Avoid the 'one-speed' trap

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When we swim outside it’s very tempting to fall into a comfortable leisurely pace – something akin to a stroll in the countryside type of effort level – and to do all our swimming at this one pace. This is absolutely fine, of course, if your main objective is to enjoy the delights of being outside and swimming in open water.

However, a problem arises if you expect or hope that swims like this will help you become a faster swimmer. While there is a place on a training programme for relaxed recovery swims, if speed is what you are after then you need to train specifically for this. 

If you do all your swimming at one pace you will find it hard to pick up speed in a race.

Understanding your gears and relative speeds as an endurance swimmer is therefore an important element for success and adds variety and interest to training sessions. Here are a couple of training session suggestions designed to help you avoid the “one-speed wonder” trap.

The first session is designed to help you work through changes of pace and develop versatility. The second session is a race simulation, which will provide exposure and conditioning to the demands of racing and changes of pace required. Both sets are written for the pool but could be adapted to open water using marker buoys or a GPS watch.

Pace versatility

Warm up: 400m FS bilateral breathing 

Build set: 4 to 8 x 50m FS incorporating sighting every 6 or 9 strokes for first 25m into FS + 15 sec rest

Main set: 

  • 8 x 100m at easy, aerobic pace (70% of maximum effort) working on consistent exhalation and breathing every 3 or 5 strokes +15 sec rest
  • 8 x 25m building effort from 70-90% of top end speed +10 sec rest 
  • 6 x 100m at steady pace (80% of max effort) maintaining bilateral breathing and focusing on head position when breathing in (one goggle in the water, one goggle out) +15 sec rest 
  • 6 x 25m building effort from 80-95% of top end speed +10 sec rest
  • 4 x 100m at CSS pace or threshold (85-90% of max effort) working on head position and breathing into bow wave +15 sec rest 
  • 4 x 25m sprint efforts 90-100% from deep water starts +10 sec rest 

Cool down: 200m easy

Race simulation

Race simulation  

Warm up: 200m to 400m FS, 200m to 400m pull 

Build set: 4 to 8 x 50m as deep water starts into 10 fast strokes followed by steady FS to complete 50m +10 sec rest. 

Main set: 

  • 8 x 50m build from 70% effort (aerobic) into sprint (95-100%) +10 sec rest
  • 8 to 10 x 100m at CSS pace +20 sec rest
  • 4 to 8 x 50m reduce from sprint (95-100%) into aerobic pace (70% effort) +10 sec rest

Cool down: 200m FS 200m choice

Guidance notes

CSS - Critical Swim Speed. Effectively training at your threshold pace provides you with significant speed efficiency gains

Pacing - using the pool clock, your own stopwatch or a timing device such as a Finis Tempo Trainer or Wetronome

BB = Bilateral Breathing

UB = Unilateral Breathing

BS = Backstroke

FS = Freestyle or front crawl

BRS = Breaststroke

FLY = Butterfly

PULL = Swimming with a pullbuoy or float between your legs. No kicking. 

Cover Web Image

Issue 42 October 2020

  • Q&A with Jaimie Monahan - marathon swimmer and Queen of the Ice
  • Autumn swim adventures around the UK
  • The science behind cold water acclimatisation
  • Reviewed: The Best Open Water Goggles
  • The often deadly history of unsupported marathon swims

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