Published on December 29, 2012
When it comes to getting the most benefit from training, it's no secret that quality trumps quantity.
If you read my article “Top 10 Reasons Exercise Is Bad For You“, then you know how too much exercise can be harmful (and what you can do about it)…
…and my post on “10 Ways Ironman Triathletes Can Avoid Chronic Cardio Self-Destruction” goes into good techniques for triathletes to get the most training efficiency.
Whether or not you're a swimmer, there are concepts in this article that apply to all forms of training…
And now, let's hear from Kevin Koskella…
“How much did you do today?”
That's often the question heard around pools where triathletes practice. Usually, the answer is a number measured in yards or meters that we swim.
Common wisdom is that the more you can do in a single workout, the better shape you are getting yourself into. I've even heard swimmers complain that they “only had time for 2000 yards today!” – as if there is some number that qualifies as a complete workout and anything short of that is utter failure.
Back in the 1970's, the popular notion in age group swimming communities was the more, the better. Let's train 4 hours a day in the pool, 10,000 yards wasn't enough, let's do 15,000 or 20,000 on big days! Long Slow Distance (or LSD) was the name of the game.
Physically, this led to a lot of shoulder injuries and other signs that bodies were breaking down.
Mentally, this led to burnout.
And the bottom line was, high yardage wasn't working. It was overkill. Throughout the next couple of decades, the massive distance workouts came down to more reasonable levels with most clubs.
But today, there is still a hangover from those days of staring at the “black line” at the bottom of the pool for hours at a time.
We still compare ourselves with other athletes and with what we did yesterday or last week. “I must up my yards!” we say, but this idea of “more is better” is just outdated thinking.
In recent times, we have seen ultra marathoners posting PR's after cutting their training time in half. We have seen the value of sprint work for marathon training, the benefits of weights and yoga for swimming. However, we still insist on adding up yards, laps, and miles in the pool.
I'm here to tell you that there is a better way!
Quality should be emphasized over quantity. Stroke technique is the most important thing you can work on if you're a beginner swimmer. Nothing will make up for poor technique – including adding distance to your workouts.
If you've got an adequate stroke for triathlon swimming already, then you're in luck. Workouts can become a lot more fun than what you've been doing and I, as a swim coach, officially give you permission to cut down on your pool time.
Most people are doing long boring workouts in the pool like:
-Main Set: 10x200s
-Warm Down: 200
Often times, these are mindless workouts, done on an interval and a pace that doesn't vary. This will train your body to do what it has done in the past, but nothing more. You won't lose speed but you won't likely make gains either.
Let's take that swim workout above and “hack” it, and make it more quality and less quantity. Here's what that would look like:
Begin with 12×100's
-#1 is a warm up 100
-100's #2-11 90% effort, with :30 rests after each
-#12 is cool down 100
Get out of the pool and do 3 rounds of:
You just cut your swimming down by about 2/3rds and probably saved half the time you would have with the old workout- and you're getting even more out of it. Of course, this workout may be too advanced for your current fitness level, so you can feel free to cut it down – you will be getting benefits from it no matter what level you are currently.
Finally, keep in mind that the key to improvement is recovery. The swimming hacks are not meant as intensity shortcuts – in fact, these workouts are much more intense than what you're probably used to. There is no one-size-fits-all. You may need more rest between workouts than you were taking before. Listen to your body and don't be tempted to go back to the old ways of adding up yards and laps in the pool to measure progress!
What better time to start your swimming hacks than right now in the winter? Leave your questions, comments or feedback below and be sure to check out TriSwimCoach for even more swim tips (you can use 10% discount code BENG10 on anything there)!