If you are like most triathletes, swimming is a challenge right now, and by “challenge” we mean completely unavailable. Unless you are fortunate enough to have access to a private pool or a Vasa Ergometer, maintaining swim form is tough. Fortunately, there are some options to come out of this situation mitigating the damage to, and possibly even improving, your swim fitness.
Option 1: Replace your swim training with Cycling, Running, Strength Training, or Rowing
1. Replace approximately 50% of your swim volume with at-home strength and flexibility training or rowing. While there is very little evidence that strength training or rowing will help on the swim, lower body strength training will help you on the bike and run. Flexibility, on the other hand, will directly improve swimming.
2. Replace approximately 30% of your swim with volume with cycling.
3. Replace approximately 20% of your swim volume with running.
For example, a week with 3 hours scheduled swim might look like this to replace 2 of those 3 hours (the other hour still dedicated to dryland training in Option 2 below):
– 2×30 minutes strength and flexibility
– 35 minutes additional cycling (of which 7 minutes are at Zone 3 or higher)
– 25 minutes additional running (of which 5 minutes are at Zone 3 or higher)
Option 2: Replace your swim training with Dryland Training
Use this workout as an alternative to regular swimming. It can be used in combination with Option 1, where some swim workouts are replaced with cycling and running and the balance replaced with swim-specific dryland training. The only required equipment is a resistance cord such as the FINIS Dryland Cord. The workout consists of four exercises arranged in a circuit format. Complete each exercise once, rest for 30 seconds, and then repeat the entire circuit a total of 4 to 12 times (10-30 minutes).
To replace the swim workouts in your 80/20 plan, consider performing this workout 4-6 times a week, which would supplement 40-180 minutes of swimming. For example, if your 80/20 plan called for a total of 2.5 hours of swimming in a given week, performing this workout for 30 minutes a day for 5 days would meet that requirement.
Bent-Over Two-Arm Pull with Resistance Cord
Attach the middle of the resistance cord to a pole or other secure support at roughly waist height. Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in the knees. Hinge forward at the hips (not the waist) until your torso is at roughly a 45-degree angle to the ground and extend both arms directly overhead in line with your torso, one hand on each handle of the resistance cord. There should be light tension in the cord to begin. Contract your back muscles and draw both handles down to your hips, keeping your elbows high just as you would when executing a normal freestyle arm pull. Return to the start position. Continue pulling at a steady, unhurried rate for 30 seconds.
Prone Flutter Kick
Lie face down with your arms relaxed at your sides, palms on the floor. With a slight bend in the knees, contract your buttocks to lift your knees off the floor and begin to execute a tight flutter kick at a natural tempo. Continue for 30 seconds.
Bent-Over Alternating Single-Arm Pull with Resistance Cord
This exercise is identical to the Bent-Over Two-Arm Pull with Resistance Cord execute you pull with one arm at a time while keeping the other extended overhead. Continue alternating left-arm and right-arm pulls for 30 seconds.
Supine Flutter Kick
Lie face up on the floor with your legs fully extended and your arms relaxed at your sides. Tighten your stomach muscles, lift your heels off the floor, and begin to execute a tight flutter kick at a natural tempo. Continue to 30 seconds. To make the exercise more challenging, do it with your arms extended overhead, the backs of your palms two inches above the floor.
Resuming Your Swim Training After Time Away from the Pool
Here are some basic guidelines for getting back into swim training after you’ve been out of the pool for a while:
Dip your toes. If you really wanted to, you could probably jump right back into the pool and repeat the last workout you did before your swim training was interrupted. It sure wouldn’t be much fun, however, and you might not be able to get out of bed the next morning. You’ll get back into a groove much quicker if you practice some restraint in the beginning. Keep your first swim short and easy, doing just enough to wake up those dormant swim muscles and begin the process of regaining your feel for the water. Here’s an example:
4 x 50m in Zone 1-2 with 0:10 rest
8 x 25m drills
2 x 50m in Zone 3 with 0:15 rest
4 x 25m kick
4 x 50m in Zone 1-2 with 0:10 rest
Focus on drills. Technique drills are always important and are too often underemphasized by triathletes. And when you’re getting back into swimming after a break, they become even more important. As much as half of the time you spend in the water in the first couple of weeks should be spent on drills. Although it might feel counterintuitive, you’ll regain your prior form faster with this approach than you will if you put more emphasis on normal freestyle swimming.
Listen to your body. The question every athlete in this situation asks is, “How quickly can I ramp up my swimming?” The answer is different for each athlete. If you’re younger and/or a more experienced swimmer, you might be able to ramp up very quickly. If not, you might need to go a little slower. Either way, your body will tell you. No matter how gentle that first swim is, you will probably feel some soreness the next day. Use this information and other internal signals (such as pain during swimming) to determine the appropriate rate of increase in your swimming volume. As a general rule, it’s best to start at a more conservative rate and adjust upward than the other way around.
Build a Bridge. If your ultimate goal is to resume or restart an 80/20 Triathlon Plan that you were forced to abandon or defer when you lost pool access, think in terms of building a fitness bridge that enables you to merge into this plan at the appropriate time. Once you have a good sense of the rate at which you are safely able to increase your swimming volume, start to look ahead and consider how long it will take for you to reach a level that will enable you to begin following the prescribed swim sessions in your chosen plan. You can then plan out the rest of your fitness bridge to ensure you’re ready to make that jump when the time comes.