Weekly Swim Set

Each week, I’ll share my weekly squad session plan.

At the moment, my swim squad is working on endurance (with technique refreshers) and this session continues to build on even pacing through the swim set (or race distance).

I’ll post a new session every week that will progress through the season to develop power and speed as we get closer to the peak of race season (for Northern hemisphere athletes).

If you need help to correctly identify technique drills, leave a comment and I’ll provide an appropriate youtube link to a demonstration.

I have a large bank of swim session plans, so if you’re looking for more variety, email me at gitricoach@gmail.com to receive up to 50 plans.

Look out too for a set of indoor / stationary trainer sessions that i’ll publish over coming weeks, to help you get over the seemingly endless sessions churning the pedals.

Session Introduction

This week looks at maintaining pace over a larger swim volume


200m (8 lengths of the pool) building gradually from very easy to threshold

Technical Set:

100m as skating drill L/R to halfway, swim to wall

100m as 1-finger drill going out, swim back

100m as doggy paddle to halfway, swim to wall

100m as head-up to halfway, swim to wall

Main set:

2 x 200m timed (8 lengths of the pool) (60 S)

2 x 400m timed (16 lengths of the pool) (60S)

2 x 200m timed (8 lengths of the pool) (60S)

(add one or more 400m reps for faster swimmers, or longer training sessions)

Warm down:

200m Easy, down to very easy

Total distance 2400m

Coaching Points:

Observe lane etiquette – let faster swimmers pass

Hold a ‘tall’ swimming posture throughout

Swim at a sustainable pace (first and final 200 rep should be within 5 seconds of each other). Close grouping of times is better than one fast 200m and one fast 400m swim, with the others much slower.

If you find that you’re swimming above threshold, take a slightly extended rest and return to a sustainable swim-pace.

Observe rest periods

Barriers to triathlon swimming

Many novice athletes new to triathlon ask me to help them ‘sort out’ their technique.

The most common statement they make is “I think my swimming is ok, it’s just my breathing.” Of course, with any aerobic activity, breathing is pretty important and if you don’t get that right in swimming, it can leave an otherwise fit and healthy athlete gasping for breath and holding onto the side, after just four lengths of the pool.

So what’s the problem?  Most triathletes I’ve coached that experience breathing issues tend to hold their breath while their face is in the water.  That’s the start of a chain of events that leaves them feeling breathless.  Most, or all of these things happen next:

They practice explosive exhalation (spitting out the air on rotation).

They then take a huge gasp of air (sometimes of greater volume than the expelled air).

Their lungs become full to capacity, such that when they repeat the ‘spit-gasp’ breathing technique on the next stroke cycle, they feel as though they can’t inhale because their lungs are already full.

Repeated gasping against already full lungs, causes a rising level of anxiety  (re-emphasising the need to gasp).

The air held in the athlete’s lungs becomes stale, with increasing levels of CO2 and diminishing amount of available oxygen, the brain detects the air quality problem and associates it with a heightened risk of drowning (after all, you’re face down in water!). Panic sets in.

Eventually, they see the pool wall and that length of swimming is over. A short rest break allows breathing to return to normal and you’re ready to go again.  Just how will you ever make the 400m, 750m, 1500m, 1900m or 3800m that you’re committed to?

The good news is, there are some simple fixes that I have used with athletes I’ve coached and even have implemented them myself. Oh yes, it happens to all of us at some time.  I went for years before it happened to me but a few years ago, two weeks after a 34km endurance swim, I led out our club team at the National Relay Championships and was hoping to give us a great start to the race, which required just 500m of fast swimming from a mass start.  Within 100m of the start, I was head-up, treading water and feeling like I couldn’t breathe.  I remembered the basics, got back into my stroke and finished the swim mid-pack.

So, how to cope – remember the basics:

  1. Prepare yourself at the beginning of the session with simple ‘sink-down’ breathing drills.
  2. Whenever your face is in the water during your freestyle swim stroke, exhale steadily.
  3. If you have a sensation of rising anxiety, really focus on your exhale into the water (the anxiety will pass).
  4. When you rotate to breathe, just take a small breath, not a lung-filling gasp.
  5. As you begin to make longer continuous swims, practice positive affirmations – tell yourself that your stroke technique is fine, you’re in a good rhythm, you’ve swum the distance before, you’re nice and relaxed and you love swimming.

Sink-downs are a great pre-training session or pre-race way to get in the zone.  Simply allow yourself to exhale into the water, causing the body to sink-down below the surface (perhaps to the pool floor), before gently swimming to the surface, taking a small breath and repeating the exhalation again.  Aim to get yourself super-relaxed and used to exhaling in the water before your swim start.

Have more questions about swim technique? Post your questions in comments below and I’ll write a full reply to assist you in finding a solution.













Fit your bike to be ‘bike-fit’

When you bought your bike, (well let’s say your most recent bike because we’re all aware of the total bikes = n+1 formula right?), did you get a bike fit? If not, then perhaps you should have done. I’m not talking about 5 minutes of seat height adjustment by the pimply kid with the fringe that wheeled it out of the workshop, I mean a real professional bike fit.

A professional bike fit? It sounds like a luxury that you can do without and moreover, it sounds expensive.  The cost varies depending upon the level of detail and the amount of time the fitter invests in getting the bike to fit you ‘just right’.  As for luxury, I can assure you, it’ll feel like pure luxury the next time you’re out for a spin but I’d suggest that it’s a luxury you can’t do without.  If you haven’t had one, you may be wondering why you should have one now, after all, you can ride your bike just fine as it is.

I should at this point, declare an interest.  If you read my blog, or look at my web page http://www.gi-tri.com you’ll know that I promote http://www.bike-fit.co.uk which is owned by a great friend of mine, Mike Taylor.  The content of his website has some detailed information about the problems that can be encountered while cycling and how a bike fit can help.

Let’s look at some of the issues that can develop if you’re riding a bike that isn’t quite as ‘right’ as you’d hoped:

Problems for your feet – clawing of toes especially when seated climbing/pushing on numbness in toes, loss of toe nails – often the big toe, hotfoot- a burning sensation through the ball of the foot (metatarsal heads), lateral pedalling, a sense that you are driving the pedals around with the outside of the foot, foot numbness radiating from the outside (lateral edge) inwards.

Problems for the lower leg – sore/tight Achilles, calf tightness, calf overload – forcing the rider to change seating position to back off on the calf, calf cramping where the calf is unable to dissipate lactates effectively enough, a sense that there is uneven load on either the outside (lateral) or inside (medial) of the calf.

Problems for the knee – discomfort/pain above or below the knee cap (patella), discomfort/pain to the outside (lateral ligament) of the knee or the inside (medial ligament), knee discomfort post ride, a grinding sensation whilst riding.

Problems for the upper leg – quadricep overload often experienced just above the knee (vastus medialis), a burning sensation in the outer quadricep (vastus laterals), IT Band Syndrome often causing pain above the knee (laterally), hamstring tightness/cramping during or post ride.

Problems for saddle and hips – genital numbness, saddle sores, pain along the perineum, numbness in the glutes, soft tissue discomfort/bruising, tenderness, abrasions, deep tissue pain around the sit bones (ischial tuberosity), constant hunting on the saddle for a more comfortable position.

Problems for the back, neck and shoulders – lower back (lumbar) pain, thoracic spine discomfort, shoulder discomfort – often left sided (this can end up quite debilitating post ride), neck ache (heavy head sensation), head aches due to neck tension.

Problems for the arms and hands – muscle overloading in the arms (biceps & triceps), pain and discomfort at the elbow, fore arm tension (often on long descents), wrist ache, pins and needles/numbness in the hand often radiating from the little finger inwards.

That’s about it. You’d have to be pretty unlucky to experience all of those things but I’ve never yet met a rider that didn’t experience at least one of them.

According to Mike, (and I believe every word he says on the subject of bikes), 98% of the Northern European population (and I suspect that it’s probably also true of North Americans) express asymmetry (often at the pelvis). Bikes are symmetrical, so our very interaction with the bike is bound to throw up issues. One good way of checking for asymmetry is to look down at your quads/knees while pedalling. Do the legs pass the top tube evenly or is one closer to the top tube than the other? If the answer is yes, one is closer than the other then even if you are not experiencing discomfort when riding , then a bike fit would open up power that you are currently wasting or not engaging.

Apart from avoiding discomfort, for the more competitive cyclist, a properly fitted bike can help deliver more power and better aerodynamics, a combination that almost always results in more speed for an equivalent perceived level of effort.

A bike fit can include adjustments or replacement of handle bars, stem, seat position, cranks, pedals or shoe cleats.  When it comes to finding a bike fitter, experience counts. Look for one that comes with a good reputation and preferably a first-hand recommendation.  In terms of cost, a mid-range fit lasting 2-3 hours with Mike would cost £180.00 or approximately $290.00.








Coached triathlon

This is the very first of what I hope to be many blog postings on the subject of triathlon and more particularly training methods and coaching techniques.

While I have in mind certain themes, its likely to take a meandering route through a subject that can at times be controversial or just plain dull.  Let’s hope for more of the former!

I’ve fairly recently completed the Ironman Certified Coach accreditation (which in itself might be considered quite controversial) and am working by way through BTF’s level 3 coaching qualification.

For me, coaching covers the disciplines of swimming, cycling and running the coach’s proclaimed fourth discipline of transition (really?), nutrition, hydration, sleep, rest days, race preparation and no-nonsense kit and the structured avoidance of recovery modalities like static stretching, deep tissue massage, compression garments, hot baths, cold baths, ice baths and any other distraction from getting the basics right.

If this short post leaves you with more questions than answers, I’ll consider that a good thing, for now.