Top Tips,  Training and Technique

Don’t do all your swimming for the year in January

What are your swimming goals for the year? And how can you best achieve them, whether it’s doing your first open water swimming on taking on a massive challenge such as crossing the English Channel?

Wherever you are along that spectrum, we sincerely hope you achieve your swimming goals and what we publish helps you to do so. We also understand (mostly through our own experience) that while it’s typical and traditional to start a year with good intentions, it’s hard to sustain a new regime. February is a cold dark month better suited to hibernation than early morning swimming sessions. The summer still seems a long time away so it’s easy to let things slip. The trouble is, if you stop in February, getting started again in March just doesn’t seem to happen. Then Easter rolls around and before you know it the clocks go forward and that wonderful swim you had planned for June is nearly upon you, except you haven’t done the training. Never mind, you think. There’s always next year.

However, there are a few tricks you can use to keep your New Year’s enthusiasm alive until the summer and to ensure you’re not one of those people who clogs up the pool lanes in January and is never to be seen thereafter.

1. Don’t go crazy in January

After a long, lazy break at Christmas you might feel full of energy and raring to go so you embark on a high intensity regime of exercise and diet hoping for a quick result. This is almost certainly unsustainable once the realities of work and life kick back in. Secondly, swimming fitness takes time and patience to build.

Starting too hard, fast or long is more likely to result in injury or burn-out than world-beating performance. It’s better to start small, with short swim sessions you can easily manage and plenty of rest in between. Just enjoy being in the water in January and don’t set yourself unrealistic targets for what can be achieved in a month.

2. Set yourself a mini-goal for the end of February

February is the hardest month to stay motivated. That summer swim you want to do is still (seemingly) far away and the weather is probably grim.

Aim to do something simple such as a 400m time trial at the end of the month or perhaps enter a masters pool gala. Your performance doesn’t matter at this stage. The idea is to have a fixed date in the calendar to give you that extra push you need this month to do your training.

3. Give yourself a reward if you keep training until the end of March

If you can keep up regular training sessions for three months, you’ll be well on the way to establishing a permanent habit. That deserves a celebration.

Take some friends and family out for dinner – but make it conditional on completing your training for the month. Or come to our fifth anniversary party (details coming soon).

4. Get outside in April – but keep it short

If you’re not a committed year-round outdoor swimmer, the end of April is probably your first chance to swim outdoors. Your first open water swim (or your first one of the year) will almost certainly feel brutally cold, so keep it short.

This isn’t about distance or time in the water but it is a major step on your open water swimming journey. The buzz you get from swimming outside, however briefly, should motivate you to keep up the training.

5. Enjoy May

If you’ve made it this far, you might find it hard to stop. May is a wonderful month for open water swimming as the water is (usually) warming up fast and water clarity in inland lakes and rivers is also normally excellent at this time of year as plant and algae growth is still low.

While you can switch increasing amounts of your swimming to the great outdoors, we’d still recommend a regular pool session for focused technique and pace work in preparation for June.

6. Make it count in June

June is a big month for open water swimming in the UK. The Great North Swim is scheduled for the second weekend of the month, BLDSA’s Champion of Champions takes place in Dover Harbour and there are plenty of other swims to choose from. The first Channel relay swimmers will be setting off for France.

Now is the time to ease back on the training and make it all count in your chosen event. Do the swim, and celebrate a job well done.

By the end of June, your swimming habits should be well and truly established. Use the summer to explore some wild swimming locations or take part in one of the many other mass participation events that run through until September. If you want to extend your racing season beyond that, then look to southern Europe or (if you’ve got the cash) the Caribbean. Alternatively, do as many open water swimmers did in 2015 and continue swimming outside through autumn and winter as you become increasingly acclimatised to cold water. Another option is to return to the pool to work on swimming technique or perhaps compete in UK masters nationals.

If you’ve set yourself an open water swimming related goal for 2016 then sustaining your efforts through the first few months will be the hardest but once you’ve managed that you should find plenty of reasons to keep swimming throughout the year, and beyond.

Finally, for a regular boost to your motivation, we of course recommend taking out a subscription to Outdoor Swimmer Magazine.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.