Win a luxurious spa weekend courtesy of Arla LactoFREE
FEATURES,  Features

Taking on the 5km challenge

Over the past couple of months we have been following Sam Brett, who has signed up to the 5km Macmillan All Out Swim at Brockwell Lido in October. Work and personal issues have meant that it has been hard for her to commit to training, but she has now finished her teacher training exams and is in the enviable position of having the whole summer to go swimming. We met her at Brockwell Lido for a swim and coaching session and to work with her to create a training schedule to get her to complete the 5km distance comfortably and confidently in October. 

Sam is able to train three or four days a week. She wanted to know how she should best structure her training for optimum gains. And as Sam swims alone, what tips and tricks could she use to maintain motivation.

Swimming three or four times a week should give Sam some real gains in her swimming. We suggest that she splits her week into distance, speed and technique. If she swims an extra session then Sam should choose which discipline she feels she needs most, mix up all three, or just choose whichever makes her happiest – after all, swimming should be fun and enjoyable!

Sam often ends her sessions on a sprint, but we suggested that she devote a whole session to intervals and speed work. This will not only improve her speed but also make her stronger over the 5km distance.

Sam has already invested in a pull buoy, fins and Finis Agility paddles and has been using them in her sessions. We gave her a few new drills to try out and also suggested different ways she could use her training aids.

We also offered some advice on how to mix up your training and make it more fun if you are swimming on your own. Sam plans to join a masters club later in the year, but for the time being trains alone. Without clubmates to spur you on, motivation can be a problem.

2016 07 28 11 46 32 5

In our first session in the water we took a look at Sam’s stroke and gave her a few tips on technique. In the coming weeks we will be following Sam’s progress and giving her more advice on improving her technique and helping her get faster in the water.

The most obvious problem with Sam’s stroke was crossover of her arms and hands in front of her head. This is a common stroke flaw. To help combat the crossover we looked at improving Sam’s body position, rotation, as well as asking her to concentrate on her hand entry, utilising Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion technique of mindful swimming (see August/September issue of H2Open). We then looked at Sam’s recovery, encouraging high elbows and working towards a more relaxed recovery.

“It was great to get some real input on my technique. Being self-taught means that I've kind of made things up as I go along as well as always wondered what I look like when I swim!”



As Sam is working towards swimming 5km she needs to get some miles under her belt. Rather than plodding up and down the pool, better to swim some long intervals, eg, 400m or 500m, keeping good pace throughout.

Speed work

You don’t have to use a pace clock to do intervals, just set yourself a rest time and stick to it at the end of each interval. You don’t even need a watch – just count your rest out in your head. As Sam is going to be swimming 5km she can mix up the length of her intervals, working towards increasing their length as her fitness increases. Some short, sharp intervals are good for fitness, speed and developing a strong finish.


As Sam has fins, paddles and pull buoys she can incorporate all of these into her training to develop her stroke technique, as well as using drills.

Mix it up

Use different strokes to work different muscles. It doesn’t matter if you can’t swim butterfly, just make up your own version of a medley – there are no rules when you are training on your own.

Play fartlek in the pool, as you would do in run training. Sprint to one set of steps, slow to the blackline, steady to the lockers – use whatever landmarks there are at your pool. Sprint for 10secs if you see someone in a red swimming costume, switch stroke every time you pass a lifeguard. Make up your own games to keep training fun.

Don’t always stick to one speed in your intervals – use build sets or swim at varying effort for different parts of the interval. 

Sam has already introduced our tips into her own sessions. “I’ve implemented these strategies into my training and have felt a great improvement in my overall body alignment. I’m looking forward to our next session to see if Jonathan has also noticed an improvement!” We are also looking forward to helping Sam with her challenge for 2017: taking her swimming from lidos into the open water at one of Macmillan’s open water swimming events.

See the Swim Training section of our website for more technique advice and training sets. We’ll be catching up with Sam later in the month to see how her training is progressing.

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.