How Quickly Can You Lose Fitness #RunFormFriday

How Quickly Can You Lose Fitness #RunFormFriday

How much will taking time off from running hurt my fitness? It’s one of the most common questions I get from athletes struggling with injury, fighting illness, or hesitant to take a much-needed rest from training. This becomes especially prescient now with training ability reduced by the Coronavirus. As athletes, many of us are paranoid about taking more than a few days off, generally thinking it will ruin our months of meticulous training.

As a coach, I am not immune to being frightened by this irrational fear. I’ve had niggles, injuries and illness that I have tried to train on through in one-way shape or form, generally not ending particularly well!

However, I wanted to share this with you to demonstrate that this is written with the deepest understanding of how hard it can be to listen to science and understand that a few days off isn’t going to end your hopes of running as fast as you’ve dreamed.

When we delve into the effects of taking time off from training, we have to analyse the detraining from two perspectives: 1) your energy systems such as aerobic fitness, threshold and VO2 max; and 2) your structural systems such as your muscles and neuromuscular coordination (how fast and efficiently your brain can tell your body to perform and execute a specific movement).

Effect of detraining on the aerobic system
Because VO2 max is one of the best measurements of an endurance athlete’s physical fitness, it’s the easiest baseline to compare the effects of detraining on your aerobic system. To be brief, VO2 max is an individual’s maximum ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise.

Recent studies show that there is little reduction in VO2max for the first 10 days following inactivity in well-trained athletes. It is important here to mention that all of these guidelines assume you are a well-trained runner, having trained consistently for a 4-6 month period. New athletes will lose fitness at a slightly faster rate since they have a lower base of fitness.

After two weeks of not running, studies show that VO2 max decreases by 6%. After 9 weeks VO2 max drops by 19%. After 11 weeks of no running, Studies demonstrate that VO2 max falls by 25.7% from peak physical fitness. So, as you can see, from an aerobic standpoint, you have very little to worry about if you have to take a break from running for two weeks or less.

This is very important for those runners that need to take a hiatus because of a small injury or are nervous about taking downtime after a long training segment. A 6% decline in VO2 max can be made up with one or two weeks of solid training. In the current situation with Coronavirus, this shouldn’t cause too much of a worry – while we are still allowed outside in the UK.

While percentages are fantastic, what do those numbers really mean for runners? Let’s use an example of a 20 minute 5k runner. A 20 minute 5k runner has a VO2max of roughly 49.81 ml/kg/min (estimated using a calculator). After 2 weeks of no running, the 5k runner would lose 6% of his VO2 max, which would be 46.83 and would now be in 21:05 shape, give or take a few seconds. After 9 weeks of no running, the same 20-minute 5k runner would now be in 24:00 minute 5k shape. After 11 weeks of no running, our poor running friend would be in 25:30 shape.

While this is not exactly ideal, this is the absolute worst-case scenario, with no training done in this time. Even if you can’t get out as often as you might like, or for as long as you may prefer, if you are training then you are preventing this kind of drop off.

Effect of detraining on the structural system
While the reduction in aerobic fitness has been explored in an applicable manner, the effect of detraining on specific running muscles has been harder to find.

However, the little research that does exist about detraining, in general, proposes that the most dramatic reduction in fitness occurs over a 10 to 35-day window. Before and after this window, detraining from a structural perspective isn’t severe.

Also, there is some research on how quickly you benefit from strength training. In short, most of the research shows muscle power declines significantly slower than metabolic factors.

While not run or triathlon-specific, this study on detraining in kayakers shows that over a 5 week period, even minimal training (3 sessions as opposed to around 10!) can stop the decline in physiological gains. Image courtesy of Yann Le Meur Sports.

What does this mean? After 7-10 days of not running, you will lose some muscle power and coordination, but not enough to totally derail your goals.

With a few specific workouts such as hill sprints, you’ll be back to your pre-detraining levels before you know it. If your break from training is longer than two weeks than you’ll have a little bit to make up before you can get back to personal best shape.

What does it all mean?
Research shows you shouldn’t be too worried about losing significant fitness if your break from running is less than two weeks.

You’ll lose some conditioning in your aerobic system and muscles, but pre-inactivity fitness will return quickly. Again, this assumes that you have built a healthy and consistent base of training of 4-6 months prior to taking time off. It’s not the end of your career if you haven’t been training for this long; it simply means that the reduction in fitness will be slightly more pronounced.

After two weeks of not training, significant reductions in fitness begin to occur and you’ll have about 2-8 weeks of training (depending on the length of inactivity) ahead of you to get back to your previous level of fitness.

On the flip side, doing SOME training, whether running, turbo riding, skipping or strength training will slow any losses considerably. If you are injured, there is always something you can do training-wise. In the current situation with Coronavirus, while it may not be ideal that you can’t be out training all the time every day – there is a lot that you can do, and you can come out of this lockdown in a strong position.

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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How To Work On Developing Your Swim #SwimTechTues

How To Work On Developing Your Swim #SwimTechTues

Swimming is the most disliked section of a triathlon. My guess is that around 80% of triathletes would count the swim as their least favourite part of a triathlon.

A big part of training then is about making swimming easier and more enjoyable – as much as it is about making it faster.

A major question – that can either motivate or scare athletes off – is how quick can they go, what counts as good, or what people have to do to not be at the back. It’s always a challenge!

There is a wide range of opinions and thoughts of people, from those who want to nail getting good at swimming, all the way through to those who think it’s impossible – and are almost against putting in any work to try and improve. This is something that I think is self sabotage, putting your own mental blocks in the way of improvement, regardless of your ability, and it’s incredibly common.

The question has to be asked, is significant progress possible. And why is it so challenging to believe what might be achievable? How do we go about the journey, where do we start? And finally, how come some people make giant leaps forward, while others seem to stand still.

Humans have always been bipedal – upright – walking and running, since the dawn of time. We were the hunter and the hunted, and as a result we grew big, efficient, powerful leg muscles. These muscles have massive aerobic capacity for chasing food! On the other hand, our upper body was all about short, individual movements to use tools and weapons, for food or against each other.

As a result of this, young swimmers have previously spent most of their formative years learning to swim aerobically with their arms and upper bodies, being as efficient as possible. Teenage athletes might spend 20 hours a week in the water – mostly driven by their arms. For those that look at their own swimming, and think 50m is ok, quick even, but anything more than 300 metres is a sufferfest, it is understandable to think that improving your swimming ability is pointless as an adult.

As recently as 25 years ago, it was thought that the brain and it’s learning capacity was pretty much fixed, determined once you had grown out of adolescence. Knowledge and research has moved forward a long way in the intervening time, and the theory is now that the brain has capability to grow, change and adapt throughout our lifetime.

Neuroplasticity refers to our brain remodelling, adapting, and organising after the practice of a motor skill. Working on this can result in beneficial outcomes increasing athletic potential through greater movement competency. It really is possible to focus the brain on remodelling new movement and techniques. You really can teach old dogs new tricks!

Neuroplasticity means that it is possible to help the brain model new pathways. You really can teach old dogs new tricks!

From this, it follows that the aerobic model for sports – and in particular, swimming – needs to change somewhat. A neurological pattern that can build efficiency both in learning and in our swimming ability definitely is a brighter message than the

Rather than swimming remaining an aerobic model, the new idea believes teaching will help it become a neurological one. This certainly sounds better than the first message of fateful prospects of the original model. The question is, how can there be such a big gap between the original ideas?

I’m fortunate enough to have been teaching and coaching for 20 years – and have been a product of the original model of training, but in later years have benefited from the advances in knowledge that have meant I have done personal bests in my 30s doing 20% of the time in the water. With this knowledge, I have seen large swathes of people improve their swimming massively to believe that change is not only possible but probable in the right circumstances.

For big changes to happen, the environment has to be strong – the athlete has to be focused and practise with intent, the coaching and cues have to be good, appropriate and understandable. How much change can occur is very much dependent on the starting point, a belief of what is possible, and commitment to the cause! Added to this, while we can hope for progress, expectation can be the enemy, so reason and realism have to be included with the goals.

Being able to understand movements, especially from a sporting perspective, can be of massive assistance. You don’t have to have a swimming or similar background for this to work, to help you. If you play rugby, or climb, horse ride or play netball, there will be cross overs that will help you understand various movements. Building up a good solid swim is no different to building up any other technique. The human body is a machine. Machines work best in straight lines – and there are only so many variations of straight lines that the body can pass through. As a result, this can really help with proprioception and timing, important skills in all walks of life.

Machines work best in straight lines, and the body is just a machine. If we can accept that, learning movements can become more simple.

Commitment and time are required for any skill to become natural, to be second nature. In the social media age, with instagram results, many people lack patience and concentration to focus on learning a skill over time. Disillusionment is common and disappointment leads to abandoning. Learning a swim stroke is akin to playing golf – where we are all chasing more improvement, more fluidity – or the ease of a language as we improve, where perfection isn’t attainable, but we can always be more attuned to. Obviously, swimming is made all the more challenging by the fact that breathing is not simple; our body’s natural survival instincts have to be overridden somewhat.

What people see as being a good swimmer is always subjective. Most triathletes would say that a swimming quicker than 22 minutes for 1500 metres is incredibly quick – it would be in the top 5% of most triathlon swims – but at swim club level, it wouldn’t make a final in a 13 year old county championships. That being said, if you are someone swimming 30 minutes for 1500 metres, being able to swim 25 minutes is a MASSIVE gain and change, so perspective is always required.

Brain development will continue to aid sporting improvements as we move forward and the possiblities are endless!

How Do We Improve?

One step at a time! The chances are that you may have very large, rapid jumps in improvement to start with – these things excite us and keep us motivated. Naturally though, as with anything, that trajectory cannot continue indefinitely. If that was the case, people would be breaking Usain Bolt’s 100m record regularly.

This slow down and plateauing can be frustrating. We have to move through all the levels of learning for all skills, no matter what our level of ability. Being in a better position in the water will make life easier for us – it will reduce drag and so reduce fatigue. It also makes it easier to be in a propulsive position, so those gains become two-fold, and progress can really seem quite easy; even when we have to think hard about it all.

What does a 25 minute 1500, 1.40 100 metre and 25 second 25 metre swim all have in common? They are all exactly the same speed. A large percentage of people can do the last. A lot can do the middle. Relatively few can do the first. The biggest thing to remember is not trying to go faster, just being able to maintain that speed comfortably over a long period. The key here is about making your swim as repeatable. If it’s repeatable, then it becomes sustainable. If it’s sustainable, you can keep the effort lower. Learning these levels of accuracy and relaxation takes time, but with the right instruction can be learned and built up.

What Signs Should I Be Looking For?

1. First and foremost, you want to be noticing is when you are making errors, repeating your old bad habits. Noticing these drops is not a bad thing – on the contrary. That awareness is all about what neuroplasticity is at. The ideal would be to make those drops fewer and farther between. Then it’s about making the good habits natural, fluid and less mechanical. This is where you have to remember that it’s not about doing things perfectly, not trying to be perfect. The more you can let things go, and just be aware of what you are doing, as opposed to forcing things. The more that you force elements of your stroke, it becomes more mechanical, it slows down and it stalls your progess.

2. The breathing becomes more normal, more controlled as it does at any other point in other parts of life. Because swimming is one of few sports that limits the ability for you to breathe, it gives you challenges to your survival instinct that nothing else does. The lack of options you have to get oxygen into your lungs can mess with your mind. It induces panic. When you bike or run, if your breathing goes out of control you can slow down and get control. In the water, that is so much more difficult. So when you are in control and you are relaxed, the breathing will come with that.

What Tells You If You Are Improving?

Training and swimming on your own when you don’t have feedback can really throw you when you’re not sure what to look or feel for. You don’t have that instant feedback, you can’t see exactly what is going on. It’s difficult to ensure that you’re actually doing what you think you’re doing. Looking at the data only tells you a part of the story.

We’ve all had days (maybe many of them) where we swim hard and don’t go any quicker. Or that we swim easily (and therefore relaxed) and swim much faster. Swimming is a cruel mistress in that regard.

Taking forward steps, here are some sensations that you should look out for:

1. Looking at your pull buoy or wetsuit swims as something to assist speed rather than as a crutch.

2. Not going backwards – hopefully moving forward – when doing kicking drills – getting your body in the right position and then getting that fluid leg action takes time.

3. Feeling in control of the water when you engage – so you don’t feel a need to rip or grab, and move forward smoothly.

4. Finding the ability to change through gears without increasing your number of strokes – maintaining your repeatability. All of this comes down to control – and this comes with familiarity in the water, familiarity with your skills.

5. Ensuring that your entry and exit are as close together as they can be, that your hand doesn’t slip back through the water because it is locked in position. You can see this against the tiles, or the lane rope markers.

6. Getting your breaths in in a calm and relaxed manner, not feeling so rushed that you are gasping for air.

7. Feeling comfortable breathing out under the water and breathing in above the surface, in an automatic fashion. Smooth, consistent breathing is a hallmark of improved ability in the water.

8. Being in control of your swim speed so that you can descend (get quicker), ascend (intentionally get slower) or negative split (swim the second half quicker than the first) your swims at will.

9. Not dreading swimming in lakes, rivers or the sea, maybe even looking forward to them – heaven forbid!

10. Feeling the ability to relax in and on the water, if not necessarily enjoying yourself then at least feeling comfortable and not fearing it.

I am of the mind that adult swimmers absolutely can and will improve with good application. I wouldn’t do my job if it was such a dead loss. Some people will improve quickly, while others won’t. I absolutely believe that everyone is more than capable of swimming long swims at 2 minutes per 100 metres – especially triathletes have an aerobic engine so that fitness shouldn’t be an issue. Improvements can come for anyone at any ability just by putting the body at a better position in the water. That said, while it is simple, it is not always easy. While the same principles apply to everyone, not everyone will be able to get to those positions quickly.

Taking time in the pool is important. Consistency is important. Not everyone can do 2 or 3 swims every week, but being able to show up at the pool on a regular basis is key. There are many things that you can do out of the water to improve your swimming – strength work and mobility will all help, and at the moment stretch cord work – but at the end of the day, if you aren’t getting in the water, you can’t make the steps forward that you might like.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, Facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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Dealing With Time Out Of The Water And Starting Back #SwimTechTues

Dealing With Time Out Of The Water And Starting Back #SwimTechTues

Life is challenging at the moment. All you want to do is be in the pool. And unless you’re close to an open water venue – and brave enough to hit single digit temperature water – it’s going to be a while yet before we can get back to it.

In the meantime, there are various things that we can be doing that can assist us. We may not be sharp when the pools reopen, but we can be fit, strong and ready.

If you are a triathlete, then you have some advantages. You’re most likely already doing more cycling and/or running to make up for the lack of swimming. If you’re not a triathlete, then now is the time to start cross training (if you haven’t been already!). That doesn’t mean throwing yourself in at the deep end (pun intended), but getting out and being active at least some of the time.

By doing some cycling, running or other aerobic exercise, you’re working on your cardiovascular system – which is important for being strong and fit in the water. You may not have the same breath control, but at least you are working. What you may well find is that in doing disciplines that you are not so familiar with, not so efficient at, your body will improve more/quicker that by swimming alone. This increase in cardiac output means that when you hit the water, it won’t be quite as much of a shock to the system!

Secondly, get doing some strength work. I’d always advocate doing strength training as part of your normal swimming routine anyway, but not everyone gets around to it – or necessarily sees the benefits of those sort of workouts. Now that we all have a bit more time and space in our social calendar, time to get to work! Being stronger means that you can control your body better, and you can exert more force on the water. More force means more speed. More speed equals pbs and even more smiles!

In an ideal world, we’d all have our own equipment – barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX etc… These are lovely, but most people don’t have much or any of their own equipment. I have a pull up bar that I bought and a couple of very light dumbbells. The good thing is that we can do so much work without any specialist kit. Whether you do bodyweight exercises, like sit ups, press ups, squats etc, or you incorporate some light weights from water bottles or heavy books to do shoulder presses and lateral lifts, or even use your kitchen table to do inverted rows, there are so many options for doing stuff at home, when you get back to the water you might feel stronger than when you left!

Both with cross training (or doing extra bike/run training) and adding in strength work, START SLOWLY AND GENTLY.There’s nothing worse than going into a training session like a bull in a china shop and the following day feeling broken and not able to do anything for a week. Consistency is the key for all training – whether that is training that you are used to doing, or new stuff being added in. When you are consistent, your body will adapt steadily. This means that you will feel energised and ready to go, rather than broken down and suffering all the time.

The final thing that you can do right now to help for when you start back in the water is to do some stretch cord swimming. This is a little bit of a misnomer – in that it’s very difficult to fully recreate swimming on dry land. That said, you can go through the motions of technique with elastic/rubber stretch cords. This can be truly beneficial to your neural patterns and pathways, not only acting as a reminder as to what swimming felt like, but it gives you a chance to drill in better form than you had before. With short sets and the ability to see more of what you are doing than when you are in the water, now is the perfect time to perfect that catch and control of the water, and accelerating your hand past your thigh to exit.

Tie a stretch cord to a door handle, step back until your arms are out in front and taking up the slack from the band, and bend over forwards so that you are chest down to the floor. You’re now in position to think about “pulling”. While the bands won’t necessarily mimic the exact feel of water pressure on your hands, they give a pretty good read on which direction you are pushing in – and trying to make sure that you are directing it backward.

I’ve recently been using a device from a company called Zen8 – and rather than standing, and hinging forward at the waist, they have a narrow inflatable bench (sort of like a rectangular swiss ball) to lie on. It’s a great idea, but equally you could do something similar yourself with a bench or a stool to support you.

Once we get to a situation where we’re allowed to swim again, hopefully our bodys and minds will be super charged and prepped to kick on and keep improving. Now is not the time though to go crazy in those first few weeks back in the water.

Here are some of my thoughts about how to get back to the water after a long time away:

1. Take one day at a time.

What happens when we restart something after a long period of being away, our brains tell us that we’re just going to swim a couple of hundred metres, blow the cobwebs away, and then it will be as if nothing has happened – we’re back! Unfortunately, this very rarely happens. Depending on where we were at before, and then what we have done while out of the water, the return can be slower than we’d like. This is why various training is important now – so that when we get back to the water, we can hit the ground running.

Knowing that this is likely to be the case, we need to remove the ego from the equation. Stop comparing to where you were this time last year (however painful that may be) and how far from that place you are at the moment, and concentrate on the day-to-day, session-to-session operation of being a swimmer again – and everything that comes with it.

2. Aim for consistency first before building effort.

During the initial weeks or maybe month, concentrate on doing as much of your sessions with good form before you start thinking of increasing the effort.

While it might feel good to come out of every session exhausted and empty, this will burn you out physically and mentally – especially when you’re returning to sport. This can be exceedingly challenging for athletes to do; we all love to work hard, we all want to push ourselves all of the time. Drop the intensity for now, your body and mind will thank you soon enough!

3. Build a strong foundation from the outset.

An amazing benefit that comes from the long break (there are always benefits, if you know where to look) is that your slate is wiped clean. This is an opportunity for a fresh start, a do over to allow you time to build better form from day one. By including drills and skills, while you are swimming at lower effort, you can ensure smoother and easier swimming. With this you can improve your flexibility and mobility. Swimming mindfully, you’ll get far more than if you just plough up and down the pool.

4. Be patient

The initial weeks (and months in this case if you haven’t really swum since March 2020) can be mentally trying as much as physically – if not more so. Your brain will play tricks on you and tell you there’s no chance you’ll swim as fast as you used to; that the effort of training is so much higher and tougher this time around; that you don’t have the mental toughness or the confidence that you had before. You have to remember that it will all return; your feel and control of the water, your physical endurance and more, unfortunately just not as quickly as we wish it might!

5. Chart and celebrate your progression

By noting down and measuring your workouts and what you do, it doesn’t just show what you have been up to. It highlights the points mentioned earlier and puts it all in black and white in front of you. It allows you to alter your sessions, to increase volume – both week to week and in particular sessions.

By keeping a record of what you have done, it also allows you to chart the progression of your habits, keeping your regular ‘small wins’ right in front of you. It’s reassuring to see that things that you once found more tough or challenging are becoming less so, that you are heading in the right direction.

When we get back into the water, what should we be thinking about?

First and foremost, think about your technique, think about your form. If you are not working physically as hard, then you have all the time in the world. The smoother and more efficient that you can make your swim, the quicker you will go – and the quicker those improvements will come also.

I believe in building up your swim skills from a foundation, and that you can only really move up each rung of that skill ladder when you can do the most important steps at the bottom.

People love to work on improving their pull, mainly because they don’t enjoy kicking, or doing work at slower speed. The problem that you have with this is that with a sole focus on the sexy/fun/fast parts, it won’t make a huge amount of difference. Getting more power from your pull will make hardly any difference to your swim if you’re kick is leaking energy or creating more resistance for you to overcome.

Before you work on anything else, your body position has to be good and strong. If you can set this up, all other parts of your stroke become so much easier. Because your hips are higher and your body moving as one part, there is reduced resistance, and you’re in a far better position to kick and pull strongly.

Once your body is in the right place (ie at the surface), the next things to do is make sure that your kick is efficient. It doesn’t need to be the most forceful, and you certainly shouldn’t need to kick hard. Your legs should just be creating more propulsion than they are producing resistance.

Following on from this, your improved body position ensures that you will generate more coherent, all together body roll. The advantage of this is that you will be better placed to control the water with your stronger muscles and create more speed! With this, you can get your arm out and over the water easier, and it’s far simpler to breathe.

From all this, it’s easy to see how improving your foundations and strengthening your skills will improve the rest of your stroke so much more than just playing around with the more interesting sections or skills that you find more fun.

Because you’re taking your time getting back in the water, use the time wisely.

All of this is valid, whatever your reason for being out of the water. Start with a good base. Be fit and be mobile. Then take your time once you do get wet. Taking a little extra time earlier on can lead to bigger smiles at the end of the day.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, Facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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Running Intervals – Speed And Fun All Year Round #RunFormFriday

Running Intervals – Speed And Fun All Year Round #RunFormFriday

Running is an easy sport.

Lace up your shoes.

Walk out the door.

Start.

Finish.

But how can you get the most from your running? How can you continue to improve – more just can’t always be the way.

Unless you are a track sprinter, most run races/events/adventures are going to be around 95 to 99% aerobic – which means that you’re using oxygen to help fuel, and as a result the majority of your running should also be aerobic. This means comfortable effort, predominantly maintaining the ability to hold a conversation. If you can hold a conversation, it means that enough air is getting not only to your lungs, but then into the bloodstream to help with converting fat and glycogen (sugars) into energy.

The problem is, if we want to get faster, and want to avoid being a one paced athlete, we need to change things up at least a little bit.

This is where running intervals comes in. Interval training in it’s simplest form means that you aren’t doing everything at the same pace. Running intervals trains your body and mind to be able to change gear – whatever your speed or ability – and trains your body’s systems to shift through the gears too.

Because running is a super high impact sport – 4-5 times your body weight goes through your lower limbs every time your foot hits the ground – we can’t do too much running at a higher intensity. But dialling things in so that you do enough to make a difference isn’t too difficult.

The best part is that you can do some form of interval training all year round. The duration of the intervals might change. The amount of recovery might change. The level of intensity may be what you vary. Even how you divide up your run might alter. Whatever it is that you decide to affect, there are plenty of different options to help mix up your training, keep you interested and motivated, and help keep you improving.

Interval training involves running hard for short periods followed by longer recovery periods where you jog or even walk. Not to labour the point, but the effort periods really need to be tough for running interval training to deliver its benefits, which include improving your running efficiency and your ability to maintain higher speeds for longer. As a rule, if you get halfway through your recovery period and feel able to run hard again, the chances are you didn’t push yourself enough on the previous interval.

Fartlek Training

The simplest form of intervals that you can do is fartlek running intervals. Fartlek, roughly translated from its original Swedish, means “speed play.” Fartlek training can be done quite literally anywhere and can be as structured as you like. So if you enjoy running on the trails and in the middle of nowhere, you don’t need anything fancy to track it.

As a result, fartlek training is great for running in the winter, and it’s perfect for newer/less experienced runners – because it teaches you that running isn’t just about the pace on your watch that you are trying to maintain. It’s all about managing your effort and output – and learning what that feels like.

1) Free-form fartlek

These sets take the words “speed play” to heart – the workout is truly governed by how you feel. After a good warm-up, you can pick up the pace and intensity whenever you feel like it.

Free-form workouts are best done with a group of runners who share the same level of fitness and ability – you will keep each other honest by making sure there isn’t too much time in between hard efforts and ensuring those hard efforts are hard enough. You could vary between efforts, jumping up or down as you see fit, or you could keep stepping the pace up (something that can often happen in groups!).

2) Timed Fartlek

There’s no limit when it comes to setting up these workouts, especially now that so many watches allow you to set a variety of timers. The timed workouts should be organized based on your goals and training needs at various stages of your training program or the year. You could do efforts from 10 seconds in length up to a few minutes – the choices are endless.

If you’re building your levels of fitness at the front end of the year, you’ll want to emphasize your strength and aerobic fitness with intervals of between three and five minutes and give yourself about half the time of the interval as a recovery.

Later on in the year, if you have some races planned, you’ll need to emphasize threshold training, helping you to develop the ability to hold your heart rate at a higher level for longer periods of time. If you’re choosing to develop speed, you should do some shorter intervals with longer recovery times.

Finally, as you get close to your “A” race of the year, you’ll want to test your fitness with some longer intervals with short recoveries done at your goal race pace.

3) Distance Fartlek

This might be something that depends on where you are running (road/trails/sports pitches), but you can decide in advance how you are going to structure you changes in effort/speed. If you’re running on the road, choose lamp posts, road signs or road markings to effect a change on your intensity. If you’re on sports pitches, you may choose to accelerate/decelerate at the corners. If you are on trails, pick trees or markers along your way and kick on, or ease back!

Fartlek training to do running intervals really is as easy as that (although they can be quite hard!).

Beyond fartlek, running interval training can be a bit more specific, either in distance or in time.

Classic Running Intervals

One of the attractions of classical interval training is its measured, precise nature. Workouts can be tailored to a runner’s current ability level; similarly, they provide an accurate benchmark of one’s fitness, allowing achievable competitive goals to be set. Interval training’s repeatability provides comparisons to performances of a month or five years ago.

Conversely, it also possesses an almost infinite variety. By altering different segments of the workout, it’s possible to come up with a new training session each time you run out the door.

To be as specific as possible, it’s a nice where possible to run these sorts of sessions on a flat and open path. If you had the opportunity, running on a track is even better – you know exactly where you stand, and chances are you won’t have to battle a slope – but not everyone has that option all the time.

Interval training was first developed by German physiologists Reindell and Gerschler in the 1930s, based on their findings that the cardiovascular system responded to repeated brief bouts of stress by becoming stronger and more efficient. By keeping the duration of these efforts relatively short, they found that runners could complete a greater volume and intensity than they could during a sustained, continuous effort.

There are four variables in classic interval training, easily remembered by the mnemonic D-I-R-T.

D for Distance is rather self explanatory, referring to the length of each repetition.

I stands for Interval, which in Reindell and Gerschler’s system is the recovery period between repetitions. It is during this interval, especially the first 10 to 15 seconds, that most of the training effect occurs. Besides the duration of the interval, the activity (usually walking or jogging) figures into the equation. One of the original principles of interval training that is still accepted in some circles is that the next repeat should not begin until the athlete’s pulse has dropped to 120 beats per minute.

R is for Repetitions, the number of fast sessions to be performed. In longer workouts, repetitions can be broken down into sets, with a longer recovery interval than between individual reps.

Finally, the T stands for Time, how fast each repetition should be run. This can be constant or variable, depending on the goal of the workout.

All four of these variables are interrelated, and like a mathematical equation, changing one either affects the others or the final outcome. Knowing how this interaction functions will allow you to better understand interval training, and how to modify your workouts to your best advantage.

If you look at an example session, it may take this form: 8 x 400 holding 90 – 2 mins ri. That’s track language for eight efforts of 400 meters run in 90 seconds, with a two minute recovery. To increase the difficulty of this workout, there are four changes we could make to the formula (and like any school science experiement, it’s sensible to only alter ONE of them at a time).

The number of repeats could be raised to 10, 12 or more, the distance could be increased to 600 or 800 meters, the pace could be increased to 85 or 80 seconds, or the recovery time could be reduced to 1:45 or 1:30. Obviously, if the original session was too tough, changing any of the variables the opposite way would make it easier to complete.

Which change you make depends on your goal for that training session. To learn to run at a particular pace (e.g. six minute miles) in a race, keep the pace the same and reduce the distance and/or increase the number of reps. On the other hand, if you are working on being able to run farther at a strong pace, lengthening the reps may be a better option.

This leads to what I feel are the two most important rules of effective interval training:

1. Go to each workout with a goal, and a plan. Don’t just say “I need to get fast, I’m going to smash myself to bits.” Different workouts have different training effects; 20 x 200 and 4 x 1,000 have little in common besides the total distance being the same. With this knowledge, and the understanding of the basic principles of interval training, you can sensibly follow the next rule:

2. Be flexible in your workouts, but within reason. Many runners throw speed into their weeks and plans haphazardly. They figure speedwork is speedwork, and it doesn’t matter what they do, it’s got to make them faster. Perhaps, but doing the workout of someone pointing for a 5K next month may not help you very much in your marathon in the fall. Beware of falling prey to a mindless group mentality. Refer back to Rule 1, and see if you can adapt or modify the workout to fit your training goals (chances are, most workouts can!).

With all of this, you can pick a speed session of some sort for any time of the year. When you are building fitness, or having fun after races have finished, being specific isn’t important. Doing some form of running intervals breaks up the week, keeps you motivated and feeling like you have done something fun. When the work really begins, you can start with some short sharp intervals to get the legs moving; maybe move to something a bit longer as you get fitter and stronger to improve your general pace and overall speed; and then work back down to the short stuff to get really fast!

Just be careful with how much speed running you do in a week. Running harder and faster puts more stress through the body. So as mentioned up at the top, no need to overload it more than is necessary. Make sure that you do your recoveries properly easy and let the heart rate come down. One high speed session a week is plenty. Anything else of intensity shouldn’t really be much more than tempo – or 7/10 effort.

Everyone has their favourite sorts of interval session. I’d love to know what yours is!

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in-depth understanding on how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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Stretch Cord Swim Training #SwimTechTues

Stretch Cord Swim Training #SwimTechTues

Stretch cords can be an effective tool to help retain parts of your swim fitness during the off season or in our current pandemic climate with COVID-19. As a result stretch cord training helps you to maintain some swim specific strength and efficiency, conditioning muscle groups and mimicking freestyle movements, making the transition back to the water much easier.

Although it lacks the dynamic nature of pool swimming, stretch cord training, can be designed so that the workouts included a lot of variety, as well as targeting specific elements of the swim stroke.

There are multiple benefits to using stretch cords during your downtime, or even supplemental to normal swim training.

The learning curve with swimming stretch cords is short.

Unlike lifting, which requires careful coaching and supervision, particularly for novices, adding stretch cords to your dryland doesn’t require a lot of instruction.

As swimmers you should already know the basics of the pulling motion; all you have to do is replicate that with the cords. Unlike weights, stretch cords are relatively safe.

Technical corrections can quickly be made.

Unless you are under constant observation, or having video swim analysis it’s not always possible to get a great look at your pulling motion.

With stretch cords you as a swimmer are solely focusing on the pulling motion, and inefficiencies in the stroke can be corrected.

Training with stretch cords is specific to what you are trying to do in the water.

The greatest advantage of resistance tubing is that we are performing an exercise that closely mimics what we are doing in the water. The closer our dryland activities match up to what we want to accomplish in the water the better.

A number of studies have found that a general dryland program alone doesn’t always result in faster swimming performance. Researchers in one study surmised that it was a lack of specificity in the dryland training.

From a swim technique point of view, there are various things that you can do. The important thing to remember is that if you can get the 3 fixed points of the stroke reasonably strong, then everything else becomes more transferrable. In all swim based exercises, the more that you can get your torso bent over – closer to horizontal – the more “normal” the exercise becomes.

Catch/Full extension

Reaching forward keeping a straight line from your hip to shoulder and forward to your hands, and making sure that your fingertips are just below your wrists.

Midpoint

Getting your forearms vertical, with your hands below your elbows; you can practice that midpoint scull, and you can also get used to feeling pressure and pulling from your forearms by holding your cords on the forearms rather than on your hands.

Exit/Finish

Focusing on making sure that your hands face backwards all the time, you can ensure that your hands brush all the way back past your thighs. As above, you can also practice that exit point scull position, arms fully extended back at the elbow.

Here are a couple of “main set” options that you could try. In all cases, you can adjust the tension that you are working with – to make it more challenging or alternatively to make it easier to maintain good form throughout. If you have varying options of cords then that is great, but alternatively standing closer to or further from the anchor point.

Workout 1

Drill set: 4 x drill set – steady stroke rate

30 sec catch sculling. Focus on the hand placement, arms extended forward, elbows slightly bent and hands creating a figure 8. Keep constant pressure on the cord. Rest for 10 seconds.
1 min continuous freestyle. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on high elbow during the catch phase but a low elbow recovery.
30 sec mid point sculling. Focus on keeping hands below the elbows, squeezing your hands in and out, turning your palms to push against the cord. Maintain constant pressure on the cord. Rest for 10 seconds
1 min continuous freestyle. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on high elbow during the catch phase but a low elbow recovery.

Main set: 4 x swim set – steady stroke rate
Double Arm Stroke — 10 complete strokes. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch
Continuous Freestyle with high elbow catch – 1 minute. Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch phase
Rest 30 seconds

Workout 2

Drill set: steady stroke rate

8 x 30 strokes, alternate sides, hip touch drill. Start under the shoulder and push back toward the thigh. Focus on the hand placement and extending the thumb to touch your hip as it passes. Rest for 10 seconds
4 x 1 min continuous freestyle. Rest 10 seconds. Focus on touching your thigh/hip

Main set: 3 x swim set – steady stroke rate

Left Arm – 10 complete strokes.
Right Arm – 10 complete strokes.
Double Arm Stroke – 10 complete strokes.
Rest 10 sec
1minute continuous freestyle touch the hip with an extended thumb the last 30 sec. High elbow recovery.
Rest 30 sec

Workout 3

Drill Set: – steady to high stroke rate

3 rounds of 30 strokes as single arm stroke (15 each side) for each drill below, rest 10 sec after each drill, focusing on the following:

Drill 1: Focus on a high elbow during the catch and pull.
Drill 2: Focus on hand placement and thumbs touching the hips.
Drill 3: Focus on high elbow during the catch and pull while acceleration throughout the stroke.

Main set: – steady to high stroke rate

4 x swim set

Double Arm Stroke – 10 complete strokes. Rest 10 sec. Focus on a slow catch and fast finish past the hip. Accelerating throughout the stroke.
Left Arm – 10 complete strokes. Accelerating throughout the stroke.
Right Arm – 10 complete strokes. Accelerating throughout the stroke.
Rest 30 sec

4 x swim set

1 minute continuous freestyle. Focus on keeping the elbows high during the catch and pull. Increase to a high turnover the last 30 seconds of each 1 min interval.
Rest 10 sec

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, Facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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Long Plods Or Short Swims To Get Better #SwimTechTues

Long Plods Or Short Swims To Get Better #SwimTechTues

Many people seem to get in the pool and plough up and down for length after length. Here’s a little secret of the swimming world: you do not have to swim 400m repeats or a 3k straight to get better or faster.

In fact, if you are a beginner swimmer, shorter repeats like 25 to 100m can actually make you faster and more efficient than doing longer distance efforts.

Since swimming smoother and stronger is largely dependent upon much your body position and pull technique, if either or both of these two are lacking then you are going to be expending a good deal more energy for very little gain; sometimes you might actually swim slower.

By swimming shorter, having shorter and more regular breaks, and focusing on your form each and every time, you can build your muscle memory with good habits and not have to worry about fatigue breaking down your technique. You’ll probably find that you swim slightly quicker as a result too, so you can look to maintain this as you swim longer.

Try a session like this – or a variation of. It will build your swim stroke up through drills and then will take that technical work and translate that into speed:

Warmup:

4×25 side kick drill (go half on your left side and half on your right)
4×25 6/3/6 drill on 10-15s rest
4×25 catch up drill on 10-15s rest

Main set:

20×25 following this rotation Focus on your balance in the water
Focus on good rotation
Focus on focus on good hand placement
Focus on high elbow catch
Put it all together

8×50 Smooth and strong on 30s rest

Cooldown: 2×100 choice of stroke

This sort of thing will always work best when you understand your stroke and what the breaking points are, what things you need to work on and improve; whether that is from a swim lesson or a friend has watched you swim.

As your season and your form progresses, this sort of session can become more of an easy recovery swim rather than a normal session.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, Facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Be A Lazy Swimmer – Swim Smart #SwimTechTues

Be A Lazy Swimmer – Swim Smart #SwimTechTues

Very few athletes that I see or coach are lazy. Quite the opposite! But, many swimmers work extremely hard and that excessively hard work does not pay off in expected gains. Instead of working harder to make small gains, why not think about working smarter. By training smart, and swimming lazily you should see more improvements. Many times, young and old swimmers get burned out with excessive training sessions. With smarter swimming, you will be more likely to enjoy your training and get more out of it. We all want to go as far and as fast as we can for each and every stroke, for minimal energy. That’s the ethos of swimming lazy

Swim Smarter with Mindfulness

The first, and best way to swim smarter is to swim mindfully. Think about what you are doing. Too many people will swim fast, but not pay attention to the quality of their strokes. If you are not using your body the right way, you will not better your strokes, your strength, and your flexibility. You might get a good aerobic workout, but you might not actually get much faster. It is better to swim slower, smoother and calmer while paying close attention to the technique of your strokes. Are your hips at the surface? Are you swimming from your core? Are you dragging yourself along? Are you connecting with the water with power? Are you kicking with more than just your calf muscles? Make smart adjustments to use less effort, and get the most out of your swimming. Swim lazy!

Swim lazy

Swim Smarter with Drills During Your Workouts

No matter how often you swim and no matter how long you swim, it is a good idea to add some swimming drills. These can be sets of laps that should be completed in a certain amount of time, or it can be something as simple as using pull buoys or paddles. It is always a good idea to try to do something intentional while you spend time in the pool. Drills can help you focus on strength, speed, stroke, or breathing. Make your workout smarter by actually swimming with a purpose.

Occasionally, Take it Easy

Finally, give yourself some time to recover. Pushing hard all the time is like driving a car and constantly bashing against the rev limiter. To change gear, there has to be a drop in the revolutions of the engine. Use the easier swimming and recovery time to be aware of your stroke and take control. Then when your body is feeling a bit more refreshed, you can attack a few more sessions or sets again.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by emailfacebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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WHY AM I NOT IMPROVING? #SwimTechTues

WHY AM I NOT IMPROVING? #SwimTechTues

 

Many athletes often expect to improve more quickly than is really feasible, especially when they are strong runners and cyclists. This inevitably leads to frustration, particularly when you cannot swim the number of lengths you would like to or develop the kind of swim speed you were hoping for. This is extremely common with newcomers to any sport and can often lead to people giving up trying altogether.

All this is connected with our emotions, but it also about setting realistic goals in relation to our own ability and motor skills.

 

Why can’t I swim that well?

This is the question lots of us ask ourselves just after starting to swim. We inevitably compare ourselves to better swimmers, which can often be extremely frustrating. This can also depend on the methods our swim instructor employs to teach us the proper technique.

Good instructors realise that beginners have not had time to learn the right motor skills to swim properly, whatever stroke they are focusing on. In this respect, we know that verbal instructions need to be backed up by visual aids: observing and attempting to implicitly memorise is the most effective strategy for achieving the aspired standard of swim technique. The idea is to make all the movements constituting our swim stroke automatic. Learning to make these movements automatic takes time and lots of practice, as well as expert help.

One major reason for not swimming as well is not putting yourself and your body in the correct position. Because swimming is counter-intuitive, this means doing things that the survival part of your brain isn’t necessarily comfortable with doing, and this can take some time and mental resilience.

 

Why can’t I swim as many lengths as I would like to?

Quantity is something even less experienced swimmers use to assess their swim skills. Nevertheless, it is also a yardstick that can easily lead to frustration. To avoid this, it is extremely important to set realistic goals for your own ability, as well as being willing to train hard.

How far you swim is not the only measure of how well you are doing. Quality and quantity are both equally important in testing your swimming ability. If you can do the same distance in a session but feel better, not as tired, and swim smoother or quicker, then that is just as much – if not more of an improvement than swimming further. 

Some of your distance issues may be related to pacing. The further you want to swim, the easier your effort will have to be, this is a learned skill that takes time and practise, just as in running and cycling.

 

Take away

Learning to swim takes time. Improving your swimming and technique takes longer. It’s not just a case of turning up and putting in the physical effort – it’s a concentration effort more importantly. Take your time and enjoy the process!

 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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#SwimTechTues – How To Work On Pacing

#SwimTechTues – How To Work On Pacing

#SwimTechTues – How To Work On Pacing

One of the things that can make or break your swim is your pacing. Whether you’re a new swimmer or an experienced athlete, the pace you train or race at can affect your chances of success and also your enjoyment.

When athletes start swimming for the first time, many feel like they have issues with their breathing. They could be incredibly fit and strong but put them in the water, and they are blowing like a train after one length! The issue here is that at this stage, they only have one pace – things are either on or off, go or stop. Go is 100% effort. If you imagine when you went for your first ever run; the first 2 minutes, you felt amazing, running strong. Next thing you know, you’re gasping for air and needing a pause. This is how you are feeling when you start swimming. As you get experienced with your running, you learn to regulate your effort, and therefore your pace. In the water, you have to learn the same skill. In the same way that you would run a 10k slower than a 5k, or a half marathon slower than a 10k, your swim efforts should reflect the distance that you are aiming to swim.

If you’re a more experienced athlete pacing in your training sessions can help you get the most out of your swims. Swimming is different from biking or running in that it’s easier to go hard every day without tearing up your ligaments and joints. Since you don’t feel the same type of soreness as when you run and bike, swimming leads many triathletes to think that maybe they didn’t swim hard enough. Beware: Swimming hard every day eventually will wear you down and something will give. It could be your shoulder, your back…or your motivation.

Learning to pace is a skill. It will improve your race pace, keep you injury free and maintain your motivation.

So how do you manage your intensity when it feels good to work hard so much of the time?

 

Swim with a plan: Each time you get in the water the workout should have a specific purpose. And every swim set within that workout should have a distinct purpose.

pace

 

For example:

Drill/Skill Sets: The purpose of a drill session is to practice technique and improve your efficiency. It’s NOT to see how fast you can swim 100 metres while doing fingertip drag or catch up.

Speed Sets: These sets are designed to teach you how to become efficient at going fast and to raise your top end speed. These sets are NOT designed to see you swim 35 seconds for 50 metres and then swim 45 seconds for the rest. Pick a speed you can handle for the duration of the set. Typically, when I have a set of 10×50 metres, I start out at 30 seconds and aim to maintain that speed. You don’t want to fall apart. Your times shouldn’t vary too much. Learn to swim fast when you are tired – feel what might be falling apart.

Endurance Sets: These sets are designed to create a nice big aerobic engine that will let you swim at race pace for as long as you need to. These sets include 200 metre and up repeats. You may have to swim a set of 3×500 metres. Just like when you swim the speed sets, maintain your pace throughout or get quicker. If you start out at 8:00 for your first 500, and then swim 8:30, and then 9:00 you just blew your whole workout. Remember you want to maintain your pace throughout the reps, and for each rep.

The goal of any swim set, be it 50-metre efforts or 800-metre repeats, is to swim with consistency and at an appropriate effort level. The more you start incorporating this into your practices, the faster you will become.

Pacing Skills

 

There are different ways of swimming sets, that can improve your feel of effort and the pace that you are putting in. Negative splits, build and descending sets will all challenge your ability to change pace and control how you swim.

Negative splits – A common set across various sports; doing the second half of a rep at a faster speed than the first half.

Build – A steady acceleration across the length of a repetition.

Descend – Maintaining a steady speed across each repetition, but swimming each repetition quicker than the last.

The main point is to learn the importance of pacing in the pool. Take it out easy during the first few sets and repeats when you swim. As you warm up, increase your pace. If you find that you’re swimming is getting ragged, or the pace starts to fall away, take a pause at your recovery and workout what needs attention to help you swim stronger and faster.

Practice the way you are going to race and it will become second nature. You want to be the athlete doing the passing at the end of the race, not the one being passed.

Start slow and finish strong.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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Getting Ready For Open Water #SwimTechTues

Getting Ready For Open Water #SwimTechTues

Getting Ready For Open Water #SwimTechTues

With the UK race season officially underway, I have been seeing a lot of posts from triathletes about getting in the lake, river or sea for the first time this year – or possibly ever! Getting in the cold water can hold fear or confusion for many athletes, or others just simply don’t enjoy it. Whatever happens, it’s good to be prepared; here are my recommendations for preparing for the open water! First off, let’s identify where people struggle the most when switching to open water: Going off course. Panicking. Running into people. Letting their form collapse. Maybe you’re not being used to a wetsuit. Possibly you’re not being used to swimming in the open water. Open water conditions like currents and surf/chop. The number one remedy to the majority if not all of the above is (drumroll please!) Practice outside as much as you can (but not too much)! I know, I know: It is hard to get to open water because of schedules, weather conditions, and other commitments. So continue to swim your regular sessions every week. But as the race approaches take one or two of those swims and do it in open water. Make it as high a priority as possible. Swimming in the pool is not completely different from swimming in the open water – but it does have its own vagaries. So to get faster at the latter, you need to do it more. And not just on race day. Use these swims to test your wetsuit, practice sighting, get used to not seeing the bottom, and practice with others. Also, work on longer intervals at race pace. Some people will benefit from maintaining a more constant rhythm – others will need to readjust from having a rest and a push off at the end of every length!

What Can You Do In The Pool To Prepare?

Swimming in the pool still has its place. Even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your regular weekly pool sessions, especially if your form is still weak. Of course, you can work on technique in the lake, but it becomes more challenging. Pool swims are important to develop speed and improve technique without the distractions that open water provides. Use the pool to focus on your form and drill work as well as a few race pace speed sets for time so that you can monitor your splits. If open water is simply out of the question, simulate the chop, surf, and congestion by trying to swim in a lane with three to four other people at the same time. It is tough but it will mimic that race start well. Also, close your eyes while swimming to mimic losing your ability to guide yourself with the black line (obviously only do this if you have an empty lane!). Turning before the wall is also a great way to simulate the stop-go of open water swimming, and not resting between lengths. Swimming in open water – at least with a wetsuit – should be quicker than swimming in the pool. So make sure that you are prepared for swimming in open water. Practise putting your wetsuit on so that it fits properly over your shoulders. Get yourself comfortable entering the water so that your HR doesn’t take such a shock to the system come race day! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages. See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!
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