Weekly swim session plan 15 August 2017

Download and print this session plan here: session plan 132

This week, we are back at threshold to maintain the fitness gained over the last two weeks working above threshold.

Warm Up:

3 x 100m easy pace, 10 sec rest after each

Technical set:

4 x 50m as kick (without board) or skating up the pool, swim back.

Main set:

200m threshold (zone 4) 30 seconds rest

400-800m continuous (zone 4) 60 seconds rest

2 x 100m threshold (zone 4) 20 seconds rest

Warm down:

200m     Very easy

Total Volume:

1500m – 1900m

Coaching Points:

This short session should be swum at the appropriate intensity – Zone 4 threshold.  Be disciplined with rest period in order to prevent heart rate dropping too far between reps.

Weekly Swim Session Plan 20 June 2017

Download and print the session plan here: session plan 124

With temperatures soaring and the race season in full-swing, most triathletes are swimming some open water sessions each week.  Anecdotally, not everyone has transitioned from pool to lake as well as we might hope. This week, let’s use a pool session to really nail some key attributes of open water technique.

Warm Up:

200m easy pace

Technical set:

4 x 50m sighting skills – crocodile eyes

4 x 50m high swingers

Main set:

12 – 18 x 100m with 10 seconds rest, incorporating the sighting skills from the drill, 2 per length of the pool

Warm down:

300m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2100m – 2700m

Coaching Points:

Sight straight forward on the non-breathing stroke and follow up immediately with a breath under the opposite arm. Don’t try to sight off the end of the breath as this won’t allow you time to properly view the course.  Only lift your googles out of the water – don’t sit up too high, or your hips will drop, causing drag.


Weekly Swim Session Plan 13 June 2017

Download and print the session plan here: session plan 123

This week we re-cap the basics of alignment, balance and catch ABC to keep us on track with great technique through the race season.

Warm Up:

200m easy pace

Technical set:

3 x 50m skating drill to halfway, swim to wall

3 x 50m scull to halfway, swim to wall

Main set:

6 x 200m OR 300m OR 400m (depending on ability and target race) at above race pace / intensity.

Warm down:

300m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2000m – 3200m

Coaching Points:

Sprint distance athletes choose 200m, standard or middle distance choose 300m, Ironman athletes use the 400m reps.

Keep fingertips lower than your wrists during sculling (and freestyle catch) to avoid ‘braking’ the stroke

During skating seek out long straight body alignment and just enough rotation to balance. If you over rotate, you’ll feel yourself using up precious energy trying to regain your balance. If that happens, check that your trailing arm is down in your ‘front pocket’, to close down the shoulder of the recovering arm. This should help regain balance for the drill and the follow-on swim stroke.

Weekly Swim Session Plan 30 May 2017

Download a print this session plan here: session plan 121

This week we take the speed we have been building over the past few weeks and push it for longer distances, to simulate race duration efforts.

Warm Up:

200m easy pace

Technical set:

3 x 50m                  sculling to halfway, swim to wall

3 x 50m                  doggy paddle to halfway, swim to wall

Main set:

600m (24 lengths of the pool) – (novice swimmers should skip this longest rep)

500m (20 lengths of the pool)

400m (16 lengths of the pool)

300m (12 lengths of the pool)

200m (8 lengths of the pool)

100m (4 lengths of the pool)

Warm down:

300m     Very easy

Total Volume:

2300m – 2900m

Coaching Points:

Try to maintain or increase pace toward the end of the session, as if swimming toward the race finish arch.  Increased technical focus toward the end of the set should help maintain speed.

Its not about the bike

Ironman athletes tend to spend between six and nine months preparing for their race, depending upon their experience and fitness level.  Hundreds of hours are logged in the pool, on the indoor trainer and out on the road, pedalling and pounding the pavement in zone 2 and tempo, with threshold and above efforts pushing their fitness as race day approaches, getting to race weight, practicing brick sessions, planning transitions and nutrition.

Its finally here, the big day, the music is pumping (AC/DC Thunderstruck…) you filter in through the rolling start, hoping to catch the draft of someone normally a few minutes faster than you.

That’s how most of us remember it.  The swim start….but what comes next can vary A LOT.

The swim is just 1.7% of the race distance. Being a strong swimmer is considered by many age group athletes as almost irrelevant, given the time that can be made up on the bike and run. Most of you are out there now, nodding at the wisdom of this suggestion.

There is of course one big supposition.  That you make the swim cut-off.  Two hours and twenty minutes is a long, long time to swim 3.8KM.  To be on the safe side, let’s say 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s 3:33 / 100m pace. For those that have actually done their swim training sessions, the breast stroker that always got in your way – they were swimming that pace… Exactly.

So why then, do some athletes have their dreams shattered by the sight of the race clock reading 02:22 as they wade from the water, knowing that the race referee is about to tell them, in the most consoling way they can, that today just wasn’t their day?

This, or something very much like it, happened recently to someone I know and what I’d like to share now, may I hope, prevent it happening again to anyone reading this, who’s thinking of taking on an Ironman but isn’t yet confident of the swim.

Like most things in triathlon, it starts with planning. If you have a coach, you’ve already taken the first step toward planning for success.  Assessing your current ability and having the knowledge of what is going to be required, is where a coach can make the greatest difference to your race day outcome.  If you’re a novice swimmer, or a weak swimmer, plan to swim at least four times a week for the entire duration of your Ironman training.  Many athletes can get by on fewer. While a good friend of mine swims just once a week, I wouldn’t condone that here!

The second piece of advice, is to swim the course.  I don’t mean a recce of the swim route – though clearly that will always help.  What I mean is – swim the actual course laid out by the race organizer.  The athlete I mentioned earlier swam at a pace of 3:09 / 100m not fast by any stretch but for the 3.8km should produce a swim time of 2 hours. Indeed, his first lap split was around an hour, right on course for T2 and beyond.  However, including a diversion on lap 2, the total distance swum (according to Garmin which can sometimes be inaccurate, I’ll concede) 4492M.  He was still swimming strong and at the same pace as before – just in the wrong direction and for a whole lot farther than required!

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 23.14.16

In my experience as coach, those that struggle the most with the swim are a particular type of swimmer and in fact, type of personality.  Their characteristics are well summarised by what Paul Newsome and Adam Young of SwimSmooth call Arnies (or Arnettes) for female athletes.

Strong and competitive, they tend to tackle the swim in much the same way as they do the bike and the run.  They go hard. They go long. When it’s tough, they grit their teeth.  In the pool, they push and push against breathlessness and fatigue, often relying on training aids to keep themselves afloat (enter the HUUB Big Buoy).

So, what’s the problem with that? In short, they’re picking the wrong fight!

You can pound on water all day long, it’ll just take it and as you start to tire, it’ll feel like it’s just getting stronger in its resistance of your attempts to pass through it!

Swinging the recovering arm like you’re throwing a hook, might cause a big splash and sound powerful but by the time its crossed the centreline, caused you to fall off balance, resulting in the ‘snow plough’ of scissor-kicks to splay at the back, followed by the craning neck and head to search for air, as the sunken shoulder slips toward the depths, it’s all over – literally all over the place. Add to that the ‘sinking legs’ that have resulted from the craning head, it’s like swimming uphill, or like trying to drive with the hand brake on.  Choose any analogy you like, for going nowhere fast and you’re pretty close.

If that sounds like I’m describing your swimming, or if it sounds like someone you know, please, seek the advice of a swim coach.

If you don’t like the sound of that and need to DIY everything because it’s harder that way and you’re all about everything being hard, here’s the bad news – you need to take it easy.

Most people that ever trained for triathlon of any description know what catch-up drill is.  The leading hand stays out front while the pulling arm completes the stroke then recovers over the water, before slapping the leading arm in a never-ending cycle of swim-tag, that lets it know, it’s now its very own time to pull. You get the idea.

What if I were to say, that even a swimmer with a relatively weak pull can swim at 3:22 / 100m while doing catch up drill? How come?

At the most basic level, catch-up causes the swimmer to elongate, to not drop the leading arm (leaving a stable platform to support the breath), in doing so, the body is straighter, the arms don’t cross the centre-line, so they stay in relatively better balance, the legs don’t sink because the head can stay lower in the water and they don’t need to splay out to regain control. The swimmer slips through the water with relative ease and economy, compared to the kung fu fighting aquatic attack with which the swimmer normally entertains the rest of the pool.

I’m not necessarily saying you should swim an Ironman by doing catch–up drill the whole way round but if you did, you’d make the cut-off and be pretty relaxed for your bike ride.

Lengthening, balance and alignment are stroke characteristics displayed by all great swimmers and increase the likelihood of swimming in a straight line, when coupled with regular sighting, should allow the swimmer to swim a true course.  There are dozens of drills that promote these attributes, catch-up is just one of them.  Trawl through the weekly swim session plans and you should get lots of ideas for other drill sets.

To close, let’s circle back to planning for the DIY Arnies and Arnettes out there. Break your training season into four quarters.  In Q1 swim 4 drill sessions without any volume sets, in Q2 swim 3 drills, 1 volume, Q3 2 drills, 2 volume and in Q4 1 drill session, 3 volume.

By race day, you’ll not be fighting the water but slipping through it and the only cut off you’ll have in mind, is the one long after dark.


GI Tri Coach

Copy Cat


Just a short one today, to highlight the swim position of pro middle-distance athlete, Catherine Jameson, expertly captured above by photographer James Mitchell.

Cat, (formerly of the GI Tri Bridgtown pro team) had a terrific season in 2016 and hopes to have an equally successful 2017, working with her husband and coach Joel Jameson of Team Jameson Triathlon.

A swim-bike specialist, Cat regularly exits the water first and looking at the front of her stroke, that’s hardly a surprise.

Notice the positions of the hand, elbow and shoulder, set up to transfer power to the water for maximal forward propulsion, coupled of course with exquisite body alignment and perfect head position (just the back of her cap breaking the water surface).

If there’s one thing we could all benefit from this year, its copying Cat’s catch. As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words.

I’ll leave it there.


GI Tri Coach

Fifty Shades of Pink

I have in the past talked about aspects of motivation and in particular, techniques to help the demotivated athlete rediscover their mojo.

Today, I’m asking a far more fundamental question and propose my own hypothesis.

Why do we do it?

That question is often the starting point for goal setting, if you know why you do, or want to do something, then you are a good way toward setting goals for your achievement and describing the goal or your progression toward it, using SMART objectives. That’s where we can often find our motivation to train – we understand why we do it.

So, just for a few moments, before you read on, ask yourself why you do it. None of us train ‘triathlon’ or train ‘Ironman’ we train our swimming, cycling and running. So, answer that for yourself.

OK, if you have immediately read on to this paragraph, put your hands on your head and stand in the corner of the room. Go on!

So, now we’re alone, here’s what I think.  For the vast majority of us, we do it because we love it.  We love the feeling of moving through water, being out on our bikes, even when the big climbs hurt and we love running, sometimes through the forest but other times just through the paved streets, on our way home.  Is that right for you, or not?

So, if we are doing these things that might be summarised as ‘training’ because we love them, or in some distinctly personal way, gain joy from them, why do we insist on measuring our performance in purely quantitative terms?  We are constantly chasing times, PBs, SBs, PRs, Strava segments, FTP, CSS, KOM, W/Kg, MPH, m/s, m/s/s? If you climb a few places up the finisher rankings well, great but unless you’re a podium contender, is anyone else really taking note of the twenty age group places you’ve gained since the same race last year?

What’s the point? Really?

I hear you trot out that “the you of today is ‘better’ than the you of yesterday”. OK I get that. But is the best way to measure a better you, to know that you ran down ‘Back Lane’ 2 seconds quicker than last time you were out and are now 4th out of those you follow on Strava for that segment? Is that you??

I propose that the better me, is the person that enjoys training today, even more than I enjoyed it yesterday.  If my motive to train is because I enjoy the activities, then surely enjoyment is the key metric to measure my improvement? After all, if I’m enjoying my training, I’m much more likely to want to do my next session and create training consistency, which seems to be the universally agreed predictor for a good race day performance.

Welcome to ER – your new performance metric!

Emotional Response (ER) is the label I’ve given to the joy of training.  It captures the feeling you get while you’re out there, as the sun rises over the hedgerow and it also reflects the feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment you feel when you’ve finished your planned (or unplanned) training session.

So how will we measure it?  I don’t expect yet another numerical scale to do it justice, after all, emotion is personal and the joy you experience from each session is unique.

I propose a colour chart.  What better scale than shades of pink?


The range is personal to you but I’d suggest that when you feel like shouting “again Dad, again!” like a child who’s just gone down a giant water slide for the first time, then your way out there over to the left.  If you spent most of your session and the rest of the morning wondering why you bother, then you’re somewhere over to the right.

If you find yourself over to the right for several sessions, days or weeks, then you’re either heading for, or are already demotivated, feeling a loss of mojo and skipped sessions and inconsistency are almost inevitable.

That might be a good time to talk to your coach about making some changes to your training that might affect the volume, intensity, location, timing, balance or focus of your sessions and overall plan.

If pink is likely to clash with the colour of your favourite tri suit, then make up your own sliding scale to express for your Emotional Response (ER) to your training sessions.

How does that feel?


GI Tri Coach