Happy New Year! With a new year and a new decade (!),it’s time to set those intentions for your Ironman dreams. What will that look like for you? (Hint: even if you aren’t planning on an Ironman, this applies to you too!)
For many with Ironman dreams, the swim is a very daunting part of the day. With 8 months to go, it’s time to embrace the water. With 8 months to go, you still have time to make some big changes in what for many is their weakest sport.
New Year, New You?
It’s super easy to get sucked into all the hype with setting resolutions and and going all gungho with grand resolutions especially if you have big goals at Ironman (or any fitness goals or events!). Really, it’s not about making sweeping changes but putting into place small intentions now that will pay off big later.
Probably the number one thing that I see as a coach is people struggling with consistency. Life gets in the way and you skip workouts and then try to cram it all in on the weekend. You feel guilty and try to go harder thinking that more intensity will make up for missed days. Repeat.
Start now with setting your sustainable schedule. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours and hours working out right now. Make that time in your schedule where you know you’ll be able to bike this day and swim this day. And make it a priority to get those workouts in, especially those workouts that you tend to skip. Guess what? If you only have 20 minutes, that’s ok! It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you struggle to maintain strength conditioning, get in 10 minutes. Surely you have 10 minutes?
Phew! With the holidays behind us, it’ll be nice to get back into better nutrition habits. Please don't go jumping into a fad diet or going into the all or none mentality. This means simply working on getting regular meals with fruits, vegetables and lean proteins as well as healthy snacks in between to help keep your blood sugar stable. Work on getting enough of high quality foods (protein included) to fuel your activity levels. If this is an area where you struggle, pick a couple areas where you could make small changes that would pay off big.
With the new year comes my challenge to you to work on that refrain in your head which tells you that you are slow or you can’t do this or keeps you distracted with all the other things you need to do. We admit, we are always guilty of this! Stay in the moment and prioritize what you are doing now. Pat yourself on the back when you make those changes. If you have an off day or week, don’t beat yourself up but remind yourself that it’s ok to have some missteps along the way.
Yes…swimming! I sink! How can I swim 2.4 miles?! Ahhh!
I am a fit person, why is swimming so hard??? I can’t tell you how many times I hear this. Swimming can be humbling.
It’s time to get in the pool if you’ve had a "break." (wink, wink) Swimming is all about technique, and thus it’s important to start now working toward good form and being comfortable in the water. This doesn’t mean that if you’ve had a break or if you are new to swimming that you are heading to the water and planning on long, long workouts. Just like with any new activity, you’ll need to build towards time in the water and that takes, you guessed it, time! Otherwise you can risk injury.
WATER VERSUS AIR
Unless you’ve been consistently in water and/or grew up as a “fish” then you probably expect water to behave just like air when you are trying to move your body through it. Water is a very different medium than air and the rules are different. If you are running or biking, you expect that working harder will equate to faster. Extra force applied to a pedal equates to a corresponding increase in speed in air. In the water, working harder does not necessarily equate to better, faster, easier swimming. Churning your arms faster and faster won’t let you overpower the water and is akin to fighting it. Counter-intuitively, relaxing and slowing down can lead to better results.
Where to begin?
There are so many things to work on with swimming it can be overwhelming. Here are some good starting points to think about as you start working towards Ironman. Relax! You’ve got this.
FLOAT: If you can’t float/balance in the water - learn to! We all naturally think we are going to sink and struggle or flail as a consequence. It takes a lot of work to just relax and let yourself float. Spend a few minutes each swim session practicing floating on your back. With our driven lifestyles, it’s hard to see how doing nothing can help. But panic in open water swims on race day and even in practice can happen. If you can learn to relax and let go in a pool with no wetsuit, you have a skill you can utilize on race day if needed. If you are struggling to add mindfulness into your life, how about a few minutes of floating therapy? Sure, you’ll need to move somewhere in a busy lap pool to do this but surely a few minutes is doable if you need to work on this skill.
NO KICKING: For now, it is okay to take out the kick unless you are already a skilled and efficient swimmer. For many the kick takes so much oxygen that it becomes almost impossible to focus on building skill or technique. We will ultimately want to learn to use your legs for body balance and maybe even propulsion but for now let’s focus on other things. Use a pull buoy placed between your thighs so that your legs are supported and your body is in a more streamlined position. From here, you can work on connecting your arms and legs through your core. Feel the pull of your arm through the water. Learn to use those lats (back muscles) as they will give a lot more power than the small muscles in the shoulder and are more durable. Watch where your hand enters the water - is it crossing the mid-line, is it back by your ear or out in front of you. Where your hand enters affects how much your body will rotate, how much power you can get and how much drag you create.
REDUCE DRAG: Swim tall and streamlined. Think about swimming quietly and calmly in a straight line. We want to reduce the drag from excess motion and the drag from the body not being in a streamline. There are many drills depending on what your specific need is. Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all drill for better swimming. But this is a great time to incorporate regular drills into your swim practice. Remember, any time you work on a change in technique, there will be a period where you become less efficient. You may be slower, have a higher heart rate, feel awkward or like you are working harder. Stick it out as over time, you will become faster and able to work at a lower heart rate (ie more efficiently).
Now is a great time to have a friend or family member video you in the water. Taking a short video from both the front and the side using a phone above water can help. Look from the front and the side and see what you notice. Or, send the video to your coach to help you break down where the areas you need to work on. Coach does do private swim consultations should you need more help!
FREQUENCY: Increasing frequency of swimming is one of the best ways to improve technique and efficiency. Two 30 minute swims will improve efficiency more than one 60 minute session, for instance. Keeping the swim fresh and actively working on those areas you need improvement will reinforce better skills and better swimming.
It’s very easy to get all grumbly about “Ugh, i gotta go the pool.” Lucky you! You’ve signed up for an Ironman and GET to go to the pool. It may feel very daunting now looking at what needs to happen over the next 8 months. But setting the foundation now will pay off.
With 8 months to go, it’s not the time to stress about any one missed or difficult workout. However, it is time to build in all three sports. You need that time in the water, the time on the bike and the time on your feet starting now. Bring on the new year!