Make the most of your Swim Training

The Thames Turbo Swim Sets Explained 

Have you wondered why it may seem like swimming is such hard work? It seems that no matter how hard you try in swimming you don’t seem to improve much?  Well, there are a few things that you may not currently be doing that can make a big difference to swimming faster. 

Not knowing your swim training times: If your goal is to swim faster, you should know your training times for different distances.  Keeping a journal is easy these days with Strava, Garmin and Training Peaks.  Keeping a note of how fast you swim different distances will show you if you are improving but also give you targets to aim for. 

Understanding swim pacing: Following the recent club survey a few people commented on the relevance of swimming at different paces.  To become a better swimmer, (cyclist or runner) you have to learn how to train at different paces or you will face the problem of only being able to swim (bike or run) at one pace.  Whilst some of you may think that is OK, you will improve considerably if you understand the different paces I suggest in the swim sets. 

I use 80%, 85%, 92% and 100% for the various reps and sets that I ask you to do in the training sessions.  Why?  Using these different paces works specific energy systems.  By working the different energy systems, it helps develop you as a stronger swimmer.  The sets are carefully worked out in order to help build your swimming speed and endurance.  Going at a different intensity to what the set prescribes will use the wrong energy systems at the wrong time and you won’t improve.   

For example, If I have set 7 X 4 lengths at 92%, this is your threshold intensity for that distance.  You may think that this is a very precise figure, but it is important to state the correct percentage.  90% isn’t quite the right intensity!  What difference does 2% make?  Well actually, it can mean quite a lot! 2% is about 5 heart beats per minute which hopefully illustrates the difference in intensity? Whilst many of you may not think the extra 2% is important, once you start trying to hit the right intensities your training will start making leaps and bounds.  In summary: 

  • 92% will feel hard.  It isn’t quite flat out but near flat out.  It should leave you breathless and you should feel the lactate burning in your legs, arms and lungs!   
  • 80% by contrast should feel like you can keep swimming at that pace for a considerable time and distance.   
  • 85% is obviously a pace which is between these two intensities. 

Training around anaerobic threshold builds power in muscles, which allows athletes to sustain very fast speeds for longer. On top of that, it utilizes more muscle fibres, building mitochondria in fast twitch fibres. This intensity training Zone will ‘teach’ the body to tolerate lactate better and is especially important for endurance athletes as it improves speed and endurance. 

To try and explain it another way, each zone is approximately 3 – 5 seconds per rep.  If 4 laps at 80% takes 2 minutes.  The same distance at 85% would be 1.55 – 1.57, at 92% – 1.50 – 1.53, and at 100% would be 1.45 – 1.47. 

The effort is also proportionate to the distance you are swimming. 100% for 2 lengths isn’t going to be the same speed as it is for 4 lengths or 6 lengths, as clearly you wouldn’t be able to keep this speed up for increasing distances without blowing up.  It is up to you to judge the effort level required for the distance but if you know your swim times for different distances this will help you swim at the right intensities.   

Focus on your technique when doing the drills: This may seem obvious but too often I see people trying to go too fast on the drills.  Go slow when you are doing the drills and really focus on working on the particular element of the drill that the coaches will explain.  

Don’t avoid the kick sets!: I know all of you hate the kick sets, but it helps build your core as well as improve your body position in the water.  Ironically kicking doesn’t actually help you swim much faster from propulsion, but the increased core strength and improved body positioning will make you swim faster with less effort! 

Staying motivated: It is hard staying motivated all year round especially when it is dark, cold, or the water in the pool is cold.  Here are some tips to make it more comfortable and to keep motivation. 

  • Wear a wetsuit if you suffer from the cold.   
  • Wear footwear to the edge of the pool such as sliders or flip flops. 
  • Wear a Dryrobe to pool side. 
  • Have a flask with a hot drink for immediately after the swim or even during the swim. 
  • Wear a neoprene swim hat or two swim hats. 
  • Learn your swim times for different distances and keep a log of your swim sessions to monitor improvements. 

Like everything in life, consistency is key.  The programmes I set are organised; helping your body adapt whilst remaining challenging.  They will help you form habits and help you improve and the more you can attend the better the results.  

If you would like to discuss anything about your training, please reach out to me. 

Happy training