Category: drills


Ah Wednesday night technique sets. Nothing gives me more insight into what I’m doing to make things more difficult for myself. Luckily there’s also nothing wrong with the idea of getting faster, or better, or being able to swim further with no extra input of energy.

This Wednesday we were focussing on kicking.

I don’t know if I’ve done much on here about kicking. As a general rule, in endurance swimming, kicking isn’t a major component of our swim technique. If you watch shorter distance sprinters swim, you’ll see some crazy 6- and 8-beat kick rhythms that really are part of propelling the swimmer through the water. With endurance event, though, we tend to aim for a 2-beat kick. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that the muscles we use in our legs to kick are large, and therefore use a lot of energy compared to the amount of propulsion you get in return. Your arms, in contrast, have a much better return on investment of energy. In a sprint this is OK, but for endurance events, it just means you wear out quicker.

That being said, bad kicking technique can have implications for other parts of your stroke. And I stand up and am the first to admit that I have bad kick technique.

In fact, I use the photo below as my Facebook cover photo. It’s a great photo, which is why I use it, but I have to confess that every time I look at it I cringe a little at my bent knee…I’ve added lines in to show what I’m talking about….

knee bend

Ideally, that knee should be pretty much straight. More like the lovely example below…

Much Better

The good news is, that there are some really good drills you can do to work on your kick. We did one before we even got in the water. There was a set of stairs leading up from the pool to the grassed sitting area, and we did some practice of good kicking technique with one leg standing on the step sideways, and the other swinging clear. This was great for the coaches to be able to check technique and for us to feel what good kicking feels like (engaging the glutes!).

We did various other drills in the pool using fins, and focussing on pointing our toes and not bending our knees. I did feel like it really helped improve my kicking technique (although it will take some time to embed that as a good habit), and as an added bonus, I found that the improved kick helped with my biggest technical challenge -my body position in the water. I tend to have to fight very hard to keep my legs and lower body from sinking down below the surface, and therefore creating unnecessary drag. Working on my kick noticeably improved that, so it’s doubly useful!

Last Wednesday was technique training again. As we did the drills I was concentrating on each part of the drill and making sure I was focussed on the individual skills and movements involved.

Then coach Kingy picked up that I was not following my catch all the way through to my leg. Remember that resolution from a short 3 weeks ago? About operation thumbs up? I was totally not doing that.

It’s pretty tough, getting your stroke right. When you really break it down there so many different ways you can do every part of your stroke and it’s just not possible to focus on all of them at the same time, let alone while you’re trying to keep your swimming relaxed!

So how do you improve then? I personally feel it’s a a case of embedding. You do something over and over again, in this case using the drills to focus on one little thing at a time. Eventually you’re doing things more the correct way than the incorrect way, and then that becomes the habit or the muscle memory.

I’ve been pretty happy with my times improving recently, and I know that this embedding is a big part of why consistent training works…that, and increased fitness. You need to keep doing things the right way in training until they just become the way you naturally do them all the time!

Sounds simple, right? well I guess I have to keep up the practice on operation thumbs up because it’s clearly not yet part of my natural stroke. More embedding on the horizon for me!

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I’ve mentioned the 3-5-7 breathing drill in a couple of posts. It’s actually a bit of a favourite of mine…one I can do, but that you can keep pushing yourself on if you’re feeling motivated.

It’s one of the simplest drills to do. You start swimming. Do 3 strokes and then breathe. Next do 5 strokes and then breathe. Next do 7 strokes and then breathe. Then start again with 3 strokes…5 strokes…7 strokes. You get the picture. If you’re really feeling like challenging yourself you can add a 9 on the end of each cycle…and I suppose theoretically you could go higher.

I personally find the drill gets harder the longer you do it for. The first couple of cycles and you’re going fine, but as your body fatigues it starts wanting more oxygen and you start going for great gasps on each breathe.

There is a trick to this drill, as with all of them. The thing to remember with all questions of breathing, is that it’s generally better to exhale, than to hold your breath. If you hold your breath you get a build up of carbon-dioxide in your system. When that happens you start to get that uncomfortable kind of panicky feeling. Instead, it’s far better to smoothly exhale as you swim.

When most people do this drill for the first time, they tend to try to swim really fast on the 7-stroke part of the drill, to try to get to that breathe sooner. In fact, it’s an awful lot easier of you focus on slowing down your stroke and swimmingly smoothly and efficiently. If you’re thrashing in the water all you do is use up your oxygen faster!

So why do we do this drill? Well, there are a couple of different reasons.

  • It’s good for developing lung capacity.
  • It’s good for learning not to hold your breath.
  • It’s good to know what running out of air feels like and how to not panic when that happens (useful in big surf).

This is an easy one to do on your own as it’s pretty self-explanatory, doesn’t take any special kit and doesn’t involve any special technique, so by all means give it a go!

Wow, I haven’t been to a 4SEASons Wednesday session since 24th October.

It’s not like I’ve done it on purpose, but my Can Too Mentor group was the ABC pool on Wednesdays, and they’ve been kind of the most awesome thing ever.

That being said, it was kind of nice to get back to a proper technique session. Even though i’m totally out of practice with these things and completely forgot my pullbuoy and fins.

Regardless of my forgetfulness, I managed to get a really lot out of this session.

As I mentioned about last week’s endurance set, I seem to have suddenly gotten a little faster. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that seems to have happened pretty much while I’ve been focussed on a change to the timing of my stroke. In fact, in my experience, a change to technique is the only thing that will give you a step change in times. Anything else, like general fitness, will give gradual improvements, but they won’t be as marked or as sudden.

Not to undervalue that other stuff…technique improvements tend to be less frequent, and after a while those sudden things are harder and harder to find as you get better at everything and learn more.

But for this season, the tick of holding just a fraction longer seems to have made a huge difference….I think something to do with making me rotate more (always a challenge for me).

The thing is, though, you can never get too comfortable with your swimming. You might improve (note I don’t say “master”) one thing, but that’s just as likely to highlight something else you can improve. To keep it in perspective I try to remember that even the top swimmers have coaches and work on this stuff down to the tiniest degrees forever. And ever amen.

Interestingly, I have been letting myself fall into this trap, and been a bit chuffed with myself and my decreasing times. Seems a technique session was just what I needed to jolt myself out of it and remember that this is a game of continuous improvement.

One thing we can use to measure our improvement in the pool, is a stroke count. The number of strokes it takes for you to swim 50m is a pretty good indication of how efficiently you are swimming. My count is pretty atrocious and a very good indicator of just how much I rely on strength, stubbornness and good old-fashioned moxie to get me through. Bad enough I don’t want to admit it and quote numbers on here.

Thing is, though, we did a few different drills. And then switched to one in particular that gave me what we call in my (corporate) job and “ah-ha!” moment. (I think they used to be called “light bulb” moments before we all switched to compact flouros).

The drill was a very simple one that involved swimming as normal, but ticking your thumbs out and making sure they brushed each hip at the end of each catch. Lo and behold, something finally clicked in my head and I realised I’ve been focussing so much on the front quadrant of my stroke, that I’ve been completely neglecting to make sure I follow all the way through with my catch. All that energy to get there and I’m wasting all that energy that’s just stored up and ready to go.

Well, not only did I manage to drop a substantial number of strokes per 50m….I now know what my next real technique focus is going to be.

Wish me luck as I embark on Operation “thumbs”!

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I hadn’t been to a Tuesday endurance set since before Christmas. I think I was a bit scared…those sets can be kind of brutal.

Time to put on the big-girl-pants, though. Harden up and get back to it. For me, nothing works better at improving my speed and fitness.

Big Girl Pnats

Big Girl Pants

 

Funny, though, how sometimes you can surprise yourself. I’ve been swimming quite a lot this summer. Not as much as I’d like, and some of it has been kind of focussed on other people’s progress instead of my own (no complaints, mind you…loved every second of it). On the other hand, I’ve been focussing pretty hard on a small change to my stroke, have been staying very active, not drinking too much, and eating well. And it seems, on the balance I’ve come out ahead.

We were doing sets trying to stay consistent, and keep to our lat time-trial 100m average times. Pacing, as it were. Thing is, after the first 100m i looked at my watch and realised there was no way I was going to be able to swim at my time trial pace. I was going way faster!

I did a reasonable job of keeping to a consistent time for my laps. Well, apart from a random one I suspect was more due to my inability to use my watch properly rather than one super-slow The good news is my new 100m time is a good 8 seconds faster than it was in November.

Who’d have thunk it? Apparently all this training actually works!

Would it be wrong for me to be thinking I’d quite like to do a time-trial right now?

As a little aside; as proud of myself as I was, it was incredibly impressive to see Fiona back at training a mere 6 weeks after giving birth to the super-cute Lachlan! She’s always been an inspiration (she’s the one who got me started on this whole swimming thing in the first place) and she outdid herself this time!

I didn’t make Monday night at Clovelly (again!) due to a Can Too mentor meeting. Next week it will take wild horses to keep me away!

Instead I went to the endurance session at Victoria park. It was kind of funny as I’ve been swimming in salt water for the last couple of weeks and being back in chlorine was kind of weird. Still, it was good to be stretching out and having a good distance swim. Definitely what I need if I’m planning on trying to step up to the Coogee to Bondi 5km in April.It’s always such a balance between technique, beach skills, fitness, interval training, and keeping the sense of joy in swimming.

Coach Kingy introduced this set as a “pyramid” set. I’ve written about pyramid sets before, and they’re usually pretty standard, varying only in how far it is to the top of the pyramid. Tuesday, however, Coach Kingy mixed it up a bit, and may have invented swimming’s first “Mayan Pyramid” drill.

mayan pyramid

mayan pyramid

See the similarity?

I was very excited all day. I missed the first Monday training session at Clovelly last week as my motorbike had broken down and was still on the shop, making it difficult to get there and almost impossible to get home afterwards.

This week, though, I was ready and raring to go. I’ve been having so much fun swimming lately that I was really keen…literally fidgeting in my seat at work as the day dragged to a close and I could leave.

Things don’t always go according to plan, though, as a request came through just as I was packing up to go. Gah! Don’t they know I have a date with the beach??? Anyway, I managed to power through and only leave 10 minutes later than planned.

Next was the ride over. I’ve only been to Clovelly once before, and that was leaving from home and not the city…and I had Fiona giving me directions. I know how bad I am at these things so I had looked up directions, printed them off and had them handy and available in my front pocket.

All was going along fine, and then I saw an actual street sign pointing to Clovelly. The direction was different to what Google maps had told me…I had to make a split-second decision. Unfortunately I chose wrong. I took the turn-off with the sign. And got horribly lost. And tried to turn around and found myself confronted with no right turn signs wherever I wanted to turn right, and various other dramas. Unfortunately this is not even a slightly new experience for me.

So…after riding around all sort of crazy Randwick and Clovelly streets, stopping twice to check maps on my phone, I finally found myself on the right track. even though I was horribly late, I decided to head down anyway…hopefully I could either do a shorter session, my own swim, or at the very least be a bit more familiar with the right way to go for next week.

I finally rocked up to Clovely…20 minutes late, and not in the best of moods. I wandered around, but to my surprise, couldn’t see any distinctive orange caps. Clovelly very contained…almost like a pool but open to the ocean at one end, so it’s not like I would have expected to not see anyone.

 I decided to take a seat and check the timetable on my phone…maybe I had somehow gotten Clovelly and Coogee confused?

Well, it seems it wasn’t the location, but the time I had wrong. I had been trying to get there by 6 and the session didn’t start til 6:30. I was actually 10 minutes early, and looked up to see the first swimmers and coach Zoe arrive!

My first Facebook status for the evening:

I may have hidden talents, but being good with directions is not one of them. Luckily I also suck at attention to detail so am actually early, not late as I thought!
Not one to let the opportunity pass, I rocked up to training and started the session.
 
Clovelly is kind of a funny spot to swim at. It has the beach down one end, but is more of an ocean channel with concrete walkways and ladders along each side. It’s also completely packed with fish! Lots of bigger than you’d expect fish…so many that at times I felt a bit like I might accidentally scoop one up as I swam! The light wasn’t great, but one night I’ll have to take the camera in for a swim as I’m certain of some great wildlife shots.
 
It was also subject to some pretty strange thermal currents….varying widely between some pretty warm spots to some areas that seemed seriously freezing. It was like hitting a wall of icy water!
 
After a warm up lap of the channel, we did a set designed to keep the heart-rate elevated…slow swim to the first ladder on the left, medium swim across to the corresponding ladder on the  right, then hard swim back to shore (helped along by a nice little current running along that side). Then a sand run, squat, lunges or other exercise of choice on the beach, and repeat to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ladders.
 
I actually chickened out on the 4th ladder part of that set…the water out the back was so cold, and I had neither wetsuit or rashie for any coverage (just 37 years worth of being a carb-lover, which is not entirely unhelpful) and was starting to feel that horrible wrong cold where I couldn’t stop shivering. I opted to do two laps to the first ladder instead until we finished.
 Clovelly Sunset
Despite my inauspicious travels to Clovelly, I very much enjoyed the set, and I always prefer swimming in salt water to a pool. I was pretty happy my two errors cancelled each other out and I had managed a set after all. I packed up (no changerooms, so clothes over the top of swimmers), took a pretty picture of the sunset, and rode home (no unscheduled detours or anything).
 
I was pretty cold by the time I got home, so headed straight for a long hot shower. Only to discover the source of my second Facebook status update of the night…
 
ahhh…seems i have had a bit of a hair colour day….notice anything odd about this garmin map from tonight’s swim at Clovelly?
A VERY Long Swim

A VERY Long Swim

Yup, I’d forgotten to stop the GPS tracking when I stopped swimming.

Guess it was just one of those days…

As the seasons change and the weather warms up and it’s light in the evenings, us ocean swimmers start to mix things up a bit. During the winter we’ve been focussing on endurance and strength (and practicing with challenging surf conditions), and that’s the prefect time for it. Now racing season is looming and it’s time to think about what we need to do to do well at the events.

That means the focus shifts to a couple of things:

  1. Technique. Worth revising to make sure we’re optimising power forward through the water, minimising drag against the water, and not injuring ourselves doing it.
  2. Speed. Or in other words, cardio vascular fitness.
  3. Ramp up = More sessions.

To that end, 4SEAsons have switched their Wednesday night sessions to technique night!

This is brilliant for me (this week, anyway)…as my technique is kinda, well, suboptimal. ahem.

Technique is one of those things where you have to aim for continual improvement, not perfection. It’s such a complicated thing you’re doing, using your whole body, and there’s really no single answer to the right way to swim. Different body types, different conditions, different habits, different strengths and weaknesses and injuries…it is really a lot of variables.

On Wednesday night we worked on a couple of drills designed to help with arms and timing. To help with this we used fins for the first time in ages, as they give you extra propulsion through the water and allow you to concentrate on slowing down your stroke to concentrate on different aspects of it, without feeling (all the time) like you’re going to drown.

I use these Speedo BioFUSE as they’re pretty inexpensive, fit in a backpack, and that’s what was in stock when I was shopping and they do exactly the job they need to do, exactly the way I want them to, so I’m pretty happy. (Not sure that fins could be life-changing, so don’t want to get too weirdly overly enthusiastic here).

You’ll note these are pretty different to diving or snorkelling fins. They’re a lot shorter, for a start, and quite rigid. This is because they’re designed for a distinctly different purpose. Dive\snorkelling fins are designed to give as much propulsion as possible with as little output of energy as possible (when diving, so you use less air and can stay down longer before your tank runs out). These fins are just designed to give you a little bit more than a regular kick…mostly to work on different aspects of your stroke, catch, or return.

They do have a slight down-side for some people (me included). Wearing fins does make you more susceptible to foot cramps. I’m not exactly sure why, but I know that I need to make sure I relax while swimming and stretch out well when the inevitable cramps hit. Not a biggie or a deal-breaker, given the benefits you can get from using fins in your drills, but something to be aware of.

Tuesday training last week was a funny one. Daylight savings has just begun, so there are now two options for training sessions on a Tuesday…a 6pm session and a later 7pm session (the pool opens an hour later during summer).

I had initially thought that I would be switching to the later session, as it’s always a bit of a rush for me to make the earlier sessions. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Turns out I had basically finished what I needed to at work and so I left in time and made the early session anyway.

Making the earlier session definitely had some advantages. The group was smaller so we had plenty of space in the lane. this meant that I could make up for last Wednesday’s lack of tumble turn practice! I definitely did this and even started doing a few at the shallow end (with a bit of encouragement from coach Zoe) since we were doing 300 metre sets which involve turning at both ends. I’m still feeling a little uncoordinated and the more tired I get the worse I get at the turns, but I finally feel like I’m getting more of them right than wrong so I’m calling it a victory. Albeit a victory with more work to be done.

The set was another one of those pacing sets that seems deceptively simple, but has the capacity to completely kick your butt!

Swim 300m at you time trial average pace.

Rest 60 seconds.

Repeat.

That 60 seconds feels like a very long time at first….but by the end I was doing my usual red-faced huffing and puffing and needed every second of it! guess that’s what I’m there for, though. I don’t think it’s ever supposed to feel easy!

Oops! Missed a week…sorry. I’m assuming anyone who’s really seriously and strictly following the Ky Hurst training program I’ve been posting here has probably signed up themselves and isn’t too upset that I missed a week and am posting two at a time here. Right? Right?

Anyway, here are the two latest weeks…

week 5 on active recovery and week 6 on the taper.

Interestingly, in the last two weeks of the plan he talks about active recovery and tapering to ensure you are rested and in peak form for a goal event.

It’s a good point that a lot of people don’t get when training for any type of event. Essentially, any work you do pays off about 2 weeks later. The catch here is that it’s not like a test at school…you can’t do a last minute cram and train like crazy in the last 2 weeks before an event….it’ll do you more harm than good!

Once you hit those last two weeks you really want to be doing just enough that you are staying comfortable in the water and maintaining a routine. The focus is really on resting and eating well and sleeping well to ensure you can really output maximum energy on the day.

I have, on occasion taken this approach. Particularly the first year I swam, I followed a very specific training program geared towards a particular goal swim, and I definitely did a proper taper before the event.

More recently, however, during summer it’s not uncommon for me to be racing just about every weekend. Last season I spent 13 individual days racing and I didn’t start til after Christmas. Under these kind of circumstances (crazy ones? well, maybe) the line between training and racing does start to blur after a while.

Regardless, my strategy involved taking it fairly easy at the Saturday sessions before a race, and weighing up how far, what the conditions would be like and what else was going on week to week. For a big race somewhere in open water (as opposed to a course that is entirely inside a bay) I’ll know that I’m going to need more energy than a short course at Bondi. Regardless, the principles of active recovery are really important here. I’ll make race day the hardest swim of the week….and then it can do double duty as a training day for 2 weeks later!

If you’re looking for them, here’s week 1 and week 2 and week 3 and week 4

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