Interesting Developments in the Water

I’m feeling very inspired today, so I have to put pen to paper. Last year at Texas 70.3 I came out of the water shoulder to shoulder with fellow Canadian triathlete Cody Beals. Here are the results (he’s in 5th, I’m in 10th). This year on the other hand, he came out 2:01 ahead of me. Here are the results. After the race I gave this some serious thought. I think it’s blatantly obvious that he is doing something right. He is training under Tim Floyd with the Magnolia Masters group out of Woodlands Texas. I have spoken to Tim on a number of occasions, and I read Cody’s blog regularly. From what I have been able to gather, Tim doesn’t believe in swimming massive sets. He believes in doing short but very fast sets. Said in my own words, he believes in getting into the pool, swimming really fast, then getting out. Two weeks ago I also had my most trusted training advisor come over and he went for a swim with me. I showed him what I normally do at the pool and he politely said he thinks I’m going about it all wrong. He had me do some hard 50s instead of the “long stroke 100s, 200s, and 400s” I had been doing.

On the first day of doing short and fast 50s I was able to come in around 37 seconds, leaving on a minute. If I swam really hard I might be able to get down under 36 seconds. I did some more 50s the next day but interestingly I was able to get under 37 seconds much easier. The sensation I got was that my arms and hips were beginning to work more in unison. Said another way, I was beginning to lock onto the water with my arm and then pull my arm through the water utilizing my hips and core, as opposed to just pushing my arm through the water utilizing the muscles of my arms.

With Ironman Texas looming, I decided to do a 2k tempo swim the next day. I swam 28:19. That is 1:25/100m. What was interesting about the swim was that it didn’t feel very taxing, it actually felt quite controlled. The next day I went back to doing fast 50s, and a couple of 100s. This time round I was starting to come in consistently in 36 seconds, and if I pushed hard I could go 35 and sometimes even 34 seconds. The most interesting part was that the 36 second 50m effort after a couple days of practice, felt like the 38 second 50 meter effort from a few days ago. I swam a few 100s at the end of the set and I was surprised at how easy and controlled a 1:18 hundred felt. For fun, I swam a 200m fairly controlled and the clock read 2:36. I thought perhaps I had made a mistake and that it said 2:46, so I swam another one. Nope, still said 2:36. I was taken a back a bit, it was the easiest a 2:36 two-hundred had felt in my entire life.

The next day I did some more 50s. Once again there was progression. 36 seconds was feeling pretty decent, and I was beginning to come in consistently at 35 seconds. The next day I decided to do a 3k tempo. My intention was to hold 1:25/100m again, but for 1 kilometer longer. When I started swimming I realized that 1:25/100m was too slow. To achieve the same perceived exertion as I had just two days prior in my 2k tempo, I needed to swim faster. I ended up swimming the 3k in 41:30. That is exactly 1:23/100m. The most interesting part of the swim was that it actually felt easier than the 2k tempo I had done a few days prior!

At this point I was starting to really believe that Tim Floyd must be onto something with his training philosophy so I messaged him to find out more information. He said he’s not surprised I am seeing very quick gains and that he feels I could improve my swimming drastically based on what he knew about the training I had been posting on my blog. Long story short, we’re going to meet up while I’m in Woodlands Texas for the Ironman, and we’re going to discuss if there’s a way for us to work together.

But the story doesn’t end there. We’re nearing the reason why I am even writing this blog post. I took the next day off to compete in the Ironhawk Duathlon. Results here if you are interested. This brings me to yesterday, where I swam some 50s and 100s. I was hitting 35 second 50s pretty consistently. When I went up to the 100s, I was surprised to find how much easier 1:15 felt. Since I haven’t swam a straight 4 kilometers in at least a year, I decided today was a better day than ever to do it. I went through the first kilometer in 13:20, the second kilometer in 13:44, the third kilometer in 13:41, and the fourth kilometer in 13:42 for a total time of 54:27.

Being a weak swimmer for almost as long as I can remember now, I was a bit flabbergasted that I had actually swam that fast for that long. That is 1:21.7/100m for 4000m. If you had asked me three weeks ago if I would be able to average 1:21.7/100m for 4000m I would have most definitely said NO! What was even more amazing was that it wasn’t very difficult. My prior best for 4 kilometers was 58:20, set about a year ago. This swim was definitely easier than that one!

I’m not quite sure what the moral of the story is here. Perhaps the moral is that I don’t know anything about how to coach myself in swimming. A more useful take home message is that swimming is very complex and it is likely that there is not one single solution to the problem. I had become infatuated with swimming “the long stroke,” and I do believe this had value in my development, but I do not think it is the final solution to the problem of swimming slow. Regardless, perhaps incorporating some short fast 50s into your training will help you see some gains. The best way I can describe what I feel is happening at the moment is that: My arm is locking onto the water out front, then instead of pushing my arm through the water using the muscles of my arm, I am engaging the lat and utilizing my hips to generate the force. The whole body seems to be working more in unison, and it appears that this is allowing me to generate more force for propulsion, which is resulting in me not feeling as taxed at constant speed.

As I learn more, I will continue to update. I was just blown away by how quickly I have seen gains from this style of training and I thought it was worth sharing.