Friday, January 25, 2008

Why Master Swimming isn't always the best training for a Triathlete

Hoping to have this up on a few online mags soon. I'll post links once they've been published.


“Whoa!” You might be thinking. “Hang on a second. Where does one get off coming to that conclusion?” Having swum, and coached, in and out of masters groups I can say with certainty that in getting ready for your big event it’s best to do what you need to do.

Let’s first start with why masters swim workouts are good. There’s the group atmosphere, the social commitment of “having to be there”, the presence of a coach on deck who will be able to point out inaccuracies with your stroke, have all the workouts written for you and hopefully a highly motivating and positive enforcer for you. For the beginner triathlete/swimmer these are all huge positives, but let’s take this one step further.

In a typical masters group it’s possible that you might get any of the following: Too much drill work and not enough aerobic stress, too short of swim durations and too long of rest intervals, not to mention swimming IM sets! Think of it this way… when you first started running… did you go to the track for every workout? When you go for bike rides… do you stop every 3 minutes?

You are now into your 2nd, 3rd or more season of swimming and racing. You are not as concerned with your technique as you are with your fitness. Getting faster is your focus and a faster swim split your goal. You’ve spent the latter half of fall and all winter going to the pool 5 days a week with your masters swim squad. You’ve done the drills and you’ve done the hard sets. You’ve put in the work and you’re beginning to see the reward. But now spring is approaching and with it that first race of the season. Your swim squad presses on with more 50’s and 300’s but you begin to wonder about that 1900m half Ironman swim you have coming up. Here’s where getting out and swimming on your own trumps traditional masters swimming.

To become good at a anything, in this case swimming a 1900m open water swim very efficiently, it’s imperative that your training mimic the race. So around 2 months out from your event you begin following a race specific program. Rather than continue with the general, it’s time you got specific. Extend this thinking to the bike and run and you’ll do great!

Once a week you get in for a longer easy straight swim. Think of this like your long bike ride. Insert small spurts of steady efforts into the middle after you have warmed up but just keep swimming. If it’s warm enough you can make this an open water swim.

Twice per week insert a set that totals around 2000m in length using longer distances and shorter intervals. For example 4x500’s on :15-:20 rest. Your effort should be about tempo/L3. This would be the equivalent of your race pace tempo run.

If you are looking to get more swims in per week then head back to your masters group and swim a lane or two down. Use it as a recovery swim, for a little extra quickness, or to get more feedback on your evolving technique.

As the race season progresses continue to follow your race specific workouts. If there is a long time before your next “specific prep” phase go back to your speed work (e.g. 6-10x100’s on very limited rest), return to some more focused drill work or revisit the masters group and seek out that same boost that your focused winter work gave you.

Masters swimming can be a useful tool, but in the interest of preparing yourself specifically for the longer durations that you will face in triathlon racing it’s best to get outside the box and start doing specifically what you need to be doing.

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