would cause more drag.
Streamline—holding your body in a nice, tight line especially when you push off walls. You should be under the water with your arms pressed up against your head, deltoids squeezing your ears. One hand is on top of the other with the hand that will pull first on the bottom. Arms and legs are straight, toes are pointed.
I help coach Utah Masters here in Salt Lake City. I have been listed in the Top Ten in US Masters and Top Ten in the FINA world rankings.