What gives you an edge (part 2)

(to part 1)

How do you apply the “keep it easy” and “to be good at something, you must do it” principles to your swimming equipment? Recently, I wanted to buy some new training tool. Back when I was a competition swimmer we trained only with really basic stuff, but it worked. Hence, my two cents: if you can do without it, then you don’t need it. When I began swimming again some time ago I saw that everybody else’s mash bag in the pool was full with pool gadgets. Like a child, of course me too I wanted new toys. I am not talking about expensive equipment, usually swimming accessories are simple pieces of plastic. However, it’s better to use money wisely. So what can you fill in your mash bag that actually help you improving?

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My pull, smoked goggles and “basic”paddles.

“Must have”, “nice to have”, and “don’t waste your money”

Paddles. Paddles are awesome. I always loved paddles. When I was a swimmer sometimes it happened that I cracked and crashed common commercial paddles in my hand  while swimming, it didn’t matter brand or size. So the grandfather of a friend of mine made me a particularly thick custom-made pair, the best paddles I ever used. Anyway, I digressed. Paddles are awesome because for me they are the best swimming-specific strength training tool you can have. Today’s paddles come in any size and shape, but I like sticking to old style classic flat paddles with a few holes drilled in. They build strength, take care of your technique, they are cheaper and do the job as well as all those paddles with such futuristic shapes that seem coming from science fiction films.

Kickboard. Kickboard is another must have. Remember that if a chain is strong only as much as its weakest link, with a kickboard you can realize whether your legs are up to the par. Mines are not, I always struggled and I am still struggling with kick sets. Back in the past I used a big foam kickboard, thick, flat, wide and long. I loved it because you could chat easily with your kick buddy, it kept your upper body up quite well. Recently I bought a smaller one, sligthly hollowed in the middle, so that you can use it as a pull buoy as well. Now I think that it makes sense to use a smaller kickboard, so that your body is flatter and your spine doesn’t make strange curves.

Pull buoy. This is the last of the three basic pieces of equipment I consider as “must have”. As the name says, you use a pull buoy when you want to pull just with your upper body, without using the legs. It helps with buoyancy, so that you can focus on your arms and don’t need to thick about your legs. It can also be used instead of a kickboard if you really want to struggle with some kick sets. I did the mistake of buying one too thick, and it slips out of my leg after a few flips. If I use it with the ankle band (see below) it works nicely.

Goggles. I know that this is not a piece of equipment and also I know that this doesn’t need any explanation on the reason it is a “must have”. I listed goggles here because you can pick up yours among hundreds now. Big, small, hydrodynamics, with extra durable silicon gasket, mirrored, polarized, 180 degree view and many other features. Some goggles are quite pricey, well over 50 dollars. As for me, basic is better. I tried my first swedish when I was 11 years old I think, and I never went back. You just have to take care of the rubber band, otherwise they will last forever, well past your swim life. They are small so they are quite hydrodynamic too, they don’t interfere with your swim, you usually don’t lose them when you dive, you don’t feel them on, if somebody breaststroke kick you in the face, their lens is not going to break and cut you around your eye. And they are the cheapest goggles out there. So that you can have a mirrored lens pair for outdoor and a light blue lens pair for indoor swimming. I also found in a pocket that I have a third pair with brown lenses (also called smoked lenses I think), which is the one that actually I use the most, both indoor and outdoor.

Ankle elastic band. Since you just have to cut a piece of thick rubber, the cost/efficacy value of an elastic band is the greatest. I don’t consider it essential, but if you want to do some set struggling against the drag, then you must try this. It helps a bit with strength I feel, and I found also that you must be concentrate on your technique otherwise your legs will sink down.

Fins. I didn’t use fins back in the past. That’s because in most swimming pool in Italy, for some obscure reason, you cannot use fins. I ordered my first pair recently and I hope they will arrive soon, because I need leg strength. In fact I think that fins relate to legs as paddles to arms. The only reason I consider fins as “nice to have” is that if you do long distance races as I did and I am still doing, legs are not as important as upper body…legs impose more metabolic demand than arms, while still contributing less to speed. But I recognize that a strong and powerful kick always helps, especially with butterfly. That’s why I ordered mine.

Snorkel. I think that a snorkel too should be considered as “nice to have”. I talked to people who swear on the awesomeness of snorkels, and they are about to be succesfull on convicing me buying one, but I never had one and I got along without quite well. Would I have won a national champs I had trained with a snorkel? I don’t know, but I don’t think I am going to shave off heaps of seconds from my PB now if I had one. What I think it’s good about snorkels is that you can do kicks keeping your body streamlined as when you swim. People says that it also helps concentrating on your stroke technique by eliminating the breathing variable. My take on this is that you do have to consider the breathing variable: what happens if you have a perfect technique with a snorkel on, but you don’t know how to properly coordinate your breathing when you take it off? I think that a snorkel should be a tool for people who already have their technique on tracks.

Wrist trackers for swimming. This is on my “don’t waste your money” black list. If you have a pace clock on the deck, I really don’t see the reason of spending quite a consistent amount of money on a portable wrist swim tracker. Do you need to know how fast you come in? Glance at the pace clock. Do you need to know how many strokes it takes to do a lap? Just count it. Do you need to count your laps? Come on, everybody knows how to count. Do you need to know your HR? Put two fingers on you neck for 15 seconds after the end of a set. And also, if you are at a really high level, you will have a coach doing all the stats for you, if you really need it. If you are not at that level…well…a pace clock will do the job. If you don’t know how to use a pace clock, you have better learn first, because it’s basic knowledge.

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Training 31st December, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 7.5 km (1h 50′)

(warm up) 5 × 400 fs (swim/pull/pull + paddles/pull + paddles + band/ swim);
10 × 100 fs @ 1’20” +
3 × 300 fs @ 4’05″+
4 × 200 @3′ (50 fly/150fs);
7 × 100 fs @1’20” +
3 × 200 fs @2’40″+
500 paddles;
4 × 100 im @1’30” +
3 + 100 @2′ (50 sprint/50easy, 1 fs/2fly) +
200 kick + 100 easy

Notes: last workout of the year. I did this with the people of the informal group. Together with a buddy, we just adjusted rest times. It was not hard, but I felt three days in a row of heavy weight sessions (at least heavy for me). Happy swimming in the new year for everybody!

Training 30th December, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 4.5 km (1h25′)

(warm up) 5 × 300 @5’30” (150 swim/50 kick/50 pull);
10 × (2 × 25 @30″ sprint + 50 @1′ easy);
10 × 50 fs @50″ + 100 easy;
8 × 50 fs @45″ + 100 easy;
6 × 50 fs @42.5″ + 100 easy;
4 × 50 fs @40″;
2 × (50 easy + 50 sprint) + 100 easy

Notes: I think that today was the first time I trained on Friday morning with the informal group. Today was a sprint workout, similar to what I have done alone on Fridays for many weeks. I felt so sore after yesterday sessions that today’s practice was really welcome. 

Training December 29th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 7.3 km (1h 40′)

(warm up) 1000 fs;
1 × 800 fs @ 11′ (in 10’02”) +
2 × 400 fs @5’20” (in 4’57″/4’58”) +
4 × 200 fs @2’40” (in 2’28”) +
8 × 100 fs @1’20” (in 1’14”) +
16 × 50 fs @40″ (in 36″) + 100 easy;
9 × 200 fs @2’45” (3 × swim/3 × pull/3 × pull and paddles) + 100 easy;
2 × 100 (50 sprint/50 easy; 1 × fs/1 × fly) + 100 easy

Notes: this is one of those workout that I would never have done alone. One of mine swimming buddies came up with this today, and I am glad I did it. I like training with this people, because they really force me to push my limits. The main part of the workout was done without any additional rest. I am also glad that I almost kept the same pace for all the main part of the workout.

Training December 28th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 5.1 km (1h 25′)

 

(warm up) 500 fs;
2 x 500 fs @8′ (fast) + 100 easy;
2 x 400 fs @6′ 15″ (fast, in 5’05”) + 100 easy;
2 x 300 fs @4’30” (fast) + 100 easy;
2 x 200 fs @3’15” (fast, in 2’26”) + 100 easy;
12 x 25 kick @45″;
4 x 150 @2’45” (fly/back/fs);
500 fs paddles and pull + 100 easy
 

Notes: I am training more and more with the guys in the informal group and this too it’s one of their workouts. I felt better than yesterday, I was not as fast as I hoped to be, but I didn’t struggle either and I was not much stiff.

What gives you an edge (part 1)

As any other swimmer, I always want to get better. Which basically means getting faster. And I am always looking for “something” that can spark even the tiniest of improvements. It can be some newly published research result, some new training program, or some piece of equipment. In my quest for improvement I realized a couple of things, and this is what I want to share with this post. In the first part of this post I deal with some basic principles that I (try to) apply to my training.

I am not going to disclose any well-kept training secret (I don’t have any and I am not a coach). I am not going to reveal any revolutionary stroke technique (I still have doubts on mine). I am not going to suggest any supplement (I keep my use of supplements limited to vitamins and fish oil). I don’t mean to endorse any particular swimsuit (although I really like my new briefs). And I am not reviewing and giving marks to newly developed pieces of equipment (I already give marks as job, and that’s enough). So if you were waiting for a secret weapon, this post is not for you.  But if you want to realize what you can do to improve, then keep on reading.

The two most universal training principles (for me)

When I plan my workouts, or consider to buy gears or equipment for the pool or the weight room (which is actually my living room), I always try to stick to two basic principles. This is because I realized that actually work.

Principle 1. Stick to the basics and keep it easy. My father often told me “don’t turn easy stuff into complex staff by using unuseful stuff”, which I often translate as “why would you connect two points with a curved line when you can draw a straight one?”. When you  complicate things too much you progressively find yourself inside the process of complicating nothing but the process itself, until you get completely distracted from your goals. The process is important until it helps you reaching your goal, but if the process becomes the goal then you are doing something wrong. You can try to devise a highly sophisticated undulated periodization training scheme, but I suggest you to experience first the amazing results you can get from the old, plain and simple linear periodization. Build your aerobic threshold and work on technique, build your anaerobic threshold, build your speed, build your strength in the meanwhile, add volume little by little and slow down before an important meet. If you never tried this, give it a shoot. On a first instance, I believe that nothing (no device, no supplement, no swimsuit, no equipment) will boost your performance as much as a simple, linear and well planned training program. You have the permit of thinking about more complex stuff at the elite level.

Principle 2. To be good at something, you must do it. Again and again. I think that everybody agrees on the fact that if you want to learn swimming, you must get wet. No shortcuts. If you want to swim faster, you can try all the dryland strength training routine that your mind can devise, but if you don’t spend your good time in the lane, no magic will ever happen. Everything can help, but nothing can substitute thousands of actual strokes. I know that it’s nice to have some equipment to help you with buoyancy, pull, strength, breathing, technique or whatever else; me too I like gadgets and trying new things. But remember that swimming is an ongoing discussion between your body and the water. Nothing is allowed to interfere. Thus, if you want to be good at swimming “raw” you have to swim raw. I always read that if you want to get strong, you must lift. I remember that my overhead press was under the par, less than half my bodyweight, with a regular barbell, from the rack. Then I started doing overhead presses and handstand push up three times a week. Guess what happened? Now I can strict press almost my bodyweight with a thick bar, after cleaning it from the floor. Easy. So you want to swim faster? First thing to do: show up more often at the pool.

In my opinion, summarising these two principles, simplicity and practice is what gives you a real edge, on a first instance. In the second part of this post I review how these two principles apply to widely used swimming equipment.

(go to part 2)

Training December 27th, 2016 (Mullaloo event postponed)

No people on the beach when I received the message that the round was abandoned

This should have been a meet post and not a training one, but the open water swimming competition scheduled for today at Mullaloo beach has been abandonded: swell 3.1m and wind 26.5 knots. So with the guys of the informal group of swimmers (who also were supposed to participate in the same event) we gathered at the swimming pool shortly after the abandonment notice and had a workout in instead. 5km, from 7am to 8:25am.

(warm up) 300 fs + 800 fs (band) + 400 fs + 400 kick;
3 × (5 × 200 fs) @2’45” (5th slow @3’30”)
100 easy

Notes: the workout doesn’t look hard at all, but I somewhat struggled. Positive notice is that my time on 200s got better with the second and then the third set, from 2’32~34″ (first set) to 2’25″~28″ (third set).