When I simply enjoy swimming without pushing or competitiveness, it’s a wonderful experience. I love the weightlessness, the smoothness and grace, the hypnotic rhythm, and the mindful, meditative state I reach after lap upon lap. Still, I’d like to get faster.
I’ve been swimming pretty good workouts lately – usually 2 miles, 3x a week, consisting of:
- 1 mile freestyle warmup
- 400 mixed kick
- 800 of stroke work, more distance or intervals
- 200 warmdown
It takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes and feels really good.
I had the chance to swim with a triathlete friend in Alaska. Craig is a good distance swimmer – he lapped me a few times. (Dammit!) We both want to improve our endurance swim times, and had a great conversation about workout intensity.
We prefer solo swim workouts and long slow distance training. It suits our strengths in the water. (And on land.) He mentioned, though, that he tends to not push himself as hard when he swims by himself. I notice myself that I’m predominantly a mono-paced swimmer – my half-mile, mile and two mile pace are all the same.
He suggested — and I agree — that it means I’m sandbagging a bit. I’m not working as hard as I could be and I’m keeping plenty in reserve.
The alternatives? Interval training by myself is one possibility, and I already do a little, but not a lot. The other is working out with the local Masters’ swim team.
Long slow distance is a phrase commonly used to describe both training method for endurance sports. Many find it effective preparation for endurance events like marathons.
Still, most coaches and sports trainers recommend interval or speed training to build speed. It’s very effective in cardiovascular build-up and makes more well-rounded athletes. Interval training can also be more effective at inducing fat loss than simply training at a moderate intensity level for the same duration.
What is interval training? There are several variations, but they all include shorter distance, higher-intensity effort. They might include:
- Intervals: Swim 8 x 100 yards free with 20 seconds rest in between
- Timed intervals: Swim 8 x 100 yards free on the 2:00 – the faster you swim, the more rest you get
- Laddered intervals: Swim 2 x 200s, 4 x 100s, 4 x 50s, with 20, 15 and 10 seconds rest respectively.
- Fartlek training: Swim 800, alternating 50 easy with 50 sprint, no rest in between.
The last type of interval training might be familiar to those who use programmable fitness machines, and add in hills, variable speed or incline, or intensity to their workouts.
This is pretty do-able, in fact, I already do it probably one day a week. Today it was 8 x 100 IMs, with 15 seconds rest, but practicing it more regularly would help my speed.
Masters’ swimming is the adult version of a club swim team. It’s for all age and ability levels and all goals – competitive swimmers, triathletes, fitness swimmers and open water swimmers.
My wonderful mother swims Masters’ at 76 years old – she competed in the national Senior Olympics this summer. So do Dara Torres, Rowdy Gaines and open water champ Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen.
Masters’ teams – there isn’t one at my local North Kitsap pool, but there is one at Bainbridge Aquatic Center, the next town over – generally work out 3-5 days a week, with flexible schedules to serve working adults. They do shorter, intense, interval-oriented workouts, but still do a good job of supporting the endurance athlete since so many of their participants are triathletes or open water swimmers, rather than meet competitors.
The thought of working out with a swim team makes my OCD heart palpitate. I’d have to circle swim in a busy, choppy lane, feel all competitive and pay attention to a pace clock.
Why would I do this? Interval training and/or Masters’ swimming? I’d like to continue to enjoy swimming, to love what I do, but I’d also like to build a better speed base and prepare for some longer and faster open water events. I’d also like to build a variety of ways to stay actively involved in swimming for the long term, and social and team engagement is a good way to do that.