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Speedo Says...

Testing & measuring progress in the pool

Would you favour a race that offered a fast swim or avoid it since you weren’t being tested over a true and fair course? Should you even be caring about your open-water swim times when, in fact, positioning would be more important since conditions will be similar to all on race day?

Would you favour a race that offered a fast swim or avoid it since you weren’t being tested over a true and fair course? Should you even be caring about your open-water swim times when, in fact, positioning would be more important since conditions will be similar to all on race day?


If your swim times in open-water are significantly slower than your pool-based swim tests then granted, you should look at your open-water skills and ability to swim straight. However, if you’re not testing yourself regularly in the pool, then going back to your coach to say, ‘I’m just not getting quicker in open-water’, is probably going to leave all parties frustrated. As it’s difficult to compare and test open-water swims, head to the swimming pool, where conditions can be controlled, to check your progress.


Testing


A necessary part of recording and checking your progress is to test yourself on a regular basis with benchmark sets in the pool. Tests could include timed swims, measuring stroke counts, taking golf scores, working out your critical swim speed or performing a step test. Parameters should be kept identical down to the smallest detail. Ideally perform the test at the same time of day, same length pool and have a similar warm-up before the set.


Testing on a fairly regular basis should be a key part of your training. Many triathletes know their VO2 max, most would know their resting heart rate and average speeds for their 10-mile bike TT or a 5K run. However, we should also be familiar with our best efforts in the pool. Measuring these improvements allows us to rebalance the levels of drills and fitness sessions in an overall training plan. When technique measurements are improving, we may be able to relax some of the pure drills sets and add fitness sessions. If the fitness benchmarks aren’t improving, I might suggest easing off the fitness sets and adding some more drills sets.

Comparisons – make it personal


If you feel you’ve not been improving, recording and keeping a set of meaningful data is essential. Your comparisons need to be personal - not just comparing against others, which doesn’t provide a real constant. The general speed of the group in your triathlon or masters swim session may have moved on massively and to still be 'stuck' in lane 1 is not a failing on your part.


Recording your own set of tests, taking your own measurements and charting them monthly or per training cycle is vital, otherwise you have no idea how you’re progressing. It is only this kind of strict and accurate measuring that can really gauge whether or not you’re improving. Comparing one open-water swim to another or even the same course from year to year is of very little use other than to be a rough guide. Currents, weather and variations to the actual course layout can change the distance massively, varying the potential time taken.


Reevaluating your progress


If, after charting your progress for several months you find you’re not really improving, questions can be asked. If you honestly believe that your technique is holding together, it may be time to check how hard you’re working. If you can 'hang on' to an even stroke count throughout a 400m swim, that’s a great step forwards. The next step is to have the control and enough feel for the water to swim the same number of strokes per length, regardless of speed. A decent male adult competitive swimmer in a 25m pool will swim 13-15 strokes per length – regardless of their speed, they will still swim the same distance per stroke. Inefficiency, not speed, will allow the stroke count to increase. A higher stroke count will rarely equate to more speed, only more tiredness.

Good technique gets you so far and needs to be good before moving on to more serious swim fitness sessions. There comes a time, though, when you need to work hard as well. Not to the extent where your technique falls apart, but you should be getting out fairly tired after the appropriate sets swum at the appropriate intensity.


Speak to your coach about some of the usual swim tests that could be incorporated into your swim training.