One size fits all?
If I recall the time when I started training for my first English Channel swim attempt, I remember searching for a book that would tell me how to structure my training. After all, you can pick up books telling you how to get from the couch to your fist 5k or 10k run or how to approach training for marathon. So why isn’t there a book on the market showing you how to train for a channel swim?
Over the years I’ve come to realise that one size does not fit all. I don’t know how it can. Everyone is starting from a different place. We may be aiming to achieve the same thing at the end of the day, but our direction will be different because of the unique people that we are.
In this blog post I share my views on some of the variables that could impact your starting point. This is written with channel swimming in mind, but really it can apply to any significant endeavour.
Your training age
Did you swim as a child? I mean really swim? If you were a club swimmer, you will have done hours and hours of technique drills. You have muscle memory embedded deeply inside you, it may need dusting off, but it will still be there. Your training age is close to your actual age.
Over the last few decades technique has evolved based on science and the increased ability to see what’s happening under water. Physics and biomechanics are leading the charge. Not only does this make good swimmers better, it also minimises the risk of injury. Investing in perfecting your technique is probably one of the best investments that you can make.
If you are already a great swimmer, it’s worth getting it checked out from time to time to see if there are any small bad habits, these are your opportunities for marginal gains.
If you are an adult onset swimmer (like me) you won’t have all this good technique drilled into you from childhood so you need to play catch up. Your training age is pretty young (mine is 19 years, or 6 years since I really worked on my technique). Find yourself a great technique coach, one that you trust and do exactly what they say. You may find that you slow down as the old muscle memory changes to a new habit. Trust the process. It will be worth it.
Of course, it’s not just about how many years you’ve been swimming. How many hours of training have you done? If you swim once a week for an hour, your ‘year’ of training will be different to someone who does 18-20 hours of training a week.
Your fitness age
Are you starting from the couch or from a history of sporting accomplishments? This is your fitness age.
If you are starting from a relatively inactive lifestyle, your fitness age is young. If you already have a history of training then you are ahead of the game here.
When swimmers join us in Dover a season or two ahead of their big swim, or come back for more swims, year after year, we talk about how everything that you’ve done before is in the bank. By this we mean that your fitness age, your experience, is higher than when you first started. The head doesn’t always believe this to start with of course!
If I think about my own journey, the first time I did the swimathon it was a HUGE undertaking. I wouldn’t bat an eyelid now. I’ve spoken before about my first English Channel relay and how I was very unprepared (I had 3 weeks notice) and was terrified! Now a relay is firmly inside my comfort zone and whilst I would always train for an event, I could equally probably just do a relay based on all that is already in the bank.
If you are new to endurance sport or even just new to sport, all of this needs to be built. In my opinion there is no way to short-cut this. This is one of the reasons why I don’t believe there is a magic number of metres to be done each week. If you’ve always done 25k a week, then great. If you’re starting from one or two swims a week or less, to suddenly jump up to a lot of swimming would be inadvisable, you would risk injury and exhaustion. Yes, the channel is a long way, and you should plan appropriately for your fitness age.
Rest of life pressures
Most people have to juggle the rest of their life as well as training for a big event. This can be work, studying and family commitments. Many people have very full on work and family aspects in particular. It can be exhausting trying to fit it all in. Once in a while a swimmer will be able to take time out and really focus on the task in hand and that is awesome. Most of us can’t. For the rest of us we need to carefully craft a training plan around the other things that can’t move or negotiate short-term leniency to some other responsibilities. For us ensuring time for adequate recovery really is essential.
Your natural training requirements
This one I’ll come back to on another blog post, but for now I’d just like to say that we all have a training approach that works best for us an individuals, based on our own DNA.
So what does all this mean for me?
There are many variables that impact the best approach for you
Do you know yours?
It can be so very confusing. If you ask for opinions from others you’ll get very confusing responses from what feels like a million metres a week to hardly training at all. You’ll know that both ends of that spectrum have worked well for the people who suggest it, but which is right for you?
So, if you swam as a child and have brilliant technique and have a natural tendency (DNA) to less quantity but high quality training then perhaps less is more for you. But if you’re playing catch up then the opposite may be true. Neither are right or wrong, they are right or wrong for you.
If you have great technique and a natural tendency to do lots of endurance work and you have a high fitness age then you may also want to do a lot of training.
Do follow the wrong plan can be detrimental. For example, if you chase a magic number of metres a week at all costs, you switch off listening to what your body is telling you. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen in the pool churning out mindless metres. At this point the technique is likely to have gone and fatigue and injury risk are becoming a problem. I think it’s important to always listen to your body, if it tells you that you need to recover, then listen to it. Garbage yardage is pointless and potentially damaging.
The final variable
Of course for training to work, it needs to work for your head as well as your body. Someone may tell you logically what you need to do, but if you don’t believe it then it really won’t work so well. Equally, a training plan that is theoretically not ideal, but feels right to you will probably serve you far better.
The approach for you
The way I run things in Dover will appear on the surface to be a one size fits all approach. To a certain extent that is true. When everyone first turns up at the beginning of May, I know very little about backgrounds of individuals and I do know that we need to start slow when the water is cold and build up as the temperature increases.
Then the fun starts. As I get to know individuals better, I learn a bit more about when your swims are, I learn a bit more about where the demons lurk. I often spot those who need to borrow a bit of my belief in them whilst they find their own, and I see what works and doesn’t work for each person. Of course it’s difficult to personally tailor 300 people, but it is still not quite a one size fits all approach.
If I think about my own training, I’ve had to play catch up on my training age, as I was not a club swimmer as a child. I’ve always done some kind of sport, so I probably had less catching up to do there. I don’t yet know what my DNA will tell me about my ideal & natural training approach, more of that another day. I do know that as the years have gone by that more and more is in my comfort zone now, so I suspect I need to train less. My head hasn’t caught up with that though, and my head still needs to put in a lot of effort for a long solo event.
My event preparation support is a truly tailored approach for those who need a little bit more care and support and a more personalised plan.
If you would like more information on how I can support you with an individually tailored approach and someone who you can talk through how it’s all going with, then please drop me an email now. We can tailor an approach that is right for you. Sometimes, simply having someone to be accountable to is really helpful.
www.emma2france.com ~ firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 07702 814690.