Performance = Technique + Fitness + OW Skills

Are you getting a feeling of deja-vu with your swimming? Doing the same things every year and getting the same old results? In this situation you need to shake things up both from a physical and psychological perspective.

In order to improve, a key thing to get right is the balance of your preparation between fitness training, stroke technique work and open water skills. Over a 1500m swim each of these elements is worth several minutes to you (or more) and so if you've been focusing exclusively on one you are leaving large chunks of time on the table. They literally add up:

Swimming Performance = Technique + Fitness + OW Skills

To maximise your performance you need to have all three elements in your training every week and the best way is to devote a session to each. This is the structure used by our 5:30am and 6:30am squads in Perth:

Tuesday: 60 minute session with stroke technique and endurance economy focus
Friday: 60 minute session with threshold training sets (also called CSS training, see here)
Saturday: 60 minute open water skills session in the pool

Regularly practising your drafting skills
is essential to become comfortable
swimming close to other swimmers.
This combination of three different training stimuli is so powerful because each area impacts on the other - e.g. you need good fitness to sustain good technique and your technique needs to be suitable for open water conditions. The three sessions work with each other to produce a better overall swimmer.

We have around 300 swimmers in the squads and each follow this basic structure. All swimmers make excellent progress with this three-way mix, whether they are a relative beginner, an intermediate or an advanced level swimmer.

Mental Skills

An important strength of this approach to swimming preparation is that the three session types have different challenges and so require specific mental skills:

- Technique elements such as exhalation, alignment, kicking technique and feel for the water require constant re-enforcement during your training week which requires discipline, self awareness and concentration.

- Threshold sessions require a sustained high level of effort. Many swimmers shy away from hard work but the ability to sustain a high level of intensity is a mental skill and needs to be practised regularly. As you develop this important skill it actually feels easier to sustain a strong race pace.

- Open water technique sessions require you to swim in close proximity to other swimmers so that you can enjoy the huge benefit of drafting effectively in races. The ability to cope whilst being buffeted or occasionally knocked by other swimmers, all the time holding your stroke technique and swimming accurately around the course, is critical to performing well in open water swimming. The key here is familiarity - if you practise this once a week you will feel comfortable during open water races when everyone around you is flustered.


Combining these three elements in your training is great fun and adds so much variety to your preparation that you'll never become bored. You'll probably always have a favourite session type but as you get into the other sessions you'll grow to enjoy and appreciate them. Even more importantly, you'll move off that plateau and your swimming will start to move forwards again towards your ultimate potential in the water.

If you're wondering how to combine these three elements into your training sessions, check out our Waterproof Training Plans, they make this very easy.

Swim Smooth!

1 comment:

BobC said...

One way to get a quick 5%-15% improvement in your overall OW speed is to reduce both the zig-zagging done and the number of looks needed to stay on course.

A great tool for this is to tuck a small GPS under your swimcap (I use my old, trusty Garmin Forerunner 305) and take a look at the resulting course and speed plots.

I use my first plots as my screensaver on my PC: I was swimming fast, but relatively little of that swimming was along a straight line. So the bursts of speed were interrupted by near-complete stops as I looked around trying to reorient myself.

Over time, my OW speed increased significantly as my path became straighter, and I became better at checking my course with quicker looks.

If you are fast in the pool, but significantly slower in the open water, a GPS may help!

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