The off-season is a great time of year to mix things up, and make great gains in your swimming while the pressure that comes with racing is off.
Medley swimming will brighten up your swim sessions. In competitive swimming, an individual medley is four strokes – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and front crawl. There are numerous benefits of doing other strokes; firstly it allows you to break up swims, as doing continuous lengths can be monotonous. It can also give you a better feel for the water, and will give you greater awareness of where your arms and legs are in space (known as kinesthetic awareness).
If you’re looking to build your aerobic fitness, try swimming reps of between 200-800m with minimal rest. When swimming aerobically you shouldn’t require rest of more than 5-10secs per 100m. If you need more than 20secs rest for 200m, or more than 30secs for 400m, back off a little and keep it more consistent. You’ll gain more from doing this than having long rests and allowing your heart rate to drop massively.
Two-to-three sessions a week is an ideal amount, but given the time of year missing a session isn’t disastrous. You should actually want to be at the sessions, so if you’re exhausted skip the session or swim easy.
CHANGE UP SPEED
During the off-season, maintain the same sort of variety throughout as you would during February to October. You may not do quite as much speed work or threshold efforts as you would during race season, but you don’t want to become a one-speed athlete from just doing long, slow swims. Three quarters of your swimming should be smooth, steady and controlled efforts, but still include faster 100m and 200m efforts at threshold or 25m/50m efforts at high speed.
DRILLS & ALTERNATIVE STROKE SESSIONS
An easy way to incorporate drills into your sessions is to do them in your warm-up and cool-downs. You’ll know your technique is improving if you can hold form in your cool-down. You can use other strokes to break up longer sets and to stretch out during hard efforts, or you can do stand-alone alternative stroke sets to increase power and strength.
Warm-up 200m as 25m steady front crawl (FC), 25m scull (entry point, mid point and exit point); 200m as 25m FC, 25m kick (front/back/left side/right side)
Main session 8 x 125m off 10secs recovery as: 100m aerobic front crawl, 25m easy backstroke
Cool-down 20 x 25m off 10secs recovery as: medley order (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, front crawl – swap butterfly for front crawl if unfamiliar with it)
The following pool drills and skills are ideal for off-season training
When the pressure is off and times aren’t as important, spend a little extra time kicking. Remember, your legs use anywhere up to 70% of your oxygen while only providing a maximum of 30% of your forward propulsion (and in many cases considerably less). Even if you swim with your legs trailing, you’re more likely to waste energy trying to stabilise. Mix things up by kicking streamlined on your front or back (aiding good body position too) or side-kick to practise engaging your core.
I’m a big fan of doing this with your still arm by your side to concentrate on balance through your hips and relaxed control of the swimming arm. If you really want to work your rotation and balance, you can try breathing to the opposite side to the arm that’s in use. This is known by some as ‘inco’, because of the feeling of incoordination when you first try the drill!
6 kicks to 1 pull
Improving your kick, timing and breathing, focus on rotating from your hips and keeping your shoulders relaxed. You can slowly build up by doing fewer kicks and more pulls, e.g. 3 kicks to 1 pull or 6 kicks to 3 pulls.
A drill where your hands meet each other on top of the water at the front of the stroke – this helps
to smooth out your stroke and focus on the front end of your pull, and can also help improve your stroke timing.
A fantastic drill to really focus on getting good contact on the water, both with your hands and your forearms. Remember sculling is not about travelling quickly but feeling good pressure on your hands. Mix up where you scull – at entry point, mid point (remember high elbows) and exit point.
Straight-arm recovery freestyle
It could be something you take into your full stroke, or it could just be a way of making sure you finish your underwater phase. A good strong finish to your push means your hand will exit the water faster and easier, and allow you to relax your arms over the top. For some this might then feel easier than a classical high elbow recovery.