Causal swimming is one of those things most of us do without even thinking about – like breathing, but more watery. You get in the pool and plod up and down for half an hour or so without deviating (except to dodge the occasional granny) or changing pace, pulling ourselves out when we’re ‘a bit tired’. And while that’s better than sitting on the sofa eating nachos, there’s got to be a better way if you’re serious about building swimming fitness and performance.
‘Breaking a session into repetitions of 50 or 100 metres with 20-30 seconds rest works well,’ says Tom Sturdy, a former pro triathlete who has a masters in biomechanics and knows a thing or two about training. ‘Focus on keeping the pace constant, or even getting faster in the second half of the session.’
This is known as a ‘negative split’ and is a great way of building both speed and endurance. ‘Most world records in endurance sports have come from a negative split,’ says triathlon coach Steve Lumley, who has coached 2013 World Champion Non Stanford, and runner-up Jodie Stimpson.
Yet while sprinting is all well and good, you can’t do that every time you’re in the pool. Something else to work on during an easier session is your form, as you can focus on getting your technique right rather than trying to bomb along like a human torpedo.
‘I find it hard to get the most out of a session on my own,’ says Sturdy. ‘The other advantage is that a training partner or coach will be able to offer advice,’ says Sturdy. ‘It can be tricky to work out how to correct technique on your own, and it can often be counterintuitive. Say you need to raise your feet in the water – it seems obvious to try to keep your feet high. In reality, though, it’s actually best achieved by forcing your torso lower in the water.’
There are other common problems with form. ‘People often overemphasise a long, smooth stroke, which looks impressive but often means there’s a dead point in the stroke where there’s no forward propulsion,’ says Lumley. ‘Improving your kick will help that.’
On the flipside, he also recommends you tie a band around your ankles and swim without kicking: ‘This makes you more aware of what your legs and hips are doing.’ Try to avoid lateral movement, and keep your body as streamlined as possible.
So there’s the proof: if you DO think about your swimming, you’ll go further, faster for less effort. And that’s something we’d all go an extra length for.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your GP before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.