Way back in January I posted about how much I like working out alone. I’m a bit of an introvert and I like the solitude, but my life doesn’t really lend itself to a lot of good quality solitude. Working out is one way I can get it.
A few weeks ago I posted about how much I appreciate my workout buddies. From running to yoga to weight training, I’ve come to appreciate doing these things with friends. It’s social and it makes me accountable.
This week I started something that I never thought I’d ever do: swim training with a group and coach. So far, I’m loving it!
1. It’s from 6-7:30 a.m., so it gets me out of bed early and back home to get ready for work just after 8 (factoring in a few minutes of leisurely stretching in the steam room).
2. Stroke improvement tips. In my group, we divide up into 4 lanes. The lanes groups rotate so that two of them are working with coaches on stroke improvement and speed training, and the other two are doing drills on their own. I haven’t had any significant changes in my stroke, based on formal instruction, since I was a kid in swimming lessons. I dabbled with Total Immersion Swimming on my own a few years ago, but it’s much easier to get the concepts when you have a coach and others (we do partner work) to tell you how your form looks in the water. I’m pleased to say that my form seems to be measuring up. It’s my speed that needs work.
3. It’s super helpful to get a sense of where I am and where I need to go. Though swimming is my strongest triathlon event, I’m not as fast as I could be. I now have benchmarks (I know, for example, that my 200m time is about 4:15) and goals (I want to get it well under 4:00). I also have a sense of where I stand in relation to others. I’m in the third group (that is, there are two faster and one slower than mine), and in that group I’m in the middle of the pack. That tells me I have a way to go still if I want to compete well against others.
4. Swimming with a group makes me push myself harder, and that’s where I improve. When someone is swimming up behind you, it’s a natural instinct (for me anyway) to want to swim faster so they don’t catch up.
5. Drills are more helpful than lap after lap after lap of the same thing at the same speed. When I was swimming on my own, I did the same thing most days: warm up with 125m of breast stroke, then do between 500-750m of freestyle, then cool down with another 125m of breast stroke. I like it for its meditative quality, but there is no way I was going to see any gains doing that. In the training group, we do drills. We’ll swim 50 metres trying to lengthen our stroke as long as possible, for example, and then we’ll swim as fast as we can for 50 metres. Each time, we’ll count our strokes so we can see how many more strokes we take to cover the same distance when we’re going as fast as we can. That’s not efficient. The concept behind Total Immersion (which is what our coach is training us to do) is that you cover the same distance in fewer strokes, thereby conserving your energy.
6. It’s really fun and motivating to meet other swimmers.
7. It’s super inspiring. As regular readers of the blog know, my goal is to do an Olympic distance triathlon by the end of next summer. But just being with this group for two sessions has already made me dream about the Half Ironman!
If you’re looking to train with a group, check out the programs offered through your local Y or any other pool or aquatic centre. Chances are, they have either masters swimming or, as I signed up for, triathlon training. There may also be programs through swim clubs or triathlon clubs, or through a local shop that specializes in triathlon training. These are all good places to seek out of you want to source a swim training group. You also want a good coach. Gabbi, who coaches our group, is an experienced triathlete and coach. She assures me she can get me ready for Olympic distance!
One last point: you don’t have to be a great swimmer to swim with a group. If you find a group like mine, it caters to all levels. Yes, you need to be able to do laps, but you don’t need great form. Some of the group are working on rhythmic breathing, which is something that I know lots of people struggle with. And as I said, we are also working on stroke efficiency.