Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Swimming Strength

People tend to think of me as a swimmer and I think I've said this before... I'm not really a very naturally gifted swimmer. But for years, I have trained often, I have trained consistently, and I have trained a lot (and often times very hard) and therefore my swim race times don't tend to suck.

But just like most everyone else, if/when I miss swim workouts (and therefore my volume and frequency go down), my swimming skill temporarily disappears. One nice thing about the deep background I have though is that typically, with a few weeks of resuming solid training, it comes back. So that's nice. Don't think I'm 'lucky' though in that regard. I have put my time in and I have earned that. :)

Anyway, I am currently once again training for the Double Roughwater swim and if you've been following my blog at all over the years maybe you'll remember this one. It's ~7K or so and this will be the 7th(??) year I've done it. What I like about training for it sort of gives us license to do all sorts of the craziest swim workouts you can imagine. I can't say my swim fitness has been very high this fall BUT it is finally coming around now so that feels good.

Last weekend we did the Double course with a small group and a kayaker. It was cold, super windy, choppy, with jellyfish, etc. I was NOT fit enough to swim it well so essentially I got my ass kicked by everyone on the way home (for the 2nd week in a row actually) and it did not make me happy. At all. I got out of the water at the end and didn't speak to anyone just went and got changed and went home and plopped down on my couch feeling sorry for myself. I had all sorts of thoughts like screw it I don't even like that damn swim WHY am I doing this I suck at swimming, etc. (And no- not even PMSing! Ha!) I was conflicted though b/c I *knew* that if I ever want to have a shot at keeping up with the swimmers in that group I need to buck up and swim more and bailing on those long swims was not going to help me in that regard... But going through that ass kicking every weekend wasn't really sounding like a great idea either. Blah.

So if you know me at all, you'll know that instead of throwing in the towel, I put my head down and kept working at it. Wednesday we did a 5K w/o that involved 3 x 1000's descend 1-3 w/ 1' rest. This is actually kind of a staple in our world so not a huge deal... But I made it more challenging this time around my putting on paddles. Have you ever tried descending with paddles? It's crazy hard. Mostly b/c paddles wear you out muscularly in a way that regular swimming does not so in all honesty, I was not sure at all that I would be capable of descending. But why not try?

Long story short, I managed to do it (descend) but I will tell you- on that 3rd one I had to focus like no other time and really make sure I was swimming correctly. My goal was to make sure I was continuing to engage my lats (vs getting lazy and dropping my elbows on the catch) so I consciously widened out my stroke a little, anchored my elbow up high toward the surface upon catching, then reached deep in an effort to generate as much propulsive power as I could with each stroke. It was freaking HARD but so cool b/c I just felt like an animal and I knew I was hitting my target pace the whole time.

Fast forward to today I was in the ocean with Nalani doing the Double course again... granted the conditions were 100x nicer today than they were last week... no wind for the last few days meant the water was clear and glassy which makes it easier to swim correctly for sure... BUT the interesting thing to me is that when the pace picked up on the way home, I was there. My power was there. I totally recalled the animal feeling I had on Wed with the paddles and went back to that type of effort... widen it out, anchor the elbow, reach deep, feel the power. It was hands down the strongest swim I've had in a very long time and felt sooo good! I'm sure doing the long ocean swims 3 weeks in a row also had something to do with it, but I'm calling that 3K with paddles The Animal Set and 100% for sure I will do it again b/c I just LOVE the strength it gave me. Actually, while I was out there today I was thinking even better strap bands on too and try to descend that. 3 x 1000's descend 1-3 with 1' rest with paddles and bands (no buoy)? Holy crap. Totally not sure that is even possible but don't put it past me to try it. Maybe I'll start with 3 x 600's first though. ;)

Anyway, the inspiration for this post sort of came about after seeing the swim splits from Ironman Cozumel this morning. Clearly some swimmers were able to swim that course well today (top 3 women swam 54') but then looks like no one else (female) was even <1:02?? HUGE split for sure and a lot of relatively 'slow' times which indicates the conditions were suitable for the strongest of the swimmers but either the currents or the chop (maybe both?) were enough to separate the weaker ones out in a way that a lake swim would not. If you live near an ocean where you're able to train, then getting better in the ocean is a no brainer (duh- get in the ocean more!) BUT that is not an option for most people. So your next best bet is to get strong. And to get strong in the water, correct your stroke technique and then strap on those paddles and focus. Widen it out a little, anchor your elbow, reach deep, feel the power. There you go!


Donna said...


I've followed your blog for ages and know one of your athletes. I have stalled at swimming because I am not upper body strong. And I am having shoulder issues precluding the use of paddles (too much anyway at the moment) in the pool.

How do I get swim strong to pull harder, without using paddles? Any ideas?


Cathleen Knutson said...

Totally inspired for tomorrow morning's swim set! Not sure it'll be 3x1000 with paddles, but I like the idea of primal animal POWER! (ps - no doubt you'll be read for your big swim soon enough)

Michelle Simmons said...

Hi Donna! If you're having shoulder issues with paddles it's likely a technique thing- any chance you have a decent coach somewhere nearby who can take a look at your catch/pull and body position and let you know what they see? Google 'swim smooth' as well there's lots of good technique info there. That said, try using stretch cords on land (anchor them to a pole or something) and mimic the high elbow catch- this is good for muscle memory and you can play around with positioning a bit to see when/how you can get your lats to engage as you take your stroke- that is the goal and if you can make that happen you will take some of the pressure off your shoulders when you swim. :) Hope that helps!

Mary IronMatron said...

And isn't IM Coz usually such a fast swim? I wonder what happened with chop and current this year??
Anyway, I find so many people, even those who have an ocean to swim in, opt for the pool. I love the pool... but pool swimming does not prepare you for the ocean. That is a different beast! I have to laugh, also, when athletes insist on having a lane to themselves, or dividing a lane, b/c there is too much top if one circle swims.
And there isn't too much chop in a 2.4 mile lake or ocean swim with 3000 of your best friends? :)

rr said...

I was wondering about Coz swim splits. You know how at Honu, the pros had that head start, and the buoy thing happened after they went around it, so they all swam 26 to our 30+ swims? I was thinking maybe something similar happened. Like the girls that got out really fast had some kind of advantage. Because Beth isn't a 54' swimmer (yet), but she's a sub-60, and she rolled in at 1:11. Something weird must have happened? But maybe you're right and it was just the super strong girls were fine... What do I know about swimming! Glad you're starting to feel good just in time. Is the race the day prior to the marathon?

Anonymous said...

Well you already know how I feel about my ocean swimming and I vow to buck up and work on gaining animal form.

Kathy said...

here in Cozumel the currents can change in an instant and at teh change itself you get what I call the "washing machine effect." I swim the Caribbean very frequently and live 10km from Cozumel. I never know what I'm going to find in the water nor how the swim will end up. Between the tides, teh current and (on that day the incredible chop) you can swim 10 meters from someone and have totally different conditions.

I suspect the pro men and 2 women had radically different conditions. I also know that teh current was changing on teh last leg and becoming washing machine when I left the water so I suspect those behind me had different conditions to finish the swim than I did.

It was an interesting swim Sunday. :)