In a previous series of articles, I explored the importance of developing your ability to execute your skills, and how to do it. Once you’ve got it RIGHT, you’ll need to extend the distance you can execute your skills correctly, especially if you expect to race in open water.
We’re going to learn how to improve your sustainability and your ability to swim longer. Regardless of your goals in the water, you need to be able to sustain your skills for extended periods of time. If you can’t, those skills are not going to hold up under pressure, and they’re not going to be reliable when you need them most.
Below are the critical concepts that will help to ensure that the process of improving the sustainability of your skills goes smoothly, and ultimately result in the improvements that you desire. These concepts may be differ from what you’re used to. However, if you’re aiming to train your SKILLS, you’ll need to take a different approach.
Slower is better. This is the most important concept to understand and appreciate during this phase. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult to execute. To get the most out of this phase, you must go slow enough to ensure that you are executing your skills correctly, while setting the stage for continuing to execute those skills for longer periods of time. Start off slow with perfect skills. Achieve the repetition distances and volumes you want to achieve. THEN work on swimming faster. Going slower will help you achieve these goals much faster than if you swim quickly.
Build speed slowly. Endurance training can be deceptive because you can always ‘fake’ progress by simply trying a little harder. The antidote to this approach is to consciously and deliberately aim to increase your speed slowly over time. There may be days where it almost seems too easy to go the speeds you’ve been going. That’s progress! Slowly increasing the speed over time will make it much less likely that you run into stalled progress or skills that are degrading.
Be patient and be consistent. Patience and consistency are the keys to long-term progress, especially when aiming to improve your sustainability. While it can seem like you can make progress faster by being more aggressive with your endurance training, this typically results in stalled performance and poor skills, sooner than later. Be conservative with the increases in your training volume and your training speeds. Small amounts of progress over extended periods of time will always result in more improvement that large amounts of progress over short periods of time.
Stabilize your progress. A common mistake in endurance training is to increase the challenge every workout or every week. People will try to swim longer, swim faster, or swim more total volume every time you get in the pool. This is a HUGE mistake. Taking this approach will ensure that you destroy your skills and halt your performance progression.
Instead, focus on stabilizing your progress before moving forward. If you have a series of good workouts where your performances get better at the same effort and skill level, simply aim to repeat those workouts for a week or two. Even better, take a step BACK and perform at a slightly lower level. Believe it or not, this will help catapult you to the next level of performance. It is the stabilization that sets the foundation for the next phase.
Go longer, then go more. When given a choice, aim to increase the distance of the repetitions you are swimming prior to increasing the total volume that you’re swimming. After you’ve increased the distance, then you can increase the volume. Then go back to increasing the distance. Once you’re swimming for longer distances again, you can move to increase the volume. Remember that the ultimate goal is to swim for longer distances with excellent skills. While performing a lot of volume can be helpful, ultimately, it’s the ability to swim a single distance for an extended period of time that is valuable. And that swim must be with excellent skills.
‘Right’ still wins. While you are aiming to improve your sustainability, it’s critical to remain focused on executing your skills to a very high level. You’re working to improve the sustainability of your skills, not simply swimming for longer and longer periods of time. Be certain to ensure that you are maintaining the execution of your skills as you build your workload. If not, it’s time to scale back the workloads. Skills come first!
If you follow these basic guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to consistently executing your new skills over longer and longer distance. This is the foundation for long-term change that shows up when it matters most- when you want to be at your best.
Next time, I’ll explore how to include technical exercises during your endurance work. It might not be quite what you expect. Stay Tuned!
FASTER. EASIER. BETTER.