The basics of swimming training

How swimming can improve your fitness

If you want to get the most out of swim training then you need to consider the four key training principles of specificity, individualisation, progression and overload.

A woman at swimming training

 

Here's a guide to understanding these swim principles and getting the most out of your training with these top training rules of swimming.

Specificity

The stresses that are applied to the body in training must be the same as those experienced in your chosen sport. In other words, if you’re planning to really get into swimming and only have a limited amount of time to train, then you must spend the time on swimming and not on other sports like running.

If you’re planning to use swimming as part of a general fitness program this principle is nothing for you to worry about. However, if your sole focus is swimming, then it’s something you should be very aware of.

Individualisation

This is a crucial principle; the fundamental fact that everyone is different. Everyone responds to training in a different way. If you are swimming with a friend and doing exactly the same amount of training, don’t be concerned if one of you gets fitter quicker than the other; this is what individualisation is all about.

It might be that one of you is having some pressure at work or difficulties at home, but wherever it is, it’s surprising what can affect your training. Some days your training can go really well and the next day, even though it was exactly the same length swim, it can be a nightmare. This is individualisation.

Progression

This is all about the need to gradually increase the workload that you put your body through. It is essential to combine swim training and rest, whilst at the same time increasing the stress that the body is put through. This so-called ‘stress’ is a combination of the frequency, duration and intensity of the workout.

Progression is all about small increments. It is not a case of doing a 20 length swim one day and a 50 length swim a couple of days later. You should only progress by around 5-10 per cent at a time. The safest approach is to increase your weekly distance by no more than 5 per cent.

Swimming overload

Overtraining is a very common problem and comes about when you don’t get enough rest during your training program. This should not be confused with overload, which is the planned exposure to an increased workload and the right amount of rest between each swim. Without the correct amount of rest you get overtraining. With the correct amount of increased training and the right rest, you get overload. Overload is essential if your swimming is to improve. You do not want to get the reverse effect, overtraining.

So, bearing these principles in mind, how can you get the most out of your training sessions? If you're serious about your swimming, it's essential to form a regular routine and that involves having a swim training plan. Here are some tips to help make the most of your training sessions.

Rest

It may seem strange to start this list with rest, but if you don’t get this element of your swim training right then you will not make any progress. While you don’t want the whole of your program to consist of rest, it’s essential to listen to your body and take time off regularly.

Train according to how you feel

If you’re having a bad day and feel that another swim would be detrimental then don’t go. Training when you’re feeling unwell or having a stressful time at work, for example, can be counterproductive. This is not to be confused with that 'I can’t be bothered, because I feel tired' feeling!

Have a swim training plan

Swimming without a plan can be demoralising. If you have a target in mind, like a charity swim or a triathlon, then you need to follow a plan or you could find you are literally going around in circles. A plan will give you short, medium and long term targets that you can tick off as you achieve them.

Stick to your training plan

Once you have devised your swimming plan, or have decided to follow one of ours, then stick to it. Don’t be tempted to deviate from it just because you’re having a particularly good day. The plan will have been put together with all of the principles of training in mind, such as the need for progression.

Build up your swimming slowly

Don’t be tempted to do too much too soon. Even though you might feel that you just want to get into your swimming in a big way from day one, make sure that you stick to your plan and start slowly. If you don’t then you are very likely to get injured.

Get into a routine

By this we mean get used to going swimming regularly. Build it into your way of life, just like you go to work and have dinner when you get back. What we don’t mean is do the same distance swim all the time. If you do that then you won’t progress.

Go your own way

Training with a partner suits some people more than others. There are advantages but there are plenty of disadvantages. You may well find it better to do your own thing, especially in the early days. One of the problems of training with others is that you lose heart if you can’t keep up or don’t make as much progress as they do.

Don’t waver from your plans

Believe in yourself and don’t give up. There will be plenty of times when you doubt your ability to follow your plan and achieve your goals. Don’t lose sight of your goal and keep at it. We all have bad days but don’t let them affect your overall program.

Work on weaknesses

If you are aware there is something letting you down, then work on it. Don’t let a weakness bring down your training. Deal with it as soon as you identify it. Maybe your breathing isn’t right in your front crawl. Get advice or even swim lessons and sort it out!

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