The one thing that never ceases to amaze me in the world of triathlon coaching, is how the swimming portion is taught, not only to the pros, but all budding age groupers. It is an industry of its own design in triathlon. The demand by people who need a hand with their swimming is staggering, and so is the money generated by companies selling 'whatever'. 'Whatever' rather than techniques...
To me, as a previous state, national and Olympic swim coach, what is staggering is that it is all based around the theory of: 'How to not feel any hurt while swimming'. It is like, the magic mantra to the wallets of all non swimmers: "Do it this way, and you won't feel a thing", except, of course, when you put your hand in your wallet, then the pain can become extreme...
This was brought home to me, when a colleague asked me to help with an athlete. I was told, this person is such a nice guy, and has spent a fortune on trying to improve his swim, all apparently to no avail. It was said that he would be happy to pay whatever fee I would ask, despite having spent so much already. My colleague admitted that nothing he could ever verbalise to him would come out right, and he simply could not help him. He would take the instruction, and by the end of twenty minutes it would look so convoluted that he resembled a contortionist in the water.
"So", I said, "I am very busy, and don't know how I can help?" If all the experts have had a crack, his head would have so many things swimming in it, I would only make it worse? So, my colleague in arms, said: "That's a pity, as he has spent a fortune over the last 12 months and hasn't improved."
My friend who knows me well, said, "Doc, you should see the prices these guys charge, you could be a rich man just doing swim weekends - these desperate people are only too willing to pay..."
So there is the oxymoron; they are willing to pay with money, but not with the pain of proper training. One of the first things I tell athletes looking to improve their swim is: Swimming hurts!
Well, I have digressed from my little true story.... so, I said, "Give me his number and I will have a talk with him". That done, I gave him the first steps of my recipe:
- "Forget all you have been told, forget totally about swimming and take 1 month completely out of the water."
- Regarding the program: "Don't pay me anything, but I have to see you swim in person."
- "Follow my instructions, there are only 3, and then follow my program fully, no compromise, for 3 months."
Amazed, he replied, "How can you say 3 when you haven't seen how bad I swim, I must do 100 things wrong?"
My reply was, "It's now 2 things, and I have no clue what they will be, but no.1 is stop thinking!"
So he took a month off, as desperate people do, then we met, and yes, sea snakes have fewer movements! He could go sideways, forwards and backwards all in one motion - you need talent to do that! So, I picked no.2 and no.3 for him to think on. I gave him a little list of what he needed to buy, of which he had them all, but in the wrong shapes and sizes.
The training was delivered, and this was nearly a show stopper, "That kills my arms!" he said, and "I was told that when done right it doesn't hurt?"
People, let's say it out loud all together: SWIMMING HURTS!
So, after some more education on this point, we debated it, and then agreed I was right and our plan kept going.
For the next three months he stuck rigidly to the plan four times a week. No crazy mileage, but also no strokes that did not carry some pain.
The big day of reckoning came, and while I don't adhere to comparing race times between different years, our man, now with a plan, swam twelve minutes faster than the year before. He was armed with a proper program that had his arms ready to swim 1500m, no technical stuff in his head.
Thought no.2: Place, press, push makes my swimming go whoosh.
Just keep repeating every lap...
So, one would think, the key had been found, and our man would be the happiest guy in the triathlon world, twelve minutes over 1500m...,
the last I heard, my coach friend told me, was that our man had signed up for another camp, just like the previous two he had done before our meeting, and the improvement beyond the comprehension of most coaches.
Apologetically, my colleague said: "I am sorry for wasting your time"
I said, "No waste at all"
He replied "There must be an easier way?"
I replied, "They all think there is an easier way".
The lesson from this story -
I will stick to what I keep trying to convince the athletes that join our team - the first lesson of improving your swim is to understand rule no.1:
Banner Photo Credit @mundotrilive