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2XU Ambassador, Professional Triathlete & London 2012 Olympian
Is this the summer you step up to a half-marathon? Here’s an 8-week training plan that helps you focus on quality training over quantity.Even if swimming doesn’t play a direct role in your sport, it’s one of the best whole-body workouts you can do. Regardless of ability, intensity, style or stroke, you’re guaranteed to work arms, upper body, core, legs and lungs. Having your body suspended in the water means that you need to produce multiple forces (i.e. use more than one muscle group) to initialise movement and maintain momentum. Swimming also provides a great respiratory workout from the forced breathing pattern, plus the muscular and cardiovascular gains mean that the odd pool session will bring a wave of benefits – both in the water and on dry land.
This is a session I would complete if I felt the need to get a good feeling for the water and/or a whole-body workout. It’s the perfect session to get all systems firing!
Start off with 500 metres of freestyle. Swim the first 100m with very long, slow and deliberate strokes – almost pause at the end of each stroke as the front hand reaches towards the end wall. Every 100m step it up so that your stroke quickens slightly and becomes smoother. By the end of the 500m you should have a comfortable stroke length and a good feel for the water.
Mix it up with 8x50m IM (individual medley) ‘Switch’. The ‘Switch’ is a change of stroke halfway through each 50m in the order of an IM. That is, the first lap* is 25m butterfly then 25m backstroke; second lap is backstroke then breaststroke; third lap is breaststroke plus freestyle and the fourth is freestyle then back to butterfly. Take around 30 seconds rest at the wall between each set of 50m.
Freestyle main set – for a bit of a challenge, try ‘Freestyle Golf’. I enjoy this session as the challenge here is to master efficiency rather than just swimming as hard as you can.
Over two sets of 4x100m, check your time on the pace clock as you complete each 100m. The real challenge involves getting your mathematics spot-on! Each 100m you need to count the number of strokes it takes to swim the second 50m (the back half). Now take the time it took for that 100m and add to it the stroke count for the last 50m. The aim of the set is to gradually reduce this value without letting your times get slower. This will mean either swimming quicker from one 100m to the next, swimming each 100m with less strokes (and therefore more efficiently) or, ideally, a combination of both.
Try to reduce your Golf value across the first 4x100m then start again at your initial value and try to reduce it further throughout the second 4x100m. Take about 20 seconds recovery between each 100m (or a little bit more if, like me, your maths isn’t so quick these days!) and an extra two minutes between the two sets.
Now it’s time to give the arms a rest.
Kick set – 8x50m done as two sets of 2x50m freestyle kick then 2x50m backstroke kick (i.e. the same kick but lying on your back). In the freestyle, feel free to use a kickboard if available, if not, kick with your face in the water and take a breath to the side simultaneous with a single freestyle stroke when you need some air. In the backstroke kick, keep your arms stretched out ahead of you towards the wall (this will prevent a headache if you misjudge the distance). Take 15 seconds at the end of each 50m to recover.
Step-down set of 200m+150m+100m+50m. Here you reverse the theory of the warm-up by easing down the tempo each set. Begin with a comfortable freestyle swimming tempo for the 200m. After a 20-second breather, start the 150m, but try to slow your stroking rate slightly and at the same time stretch out at the front and back of your stroke a little further. Have another break and again slow and lengthen your stroke in the 100m. Through the final 50m you should almost feel like you’re pausing at the extreme of each stroke before taking a strong, steady stroke moving as much water backwards with your arm as possible.
*Designed for 50m metre pool.