The need for swimming speed - three key swim workouts

I couldn't believe my eyes on Friday morning when Karel joined me for part of my main set at the Brooks YMCA. For the past two months he has been swimming at UNF with a Master team that emphasizes form before distance. Karel kept telling me how much more he was enjoying swimming and that he was getting faster without significantly working any harder. Also, no shoulder pain and a true enjoyment for being in the water. Yes, all coming from my bike-loving hubby who just learned how to swim in June 2012.

There are so many health benefits to swimming. Plus, it' so much fun to pretend you are a fish.

 I think swimming is a fantastic exercise of choice for almost anyone because it is non weight bearing but I often see triathletes swimming and swimming and swimming - focusing on the yards or time and not on what is happening within those laps. There's a constant need for speed but triathletes have trouble training smart sometimes. I see/hear it all the time.... "I have to swim 4000 today. I have to swim 200 more yards to get to 3500. I only have 30 minutes so it doesn't pay for me to swim today."

Just like with any sport (bike or run), it's very easy to get wrapped up in distance completed instead of focusing on drills and skills, as well as properly warming up before the workout. Sure, the body must be physically ready for the task at hand but a healthy and strong body will perform better than an overtrained, fatigued and injured or burnout body. For athletes who can't seem to make the time for the "extra stuff" because there's an obsession with miles/distance/yards completed, take some time to appreciate the small stuff and you will feel what it is like to train consistently with quicker performance gains. And who doesn't want that?

If you are wanting to get faster in the pool (or with any sport), here's what I would recommend:

-Spend a few weeks working on drills and skills. I know it may hurt your ego but accept your weakness as you acknowledge your strengths. In my pre-built 5-week transition plan there is a big emphasis on skills and form. Even more myself, who has been swimming for over 20 years, I spent a good 4-5 weeks after Kona this year using swimming as active recovery and keeping swims around 2000 yards, focusing mostly on drills without any speed. Karel who was not a born swimming and learned to swim later in his adult life, has addressed his form over and over and without swimming longer or harder it gradually became more natural to swim faster with proper technique. The transition plan focuses on lung capacity and stroke in the pool, hip/core and glute strength to help with running and single leg drills and cadence-focused sets for cycling.

-Get faster before you go longer. Rather than feeling stuck on accomplishing x-yards each practice, focus on time. Whether it is 45 or 60 minutes in the pool (which I have not swam more than 1 hour since Kona), your sets should be short and intense with adequate rest but should also use the good technique you worked so hard to develop.

-Build your endurance. Once you have a faster template to work with, you can gradually build with your endurance as you peak for your big race. Don't forget your drills and form-focused sets, however, especially when your training load does increase. Time your long swim sets appropriately for the time will come when you can accomplish more volume in the pool. I'm not saying that the occasional long swim is not a great confidence booster but my philosophy for training involves training with the least amount of training stress for the most performance gains.

Did you know interval training may significantly improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity, VO2 and aerobic capacity? Also, lower-volume, higher intensity intervals may also improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity. 

Consider a less-is-more approach in your triathlon "base" phase this year as you train smarter. Because research continues to show that many athletes will benefit from intervals to improve endurance, instead of the slow or steady long miles, get faster before you go longer. And this applies to all three sports for triathletes. 

Here are three workouts to help you get faster in the pool (so long as you have good form FIRST before trying out the sets) before you add volume to train your cardiorespiratory system even more. 

Warm-up and cool-down are choice based on how you are feeling and time constraints. Always be sure to do some dynamic stretching/stretch cords before you swim to warm-up the body.

Workout 1: 
Main set 3x's:
3 x 75's w/ 10 sec rest (keep same cycle as the first one)
1 x 75 EZ - rest 1 minute after this EZ 75, then repeat 2 more times

for the 3 x 75's you are adding on one fast 25 within each 75. So as follows:
#1: 25 fast , 50 EZ for a 75
#2: 50 fast, 25 EZ for a 75

#3: 75 fast

(900 yard main set)

Workout 2: 
Main set 4x's: 
2 x 100's fast on cycle (give yourself 15 sec rest from the first 100 as your cycle for all of the rounds)
Then go right into 50 EZ float (breastroke or back) after the 2nd 100.  
Rest 1 minute, then repeat three more times

(1000 main set)

Workout 3:
Main set: 
4 x 50's (25 fast, 25 steady) 10 sec rest
rest 1 minute
4 x 75's (25 steady, 25 fast, 25 steady), 10 sec rest
rest 1 minute
6 x 100's (desc 1-3, 4-6) rest 10 sec
rest 1 minute
300 @85% effort 
Rest 1 minute
8 x 25's (3 fast, 1 EZ (4 times total) w/ 5 sec rest

(1600 main set)

Adjust intervals/intensity as needed to maintain good form. 

If you are interested in other swim workouts you can check out my 30-swim workout plan to use throughout your training or fitness routine. 

Happy swimming. Or, as Dory would say: just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just swimming.