View Full Version : Training advice for a non-swimmer with no "coach "

November 2nd, 2013, 04:45 PM
I've been reading through these forums for a while now and I've been impressed by some of the posts I've seen. I see some very helpful people with exceptional swimming knowledge, often life-long swimmers and coaches, giving their time for free to help people improve. Well, I need some help!

I swim with Rogue Valley Masters, a very small workout group in Southern Oregon. I've never swum competitively in my entire life until I did my fist open water masters race at Applegate Lake in July 2011. My very first pool meet ever was December that same year. My athletic background is primarily running, but I've done quite a few triathlons as well, including an Ironman-distance event. I was always pretty strong at the swim portion despite never really training much for it. But an old knee injury finally caught up to me a few years ago and I had to stop running.

Well, turns out I'm a pretty decent long-distance freestyle swimmer! I am so glad that I've found this sport because it has dramatically enriched my life. Swimming has been key to keeping my sanity and has ignited a passion inside of me that I didn't know existed. I love it and can't seem to get enough swimming and competing, especially in the open water!

Now it's winter and open water season is over. I want to really focus this winter on improving my short course times. In open water, I can swim with (and sometimes finish in front of) people who regularly finish minutes ahead of me in the mile in the pool. So I think there's lots of room for improvement! For reference of past times, here's my swimmer info page:

I've already done two SCM meets this year (Oregon Association Champs in April and Pacific Masters Champs in October) and for some reason, even though I swim much faster every day in practice than I did 1.5 years ago, and my turns are better (they're closed at least), I can't seem to match my SCM times from April 2012! I had a great LCM nationals this year, winning my age group (M35-39) in the 400, 800 and 1500. Disclaimer: the age group was soft and my times weren't all that fast compared to the overall times, but I still swam my best times ever (not hard, I guess, considering I've only done one other LCM meet). But I'd really love some advice from anyone willing to offer it about what I can do to swim faster in short course.

My swimming strengths:
1) Good endurance
2) Good, natural distance stroke (though it doesn't seem to translate to swimming fast in short distances)
3) The willingness to work as much as it takes to improve!

My weaknesses:
1) Just learned to do flip turns in late 2011/early 2012 and have never had any coaching on them. As such, they pretty much suck! I can hold decent turns for a little while, but for pool distance events, especially short course, as I start to fatigue I usually lose control of my breath and find myself dreading the upcoming wall. At a meet, I've never actually swum anything longer than 800 meters in a short course pool and been able to keep all of my turns closed, but I just did the postal 6000 and actually kept them all closed! I'm actively working on improving my turns and breath control into and out of the wall, but suggestions on how to improve those things or something to read to learn more would be appreciated.
2) I have no idea how to train to meet my goal times. As mentioned, our workout group has no coach. Everyone in the group takes turns writing workouts and being on deck. As such, the workouts have no flow day-to-day and there are no real goals in mind when the workouts are written. We usually do around 3000 yards (not much for a distance swimmer) and the workouts are never written with competition in mind. It's usually a few 50s to warm up, some 200s or 100s at a moderate pace, maybe a little kicking or stroke work and then a cool down set. Quality in the workouts is almost non-existent, so I try to work some in from time to time, but it doesn't happen very often. There are a few people in the group who have swum competitively either in college or high school and they offer me advice, for which I'm extremely grateful and really helps immensely, but I'd love to get more from others!
3) Tapering is a complete unknown for me. I seem to do OK at it, but far too often it seems that I'm not really hitting my taper. Tapering in swimming seems completely different than tapering in running, which I at least have some experience with. I'd love to hear some input on proper tapering, both for a less-important meet and for a meet like spring nationals.

The primary goals I have for SCY before turning 40 (over the next 4 years):
1) Sub-19 minute 1650 (only have swum it once and went 19:14).
2) 11:10 for the 1000 - currently around 11:23 (untapered and after swimming the 1650 the day before)
3) 5:15 for the 500

I believe both the first two are within my capability. I don't know if the 5:15 500 is or not because I seem to have no ability to swim fast, but I can hold a moderately fast pace forever (i.e. I averaged 1:12 100s in the 6000 postal this year).

I'd love to hear some workout suggestions for improving my mid-distance speed (500 and 1000). I was reading Chris's blog entry on Race Pace in Practice (http://forums.usms.org/entry.php?842-Race-Pace-in-practice) and that's what prompted this exceptionally long post. I almost never swim race pace in practice other than my mile race pace :) Some workouts geared toward swimming a fast 500 or 1000, and improving my speed, would be immensely helpful for me.

In summary (sorry for such a long post), advice on the following would be great:
1) Workouts geared toward swimming a fast 500 or 1000.
2) Advice on improving breath control into and out of turns.
3) Advice on improving turn mechanics.
4) Advice on tapering (both for less-important events and for big-time events).

Thanks in advance for any help!

November 2nd, 2013, 05:55 PM
Wow. That's pretty amazing to go 5:35 in the 500 after less than two years of swimming and 19 not so good turns!

Check out the distance based workouts posted by PWB.

I would say focus on improving getting in and out of the walls and at least one arm pull before you take a breath. You need to pop off the wall with very little time with the feet on the wall. That means getting the arms into tight streamline before your feet hit.

Also work on your other strokes as these will help with your feel for the water.

November 3rd, 2013, 01:20 PM
Thanks for the feedback Rob! I suppose a 5:35 in the 500 is pretty good after 2 years of swimming and 19 not so good turns, but it's also frustrating because I feel like I should be swimming faster.

I'll take a look at the distance workouts posted by PWB in the forums. Thanks for the suggestion.

And I've been working on getting in and out of the walls quicker. Sometimes, especially when I start fatiguing, I'll linger too long in the turns. Just got back from swimming today and I worked hard on getting my arms in place and in tight streamline before my feet came all the way around. It seemed to improve my speed. I also noticed that I often break streamline too early and gasp for air coming off the wall. I worked really hard today to take at least one stroke (I could take 2 occasionally) before taking a breath. Thanks again for all of the suggestions.

As for the other strokes, I used to do them often, but since I've been swimming so much, I started having problems with an old shoulder injury (non-swimming related, obviously) that only hurts when I do non-freestyle! So lately I've been limiting the amount of stroke work I've done to keep injury free.

November 3rd, 2013, 05:06 PM
Good for you! Can you find a local Masters team to join?

November 4th, 2013, 12:11 AM
Matt--I think you're doing remarkably well, considering how little you've swim in your life and in workouts.
Are you able to do self-directed workouts too or will you just swim with your group? Pwb's workouts are great and there are some other sets that could be helpful if you have time.
By the way, you can't call yourself a non swimmer if you've won a national championship!

November 4th, 2013, 08:21 PM
Thanks orca1946! Yes, the Rogue Valley Masters group I work out with is our local Masters team.

Adam, thanks for the kind words :) Nice to hear from another Oregonian in this thread! I remember your name from the Oregon Association Champs meet, but I don't think we've ever met. Maybe next April.

To answer your question, yes, some days I can do self-directed workouts or convince a lane mate to swim with me (there is one other crazy distance swimmer that I can usually con into doing a workout with me). And often I can get to the pool 45 minutes before everyone else and do a set on my own. I'll definitely take some of PWB's workouts to the pool with me this winter. Usually sometime in late January or early February, I start going in 45 minutes early 3 days a week to do my own workout before working out with the group. I'll use those workouts then!

November 5th, 2013, 09:58 AM
I also swim essentially alone - I have a team that formed last year but we are very small and just started having organized practices, though calling them organized may be a stretch. My strengths are distance and backstroke. Last fall (I got back in the water in August 2012) I used workouts from Workouts in a Binder (http://www.amazon.com/Workouts-Binder-Swimmers-Triathletes-Coaches/dp/1931382743/ (http://www.amazon.com/Workouts-Binder-Swimmers-Triathletes-Coaches/dp/1931382743/r)) and then in January I started following pwb's HVT workouts. Using the HVT workouts really helped me figure out what intervals I should be doing things on and now those are my primary workouts. I mix in a stroke workout from the Workouts in a Binder book when I want to do some backstroke work or substitute a distance workout from the book when the HVT workouts are too-IMful for my tastes. I find that keeping a blog here really helps me as far as staying accountable and getting advice on workouts.

November 5th, 2013, 01:57 PM
Thanks for the feedback ekw! Sounds like I really need to make use of pwb's HVT workouts. I may need to start blogging as well to see if I can get some feedback or advice on workouts.