Our resident Olympian answers your swimming questions
I want to aim for a sub 25-minute mile. I am 35 and have a family so getting to the pool is sometimes a bit tricky. My current mile time is 27 minutes. What advice do you have to help me speed up a bit without losing my life to training?
I often get asked questions around training and getting faster, and I always say it’s a two-pronged approach.
Firstly, to get faster you should improve your technique. If you are more efficient, you will be able to move more water with more power while exerting less energy. A good swim coach will help you hone your technique. If the thought of a coach is too daunting or beyond your budget, look at some swimming technique videos on YouTube. I recommend Swim Smooth, they are simple and easy to understand.
Secondly, train smart! If you go to your pool and always swim at the same pace, that is the only pace your body will know, making swimming faster hard to achieve. When you swim you are training your energy systems, so you need to cover all of them to make you faster. To do that you need to break your swim down into segments (sets). A basic session would include a warm up, a prep set which is normally 4-8 lots of 50 metres getting slightly faster per 50m. This is important as it gets your body ready to swim at a faster pace. Your main set should be 5 to 10 x 100m depending on fitness/time. They should be swum at your best average. When you get more confident at swimming these types of sets, you can work out your threshold speed, aka critical swim speed (CSS), which will give you a measurable speed to aim for.
To finish off the session put in some quality drill or technique work. This will help to embed correct technique.
If you can fit in more pool time this will help, but juggling a busy work andf amily life can be challenging. So try to include some cardiovascular building work, eg power walking or running. This will improve your body’s overall fitness. I hope you achieve your goals.
I’m a 64-year-old bloke who has recently taken up outdoor swimming. During the winter months I am lucky enough to swim in a lagoon in Egypt. I have no ambitions to enter competitions, I just want to enjoy myelf and usually swim a mile. My enjoyment is being hampered by cramp in one calf. I feel I could do more without the cramp getting in the way!
Cramp is the bane of many swimmers’ lives! Having suffered from it myself several times I feel for you. Cramp can be caused by dehydration; excessive strain placed on leg muscles, such as when exercising; or a sudden restriction in the blood supply to the affected muscles. It is important
to keep in mind tendons naturally shorten over time as a person gets older, which may explain why older people are particularly affected by leg cramps. If your tendons become too short, they may cause the muscles connected to them to cramp.
My suggestions are to make sure you’re well hydrated, especially as you are lucky enough to be in the warmth of Egypt. Try not to just drink water, as sometimes too much can cause you to wash your salts out of your system. Instead try a weak cordial with a pinch of salt in it to act as a ‘holding agent’.
Before swimming, spend five minutes warming up your lower half to promote blood supply to your legs. Gentle leg swinging is a perfect pre- swim warm up. Finally, try to relax your kick a little. If you are tense then you are more likely to suffer from cramp.