Wednesday, October 21, 2015

From Leisure Swimmers To The World Cup - Swimming Just Once A Week!

This week on the blog we have a feature by our Swim Smooth Coach in Prague, Gabriela Minaříková. Training just once per week, Gabriela and two of her swimmers qualified and raced at the swimming world championships in Kazan, Russia a couple of months ago! How did they do this given they had such little time in the pool to train? Find out below.

Swim Smooth Coaching is largely based around distance swimming and open water swimming - if you're interested in pool sprinting, you'll find this article interesting as Gabriela adjusts the Swim Smooth methodology for racing over 100m.

For more information on Gabriela and her coaching in Prague, see:

From Leisure Swimmers To The World Cup!

It took 263 days to achieve our almost crazy sporting goal: Three women swimming in the Swim Smooth swim club in Prague, all over 40 with families and young children to look after. We’d just set some personal bests racing at the Prague Masters and Jennifer suggested: "Girls, what if we now try to compete at the swimming World Championships?"

Maybe it was the alcohol in the celebratory drink we were enjoying but the three of us looked at each other in surprise and immediately said "Let's go for it!" We agreed that we are going to compete at the next World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia in August 2015.

Most "leisure" swimmers who imagine racing at a top event like the World Cup think - "To succeed there I would have to train every day with a huge workload. I have to be at least a former national representative to have any chance of success. If I haven’t trained continuously for years then surely I will fail."

These were our first thoughts too and it seemed at that moment a sheer folly. But we attempted it because we have in the hands the best instrument in the world - the Swim Smooth coaching methodology. Although as full time mothers, wives and employees, we do not have much time for regular workouts like other athletes, but thanks to the efficiency of Swim Smooth we said that we will succeed at the World Championships, even if we go a different route than others.

We weren’t sure at that moment of the qualifying times and how we would balance training with family life and summer vacations so did some research and decided after looking at the event schedule to target the 100m freestyle event. On the official website FINA website we discovered that Jana needed to improve her time by 4 seconds, Gabi can already qualify in a faster heat and Jennifer currently just competing at 50m must gather more experience over the 100m. Encouraged by a common goal, we adjusted our parameters and started to train differently.

Our "Combat" Plan!

The 100m is a sprint event and sprint training is a little different to normal Swim Smooth training for distance events and of course it didn’t contain any open water components either. We looked at our current training routine and kept the frequency of workouts at once a week. We changed the intensity of the workout by increasing the workload of meters swam. The time of training remained at 60 minutes but we changed the type of swimming activity, which had a comprehensive structure. Typically:

300m Warm-up
200m Technical drills
200m Speed training
400m Anaerobic training
200m Strength training
200m Cool down

You can see below how we used different intensity zones during one typical session. As well as maintaining where we were aerobically with 600m, we swam about 800m anaerobically and around 100m at maximum race speed.

Here's a typical session:

Aim: Freestyle – catch technique, anaerobic and strength swimming
Swim aids: pull buoy, paddles, fins

1) Warm up:

300m alternating:
   ↑ 50m freestyle kick
   ↓ 50m freestyle with pull buoy breathing every 5th stroke
3x sink downs focusing on a smooth exhalation

2) Main set:

8x 100m alternating
   1. Strength paddles – 25m Scull #1 into 75m freestyle with pull buoy - accelerating
   2. 75m easy freestyle into 25m sprint at maximum speed

8x 50m fins ↑ fly kick ↓ freestyle (starting every 1 minute)

3) Cool down:

100m Backstroke

Total: 1600 m

You may be thinking 1600m once per week isn't very much training and you're right! It is very little compared to other swimmers but our work and family responsibilities did not allow us to do more, so we were even more focused on the quality and comprehensiveness in every session.

Other Important Parts Of Our Training

Our previous training was mainly based around stroke development but when training for Russia 2015 we introduced many other components of preparation. Are they also in your preparation? Perhaps they should be! :

As well as improving technique, speed, strength and endurance we did not forget about recovery / regeneration, practicing tactics, psychological preparation and use of other techniques, such as visualisation.


An advantage of swimming a low number of sessions was that it also allowed us to go into each workout fresh, with a high commitment and personal focus. This was reflected mainly in the hard anaerobic / sprint parts of training. Each of the components naturally overlapped during the sessions – for instance a drill set with relatively little recovery also provides some aerobic training. This is key when you have a low training volume – making the most of every minute of your time in the water.

Mental Approach

Your mindset and focus during training is so important and so it was for Jennifer, Jana and myself. As well as a positive, motivating and friendly atmosphere we built inner motivation with a principle I call the three ‘C’s : Consequence, Choice, Cooperation:

When you’re doing something challenging (or even a little bit painful!) it’s really important to understand why you are doing it. Instead of an austere “just swim it” we focused on why it was important to meet our goal. What was the positive consequence of doing this set for our fitness or skill level?

Sitting alongside that, we emphasised that everyone had a choice of what they swam. Nobody was forced to do a particular set or bullied into it by the group. If we choose to do something hard the psychological benefits to our self esteem, motivation and confidence are profound, way beyond being forced to do something.

"Do not count on tomorrow. Do not rely even on today.
Rely on this moment, for this one moment."
Sri Chinmoy

Lastly, we developed cooperation in our group by giving mutual feedback, sharing feelings and offering each other moral support. Getting a nurturing, positive atmosphere in your ‘support team’ like this hugely increases your chances of success as you ride the ups and downs of training and your wider life.

A typical session introduction using the Three C’s might be:

Today's session is focused on the catch phase. For that we will swim 100m of the sculling drill and if you feel it works better for you, you can use paddles. The more advanced swimmers can swim 150m. Everyone concentrate on a high and firm wrist with the fingers held lightly together. I will keep you all corrected and after the swim we discuss how we did.

This approach combined with creating a friendly atmosphere increases the effectiveness of your training several times over. Especially by allowing the conscious implementation of the skill instead of swimming without thinking.

For Real Success You Need To Think. So Use Your Head!

If we have a “get it over with as soon as possible” attitude to training we are not truly present in our body or soul. If we don’t think why, how and what we are doing then training is only 20% effective. When we are fully present and focused we can achieve just as much with fewer workouts. You can look at this using the Pareto principle (the 80-20 rule) and recognise that 80% of what you achieve comes from 20% of what you do – you just need to do the right 20%!

The 80-20 rule can be applied in any activity and sports training, including the mental side. Realising where you need to be mentally to be at your best and getting yourself into that state is an important skill of ‘mind management’.  The most successful Czech long-distance swimmer Abhejali Bernard is known for this spiritual approach to training the mind using meditation techniques. She’s the only Czech swimmer to achieve the Triple Crown by overcoming the 33km Straits between Los Angeles and Santa island, swimming the 34km English Channel and 46km around Manhattan Island!

The Power Of Visualisation

In training, Jane, Jennifer and I relied a lot on visualizations. Especially in our technical, tactical and psychological preparation:

Firstly we used Swim Smooth video analysis to record each other swimming and thoroughly analyse our freestyle performance. Each of us knew what we individually needed to focus on in our strokes to improve, specifically how it looked at how it should look when it was right. Importantly, we filmed this at race speed too (for us 100m sprinting).

For myself, the biggest surprise was the high position of my head when breathing:

And also, although I feel that my stroke is shortening towards the end of a 100m race, it actually isn’t and I am still fully extending in my stroke. This has freed me up to focus more on the catch phase of the stroke and trust the push at the rear is in fact correct already.

For the 100 m freestyle we also devoted a lot of attention to improve starts, turns and the final touch. These skills play a huge role in a 25m pool and can make as much as 4 seconds difference over a 100m race.

We constantly used visualisations to remind us how to focus, for example when practicing starts we imagined that we are diving into a narrow tube to minimise drag.

We also used visualisation to improve tactical race skills such as good pacing. Our strategy was to swim the first 50m of the race easily (relatively!) and technically, then from 50-75m to swim forcefully and from 75m into the finish sprinting with maximum possible speed. We knew this gave the best overall performance and by taking a few seconds to visualise this going well from the start to the final touch helped ‘program in’ success.

Finally we visualised succeeding in our goals using our imagination to experience success in our heads as graphically as possible and experiencing the emotions of that success. A great time to do that was during normal training, last thing at night before going to bed. We practiced visualising perfect technical and tactical execution of the race – and how it felt – time and time again.

The success of this ‘ideomotoric training’ was overwhelming. In a 25m pool after 6 months of only training once per week, Jana was swimming 1:23.6 for 100m, an improvement of 4 seconds. Gabi swam 2 seconds faster at 1:09.6*. Not only did we set all time personal bests in our 40s but after finishing the race we felt really good.

"I begin by imagining impossible, and I quit when I achieve the impossible"
 Sri Chinmoy

We were very sad to lose Jennifer from our 'team' during this training. Unfortunately she could not make the trip dates to Kazan, this was a huge shame as the challenge was her idea in the first place! We look forward to the next adventure with you Jennifer!

So How Did It All Turn Out?

At the Fina Masters World Championship after no training at all for a month during the summer holidays, we repeated the same success. In the 50m long-course pool Jana reached 23rd place in the 100m freestyle with 1:27.4 and Gabi 12th place with 1:11.6.

As I explained above, the power of ideas became a key building block of our entire swimming training. Everything was created and achieved thanks to having the idea of racing in Kazan. Thoughts shape our world. It is up to us whether we choose positive or negative thoughts. Whether we build barriers or bridges to reach our dreams. Everything is achievable if we really want it. 

I hope our story inspires you in your own swimming adventures!

Gabriela Minaříková, Swim Smooth Coach, Prague, Czech Republic

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dual (Or Triple) Purpose Training Sessions

Most swimmers or triathletes swim twice or three times a week. You might be thinking, you need to do technique work, some CSS training, some open water skills, maybe a little sprinting for pure speed and some steady aerobic swimming for base fitness. You also need to develop skills like good pacing, maybe develop a higher stroke rate and work on your flexibility and posture too. How on earth do you fit it all in?

The trick is to double or triple things up in your sessions. Here's how we do it in the Swim Smooth Squads and what we recommend for you too:

Session type 1: Combine technique work with some steady paced aerobic swimming. Try adding in a 3x400m, 2x500m or 1000m steady swim into your technique session. Meanwhile the core Swim Smooth drills such as side kicking and 6-1-6 develop your posture and the use of fins gradually stretches your ankles improves your kicking technique.

Session type 2: CSS session using a beeper to pace you through. As well as being your key fitness session of the week, using the Tempo Trainer Pro develops your pacing skills at race pace. If you have time then follow your warm-up with a mini technique to tune your stroke up a little before the hard work begins.

Session type 3: Open Water Skills Session. This sort of session naturally includes sprinting as you go head to head over short distances with your friends. It's also the perfect session to develop a higher stroke rate and make sure that the technique work you are doing elsewhere in your training week beds in to your stroke in the right way for open water.

All the sessions written into our training plans in the Swim Smooth Coaching System...

...our waterproof paper plans... this thinking for you and use this 'combination' philosophy with perfect sessions to give you the maximum bang to your training buck.

Swim Smooth!

The "How Far Can You Go" Winter Challenge

Here's a fun little challenge to track your swimming improvements over the coming months. It's super-easy to do and super-easy to understand!

Simply take your current best 400m (or 400 yd) time and look it up below. The table will give you a special "challenge" time per length of your pool (for example 30 seconds per 25m for someone who currently swims 400m in 8:30). Now take a Tempo Trainer Pro in mode 2 and program in that number so that it beeps to you at that interval (in our example every 30 seconds).

All you have to do is push off and start swimming when it beeps and try and keep up with it on every turn. Your challenge is to see how far you can go before you lose it! This is like a beep-test in the gym except the beep doesn't get faster.

It will be a challenging pace so you might only manage 50 to 100m at first (that's normal) but if you train consistently you should find as the weeks and months go by that you can gradually swim further and further at that pace as your swimming improves. If you get to the point when you can swim a full 400m then well done - you've made a HUGE step forwards with your swimming!

Your Challenge Pace!
Your current
400m/yd time*
per 25m/ydper 50m/ydper 33m/yd

* Your current 400m best pace (not you all time PB!).

A few quick notes:

- Stay calm and relax when you set off. You're going to have to swim fast but you don't want to feel stressed and panicky! Remember to exhale smoothly into the water.

- It's fast swimming but you will probably still be able get ahead of the beeper over the first length if you really gun it. DON'T DO THIS! Try and set off perfectly at the pace, pushing off as the beeper goes.

- You can slot the test into any session, whilst it's hard swimming it is also quite short and shouldn't take too much out of you.

- Train normally through your week using your usual mix of technique, CSS and open-water sessions. The test doesn't really give you any fitness gains itself, it's just a test you can slot in every now and again.

- Make sure you've had a thorough warmup and don't be afraid to try it as a bit of fun at the end of sessions - even if you feel a little tired it's surprising how well you can swim!

- You can try it as often as you like but we recommend about every 2 weeks.

The How Far Car You Go Challenge is a lot of fun and the beauty of it is it's simplicity. It's not designed to replace a proper CSS test (which will give you much more analysis in the SS webapp) but it can give you some instant feedback on how you are doing and a nice motivational boost.

Swim Smooth!