Assessing the swim

January 16, 2012

Welcome to swim week!!!!! Last week we chatted about nutrition, this week we will focus on swimming and what you can do to help you become your fastest self in the water.

Before I forget:

  • Trainer Thursday’s this week at Bert’s Bikes! FREE 6:30 pm, we will work on some tempo and one-legged drills and the TRX!
  • FREE triathlon clinics at BERTS! This Saturday we will hold our first clinic at the Henrietta Berts Location. Our topic: planning your 20012 season. In this clinic we will talk about periodization, using strength training, assessing limiters and help you create the plan for your best 2012 whether you are a beginner or advanced triathlete! Click here for the full schedule!
  • If you’d like to join us for 38 X 100 on my 38th birthday, we will be swimming at Nazareth on fri Jan 27th in the evening. Drop me a note for full details!

Nothing is more intimidating at the beginning of a season than time trialing in the pool. We lose count, we might feel out of shape, good gosh how do I pace this thing? What if my time is slow? In January, welcome the slow time! We shouldn’t be swimming our fastest this time of the year, use that time as a starting point. A baseline, or as we at Qt2 call it, a performance indicator.

My outdoor pool closed Nov 30th, opens April 1st!

The time trial is not the only assessment of swimming that should be measured. It only tells us how fast we swim a 400, 800 or 1,000. It doesn’t tell us anything about the balance or lack thereof of our stroke. Like a powermeter can measure how we ride, there are methods we can use to tell us how we swim. These are taken right from Jesse’s blog (click here for the actual post) so I am not divulging any big secrets (think of this as the cliff notes version!) Besides… nothing we do here at QT2 is pulled out of the air, or made up, these sets have been around for a while.

Here are two of the sets we use in the early season to help us with our assessment of an athlete’s swim:

Swim Golf: This has been a popular tool swim coaches have used for years. It gives us insight into how well an athlete is balanced in the water.

  • How it’s done: Swim 50 yards, moderate paced. Count how many strokes it takes you to cover that distance, and time it.
  • How to score it: Add the time of the 50 in seconds + your stroke count = your golf score.
  • Example: if it takes an athlete (who is 5’9″) in height 40 seconds to swim a 50 and they take 40 strokes (20 per 25) their golf score is 80.
  • What to measure against: an athlete over 5’6″ should aim for a score below 65, and a shorter athlete should aim for under 70.
  • What the results mean: The above athlete who is 5’9″ has a score of 80, and for their height we’d like to be under 70. This would tell me as the coach they need to work on balance and streamline. I would do this early in the season so we can implement balance / streamline drills early on.

Propulsion: This drill tells us how propulsive the athlete is in the water. Does their forward movement come from their upper or lower body, or is it balanced between both?

  • How it’s done: After a good warm up the athlete kicks a 50 for time, rests a minute then swims a 100 without kicking. Time both.
  • How I score it: divide the kick time by the 100 no kick time.
  • Example: An athlete kicks 50 yards in 50 seconds. Then swims 100 yards (no kick) in 1:30. We divide 90/50 to equal 1.8.
  • What to measure against: an athlete with good propulsion from upper and lower body will score between 1.55-1.65.
  • What the results mean. Below this range tells us that our athlete has an inefficient kick. Above this range can indicate an athlete with a lower BMI who might lack strength in the upper body.

There are many performance indicators in each of our three sports that give us a good idea of how an athlete will perform in a 70.3-Ironman event. If you use our triathlon calculator and are honest about what you input….. input the facts and not what you want them to be…… you will get a good idea of what you will complete the event in. We are accurate within about 10 minutes, when race execution and fueling and preparation are followed.

Here is one of my favorite sets, which can give you a good idea of what your 2.4 mile swim will be. It looks intimidating but it’s a whole lot of fun!

The Monster Set (4,900 yards), and don’t forget, this can all be found right here. It’s not the secrets it’s how you use them.

The rules to this set are:

  • Set the intervals at a pace you are comfortable bilateral breathing
  • If you set the interval correctly you should have 5-10 seconds rest between each 100.
  • 100’s and 200’s should be swam at best sustainable effort, which should be a pace that can be sustained through the entire set (no 9 X 100 on 1:30 and then die!)
  • All pull sets should allow you to make the chosen interval. So no huge reaches during this set (save that for later)
  • remember all average times for 100’s and 200’s.
  • When you multiply your average 100 time by 43 that will give you a good estimation of what time you will swim 2.4 miles in, open water with a wetsuit.

1000 continuous pull (buoy, no paddles),

9 X 100 at best sustainable effort,

4 X 200 paddles (paddles only),

7 X 100 at best sustainable effort,

600 pull continuous pull (buoy, no paddles),

5 X 100 at best sustainable effort

2 X 200 paddles (paddles only)

So while you might see the dreaded time trial on the swim schedule….. by the way we’ve developed a brand new swim time trial set, it’s so evil …… realize it’s a tool, not a judgement. If your time is slower than you’d like, use it to your advantage. The bar is set, and now you have a measuring point. Use that, along with the above sets to get a good handle on where you are in the water. based on these results you  now have a good idea of what you need to incorporate into your training to “turn the dials” and allow the swim to become your weapon.

Wednesday we will talk all about pulling!!! I know….. how will you sleep?



  1. for the propulsion exercise what type of kicking do you suggest? kickboard, streamline (face down), on side, on back?

    i do almost all of my kicking on my side or back (sort of like TI drills), do you recommend other kicking and if so i’d love to hear the rationale…(something tells me my kicking on my back doesn’t translate all that well into kicking face down.)

    • To be honest I reccommend all types of kicking, front, side, back, kickboard, no kickboard, etc. In my opinion the more variety, the more you develop a feel fot he water. I especially like vertical kicking in the deep end. After you complete your workout you can do 10 X 1:00 vertical kick with 10 sec rest for a great way to strengthen the kick (try keeping hands out of the water!)

      • so do you all the different types of kicking for this timed propulsion exercise or do you stick with one? how about for the 50m kick-off times you keep throwing down?

      • OH! I thought you meant what position to kick in any time…… for this I would reccommend either kicking on your back, or front with arms in streamline. However if you have shoulder issues kick with your hands at your side. Either way, and even if you side kick, when testing always test the same.

        I actually kick with a board, for a few reasons. I have very good body position in the water, when I use a board my butt is at the surface, and I have spent so much of my life swimming I want to have my head above water for a bit! HA! for a non swimmer I would not reccommend the board because of the body position.

        So… for testing purposes… front / back or side, just do it the same any time you do this test so you compare apples to apples.

        For anytime kicking…… the more positions the better!

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