Review: Swim Training Camp

How much can you improve your swim in a long weekend? 220’s Helen Webster headed to Alicante to train with Martin Hill of Triathlon Training Spain…

220's Helen Webster spent a long weekend in Spain, working on her swim technique

Now the off-season’s here, it’s a good opportunity to look back at your year’s performance and think ahead to what you’d like to work on in time to meet next year’s goals.

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For me, a first foray into swimrun racing in 2016 means I’ll be increasing my open water swim distance from 2,000m to a (hopefully somewhat faster) total of around 5,000m, split into several segments. So when BTF Level 3 Triathlon and Swim Smooth-certified coach Martin Hill invited me to spend a long weekend at one of his swim clinics in Spain, it sounded like a good opportunity to really focus on my technique.

Swim analysis

The camp is four days long and I arrive into Alicante airport on Friday morning, to be met by Martin (and some excellent home-made flapjacks), then it’s straight to the local 25m swimming pool for the first session.

This first session is key, as it is where Martin uses an underwater camera to film the group from different angles. This then forms the basis for much of the weekend – with a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses, he can tailor the advice and drills to where you need the most support.

The group size of all training camps is limited to 6, but our press weekend is just myself and one other swimmer, Danny, who is more experienced than me and already faster. That said though, having different abilities in the same group works well as it gives us an opportunity to learn from each other and I’m surprised to find that to a greater or lesser degree, we have similar things to work on.

The Friday evening is spent back at the hotel, watching our videos on the big screen. We’re shown from different angles (some of which do not make pretty viewing!), but it quickly gives a clear picture of where we can improve. The software Martin uses also means he can record our discussions through the videos, so I’m given a DVD of his analysis to take away and we have a wider discussion on swim technique.

I’d been worrying for some time about lengthening my stroke at the front and ‘catching up’ more, but its apparent from the video that by trying to do this I’m creating pauses in my stroke and that my hand is extending upwards, acting as a brake. Based on my relatively short arms in relation to my height too, Martin feels a quicker arm recovery and increased stroke rate will be more beneficial.

Other key feedback is that I’m rotating my head too far when breathing (I was surprised how much!) and that my body alignment could be improved by practicing pushing off long and straight at the start of each length. I also have work to do on my catch position (thinking ‘early vertical forearm’) and finally, although my leg position is good, Martin thinks I’m kicking too hard and therefore wasting valuable energy.

It’s a lot to take in, but Martin’s based himself in the same hotel as us, so we can carry on the discussion over dinner each evening. All Triathlon Training Spain camps are based in the fantastic 4-Star Bonalba Hotel which is located within a huge golf course with hills around and behind it for cycling or – in my case – for some early morning run sessions. The hotel also has great leisure facilities and a buffet at mealtimes offering a great selection of healthy Mediterranean foods, which are gratefully received after hard training!

Sea Sessions

A sheltered local bay is used for the open water sessions.

Both the Saturday and Sunday mornings are spent in the sea, in a stretch of coastline a short drive from the hotel and sheltered by two rocky breakers. First up we go through the essentials – tips on how to correctly put on a wetsuit (for example how to maximise mobility through the shoulders and arms) as well as some pre-swim warm-up stretches and advice on acclimatising to the cold water.

Once in the water, we cover a wide range of useful skills including breathing, kicking in a wetsuit (ie less of it!), sighting, rotation and arm recovery. We also do specific drills to help technique: such as swimming into the shore to encourage a high elbow (the lack of water depth as the sea gets shallower makes you do it) and an exercise in pairs working together to clap hands at the top of every other stroke, which gets us used to swimming close to other people.

Wetsuit fitting

Taking time to correctly put your wetsuit on can help shoulder mobility.

On the Sunday we do some longer swims across the bay (around 300m each) practicing drafting and sighting, as well as working some more on the previous day’s exercises. We also practice some race-specific skills including how to execute barrel turns around a buoy and how to dolphin dive to get into deeper water faster (I make a terrible mess of this, but Danny gets it pretty quickly!).

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Thinking about going on a training camp? Don’t miss 220 columnist Martyn Brunt’s (tongue in cheek) tips on etiquette here

Pool sessions are used to focus on drills and stroke correction

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Pool Sessions

After lunch back at the Bonalba, the two afternoons were spent back in the 25m indoor pool working on technique and drills. We start each session looking at breathing – making sure we understand how to effectively expel air and relax under water – by doing a series of sinkdowns.

Drills are the focus of the afternoon sessions, with Helen working on body position.

Next, it’s on to a series of drills and lengths incorporating some of the tips Martin’s given us during our analysis. For me, this means visual cues to think about when breathing to stop me over-rotating my head (starting with Martin walking alongside me holding a water bottle at the right height for me to look at). I also do some drills using a pull buoy, focusing on body rotation and pushing each hand back past the hip, plenty of lengths of doggy paddle to encourage a high elbow, and using finger paddles to improve ‘feel’ for the water.

Finally on the Sunday, we do some work with a tempo trainer. When I arrived, my stroke rate was 58 strokes per minute (SPM), but with two days of focus on rhythm and timing, this has increased to 66 SPM. Not a huge change, but I certainly feel like my stroke has more emphasis.

Further Knowledge

As well as the sea and pool sessions, we have time late afternoon for seminars to discuss technique including open water and how to put a session together. There’s also a swim-specific sports massage included, which as well as being a treat after all the hard work, identified some areas of tightness in my back that may be restricting my stroke.

The camp ends on Monday with a final pool session helping put it all together, before heading to the airport for an afternoon flight home. It’s an intense few days that are packed with training, advice and information – but at £445 including all your food, accommodation, airport transfers and Martin’s undivided attention throughout, it definitely offers excellent value for money.

Triathlon Training Spain have a variety of swim and triathlon training camps available in 2016, with week-long triathlon camps priced at £750 fully catered / coached as for this swim camp. Find available dates here.

Training camps can also be tailored; to find out more or to specify your requirements email Martin on: info@triathlontrainingspain.com

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Finally… If you’re thinking about going on a training camp, don’t miss 220 columnist Martyn Brunt’s (tongue in cheek) tips on etiquette here