Swim training when the pool is closed
Build the resilient mindset that lets you maximise training results anywhere using these seven tips learned in a busy swimming pool...
Busy pools can disrupt your training, but it needn't derail you
Before lakes open in spring, swimmers and triathletes up and down the country have to cope with packed swimming pools and I can tell you from personal experience that it can be mighty frustrating when you have a pool session to complete but your destiny is apparently in the hands of other pool users merrily pottering about when you need to slay some focused technique or speed workouts.
Then I learned to change how I saw the pool at these times, which unlocked some major gains while I also realised the benefits earned here then flowed into all of my training.
So use the seven techniques below to boost your swim training, or apply them elsewhere to develop the perfect flexible and resilient training mindset. One that will let you unlock maximum training results everywhere - from running and gym work to bike and turbo time - and in all conditions from those time-crunched business travel workouts to making the most of the local park when the gym's rammed to the rafters.
Training tip #1: Just start
In the past, I’ve driven 30-minutes to the pool, changed, stood open-mouthed at hordes of bimbling breaststrokers only to turn around and go home.
What a waste of time. I don’t do that anymore.
I’ve learnt to just get in. Swimming is so much about feel for the water and if like me you don’t come from a swim background, merely keeping a regular 'feel' for the water is beneficial.
I also find my commitment tends to be 'rewarded' by the swimming Gods as the lane begins to empty soon after jumping in (either that or my flailing swimming technique scares others off).
This tip works as well in the pool as it does for any session - 'just starting' is always the first step to success.
Training tip #2: Shorten the set
You may have a threshold, strength or endurance session scheduled, but a switch to a speed set could be a good shout. Even if you’re training for an long distance tri, speedwork is crucial and the perfect antidote to a busy pool.
At the wall, wait as long as possible to create a gap to the person in front before ripping into a hard single length all-out sprint.
Catch your breath and let the gap open again as you recover - the forced wait actually creates an ideal interval - before hitting your next sprint. Open up a gap if you want a longer recovery!
Do the same with busy stations at the gym, or on that crowded urban run or ride - sprints between pedestrian crossings are a winner.
Training tip #3: Drill it
Performing drills will slow you down, but keep you on the path to developing great swim technique
In a busy pool, you’ll need to slow down over sustained lengths. Rather than get frustrated at stopping every ten meters, get drilling.
Drills are the topic of another blog post but if you need direction on how to do any of these, a quick Google will sort you out for now:
- Swimming with fists closed
- Kick-only drills
- Head up front crawl
- Doggy paddle (yes, really - distance by doggy paddle is hard!)
- Double arm pulls
All these develop strength and highlight holes in your technique to focus on in future sessions, and again this tip is another great way to boost urban running and riding time, or busy track evenings by turning them into technique sessions.
Training tip #4: Kick it
Triathletes are not known for their kicking prowess and tend to neglect it. “We need to save our legs for the bike and run”. Yeah right. Ask lead pack swimmers if kicking is necessary…
Besides, even if you do take the 'resting legs' approach to your race day swim, working the kick in training will only make your kick stronger and more efficient thus giving you more bang for leg-based buck even at your reduced race day effort.
After all, even if the classic maxim that 'kicking only contributes 10% to my propulsion' holds fast , improving it will still increase efficiency.
So when the pool's busy, grab the kickboard and kick on your front, side and back. It won’t be long before your hips, glutes, quads - and lungs - are burning. And you’ll be moving slow enough to slot in with everyone else in the lane.
And what's this got to do with the rest of your training? Everything!
When the gym's packed hit those unpopular stations to work weaknesses, and when your run or ride route's off -limits thanks to weather or traffic, use that time for the strength, stretch and prehab work that's otherwise all to easily forgotten.
Training tip #5: Fartlek is your friend
So, there’s a stream of swimmers clogging the lane. Hello perfect interval training territory. Here’s the plan: aim to swim continuously for 30-minutes stopping as little as possible.
You’ll need to swim slow at times, but you’ll have to sprint at others to overtake before reaching the wall (or crashing headlong into someone coming in the other direction). You’ll need to sight above water to avoid collisions too which is great open water practice ahead of race day.
You’ll reap some serious gains from this session come triathlon season, and this method of shifting gears and pace can be applied just as readily to the rest of your bike and run training as it does to pool time.
Training tip #6: Swim dead turns
If you’re unable to overtake before the end of the lane, perform dead turns.
As you approach the wall, stop short and do an open U-turn – just like rounding a buoy in a lake. Turn sharp, kick hard and get up to speed again as quickly as possible having politely and neatly 'overtaken' your lane partner without them being interrupted one bit.
This principle of opening your mind to finding the clear space no one else is using is a valuable training discipline.
For example, run any major park and you'll find the paths well used by runners everywhere. Yet look to the grass and weirdly it's almost always clear. Get creative with route-planning here and you can find an incredible amount of free run space waiting for you even in the world's busiest city parks.
Training tip #7: Embrace open water
As soon as it's warm enough to don the wetsuit and embrace the open water, don’t prolong time in the pool - as triathletes we race in open water so the more acclimatised and comfortable you become in the dark, cold stuff the better!
For your gym work hitting it up in the nearest park with bodyweight sessions as opposed to machines is a brilliant functional strength builder, while on the run and bike going muddy for the trails is always a surefire winner to develop resilience, balance and power that you will channel directly into ultimate race day speed.
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