“People wish to learn to swim and at the same time to keep one foot on the ground” Marcel Proust 1871 -1922. I’m sure that Proust was not talking about triathlon when he made the above statement however it resonates deeply with many of those of us involved in coaching triathletes to improve their swim abilities. I’ll state it quite simply that there is no substitute for spending time in the water in order to improve your swimming ability. Spend some time just immersing (pun intended) yourself in swim training, increase your volume and you will improve. I know I will already be losing some readers who want the quick fix, the latest technique or technology to get faster with less effort and time. To those I will say please stay and read on as by doing so you truly will be on the road to a better swim split.
I consulted a couple of weighty tomes on my bookshelf to consider what volume is considered to be. Former national performance director of British Swimming, Bill Sweetenham and coach John Atkinson consider in Championship Swim Training that 40km a week is the starting point. The astounding thing here is there are not talking about swimmers they are talking about triathletes. When Sweetenham and Atkinson come to swimming per se they consider that swimming 8 hours a week offers “participation, fun, involvement and significant health benefits, but it is not competition swimming and never produces” what they call “a competitive result”. Bear in mind they are talking about competitive swimmers when they make this statement but it puts swim volume in perspective I believe. Again I may be starting to lose more readers who really don’t want to hear this but I’ve said it before; “I’ve not come across a good swimmer that hasn’t swum lots”, yet this is the one area of triathlon where it appears people are looking for the secret. For those of you still with me I am not saying go out and swim 40km or 8 hours a week what I am saying is that by spending some time training like a swimmer will improve your ability to swim in a triathlon.
If you were training a marathon runner you would probably have them build up to run a long run of around 20 -22 miles or 76 – 84% of race distance. Reading this across to swimming would mean an Ironman distance triathlete would build up to swim a constant 2900 – 3200m. No stopping, no drinks, just do the distance. The key here is to build up. Swimming has less impact on the joints hence you could quite easily go over distance, and in swimming you could do this a number of times whereas with running you would limit it.
So try turning up that volume and seeing how you get on.