Swimming advice

Well I think I'm gonna take the plunge and have a tri.

Went to an excellent swim masterclass at the weekend and need some advice on where to go from here.

I can do front crawl - and I know it improved after the class on Sunday, but can't really do more than 25m at a time. I have to stop because of breathlessness (and beginning to gulp water).

Where do I go from here? How on earth can I ever get to the stage where I can swim 400m front crawl?


  • Hi,

    Sounds like me a year ago. I suggest you get some 1 on 1 lessons at the local pool to get the lengths ticking over. Some pool techers may not be the best but can pick up some of your basic technical short falls like stoke poitioning i.e. arm entry, reach and breathing. These were the key things which enabled me to improve.

    Try and get doen the pool 3-4 times a week, you progress a lot quicker that way, also concentrate on technique (arms first) - get a pull buoy as this will help your leg boyancy and you can just worry about your arms then.

    Have a look at some of the other swimming threads to.
  • where are you based?

    as of today a few of us have started going down tooting lido of a morning before work

    it obviously helps if you are within striking distance of tooting though
  • Thanks Carl and Candy

    Unfortunately a brummie. Not too close to Tooting :-(

    Yes Carl, those were the sorts of things we looked at in the Masterclass, but I found it difficult on my own yesterday. Feel like I need a structured plan of things to concentrate on. Are the 1-1 teachers based at the pools, or do you hire them seperately and they come along to the pool with you?

    Can you do your 400m in one go now then?

    Lastly, in the triathlon - how many people do combinations of front crawl and breast stroke?

    I'll have a look at the other swimming threads too.

    Thanks both.
  • hi juicer..

    i guess you went to steele's masterclass? i've heard it's very good.

    unfortunately practice makes perfect (well... better anyway).
    i couldn't swim 25m when i went along to our tri club sessions, to the extent the coach was worried i might never make it back from the other end of the pool!
    but a few months later i was doing my first tri.

    so don't despair! you can get drills & sessions from books but most programmes seem to assume your basics are correct anyway. drills need to target your weaknesses which are hard to identify for yourself.

    plenty of tri clubs around brum who may be able to help out.
    you'd be welcome to come along to the coached sessions coventry tri organise over the winter.. but depends quite where in brum you are!
  • Hi Ed. Yes, it was Stuart Steele. Really good, and friendly and motivational. It was a bargain too. A whole days triathlon training for £10 - heavily subsidised by the BTA to encourage Tri potentials. I think Steele's class costs £25 on its own, but maybe I could look out for and go to another of these. Could only afford once a month though.

    I can remember the drills Stu showed us, but I am worried that I could be practising 'incorrect basics'. Would be good to go back to basics every now and then.

    It's the breathlessness that worries me. This has to suggest that my technique isn't very economical. Mind you, with running, I'm a long distance plodder, and bursts of speed and high-intensity stuff has never been my strong point.

    Did you manage your first Tri swim session all front crawl Ed?
  • Most pools can put you in touch with a swim teacher/coach, my local pool has a few and I was getting lessons for £10 for 30 minutes. It brought me on leaps and bounds but eventually found I needed more technical swimming coaching from a real expert and went to Stauart Steele’s Masterclass 23/5/04 (Stuart is part of Black Country Triathletes) – you wernt at that one were you?

    I can now swim 400m in around 7.30-8.00 mins just front crawl, if I take my time I guess I could do 1500m in 35 minutes. At present im trying to work on endurance and speed as I have a long distance Tri in 6 weeks and will have to swim 2.5 miles in a lake.

    Swimming progress can be a little slow at first and took me around a month to be fairly comfortable with 4 lengths, then progresses to 8 within another month and it seemed to stall a while. I started swimming 3 times a week instead of twice and within a matter of weeks was up to 20 lengths. I really had to push myself beyond the point of wanting to stop though.

    My last jump in distance seemed to come about a month ago and I can just about swim 50 lengths continuous (with 1-2 sec breathers between lengths).

    As for Triathlons id say a fair proportion (25-40%) of people try a combination of strokes, some just breastroke and some even doggy paddle. When I did my first Tri 4 weeks ago I intended to do a combination but on switching to breastroke found it slower and more tiring than front crawl. Ive always been a strong breastroke swimmer though. For my long distance Tri im sure ill have to use stoke combination though, just have to see how the next few weeks go.

    Good luck.
  • i did manage it all crawl juicer.

    albeit with some slow gasping turns :D
    i was sharing my lane with a backstroker so you really would have nothing to worry about doing breast-stroke.

    originally i was a cyclist and could maintain various intensities knowing how much effort i was putting in etc.
    when i started running i had one intensity which was flat out, with training i learnt what was sustainable and what was quick etc and learnt to control my pace.
    then when i started swimming i had the same, one all out intensity just to keep going. some of the sets the coach was asking us to build across about 5 levels of intensity which was just impossible!
    but now with a bit of time i probably have 4 levels i can control myself to.

    breathlessness for me is only partly technique and alot more to do with relaxation and focussing on pace/stroke rate.
  • This is a great thread, thanks guys.

    Carl. No it wasn't the one on the 23rd. It was Sunday just gone. All 4 of the trainers were from Black Country Triathletes.

    Anyway, you've all made me feel that it isn't impossible, and that I can achieve this goal (400m non-stop not slow) if I put the work in.

    I'll struggle to fit in more than 1 swim a week though, without sacrificing the old running. S'pose I need to prioritise.

    Probably looking at first Tri in September. Wombourne? Derby? How much progress can i make by then? I can fall back on the breast stroke though. I can already do 400m if I use a combination - I'd just be pretty slow.
  • My progress was made on 2-3 swims a week varying on 20-50 minutes a session. Im now swimming 3-4 times a week at 40-90 minutes a session.

    Just writing this to manage your expectations of improvement from 1 swim a week. If you want to improve I think you need to up the swimming a bit, compare it to running and imagine how much slower your running would progress if you only ran once a week for say 40 minutes.
  • My goodness yes! When you look at it like that. I'd have to say that running wouldn't even progress at all if you only went once a week. An experienced runner would certainly deprove (a made up word meaning the opposite of improve).

    I'll try for 2 times. Still very limited I know. But at this stage I only want to TRY a Triathlon, just once, in September. Whereas I've got loads of running races stacked up all through the year. If I decide to go for triathlon in a big way - then I know I'll have to concentrate more on the swimming.

    Do you think that sounds sensible? Or like with running comment - do you think I'd make NO progress on 2 swims a week?

    I sound like a right lazybones don't I? Trying to get away with the minimum.
  • You will make reasonable progress on 2 swims a week, that was I was doing initially, made my jumps up to 8 and 16 lengths on 2 swims a week.

    You only need to do more if you want to make real fast progess and become a strong fast swimmer so 2 should be fine for initial furray into Tri & swimming. You can always make up lost swim time on the bike and run anyway.
  • Cheers Carl. That's EXACTLY what I wanted to hear. If I can get to 16 lengths on 2 swims a week, by September, I'll be over the moon.

    Thanks for your advice.
  • wombourne was my first :)
  • How was it Ed? Beginner friendly??

    People doing breast-stroke and riding mountain bikes?
  • it was ok.
    yes fairly beginner friendly.
    didn't check out the bikes but plenty of strokers and that backstroke chap i mentioned.
    (also you'll be in with swimmers of similar ability so are unlikely to get mown down)

    in hindsight i was dissappointed at some of the lack of rule enforcement: see my gripe on tritalk. seems a bit harsh now, but it is true.
  • What did you mean by them running with dry t-shirts and shoes Ed? Do you suspect they didn't actually do the swim?

    Have you got a suggestion for a first one, other than wombourne.
  • no.. it means they had them by the poolside.
    the whole point of transition is that's where you put your kit, you're not supposed to be allowed to leave anything poolside (except glasses).

    that's quite an advantage if you can slip your shoes on as you leave the pool and pull a top on as you run to transition.

    not sure of events later in the year, i did the spring wombourne one, which is ok if you want a quiet event to do.
    stratford is the biggie round here (assuming you want to swim in a pool) but that's april.
    did one in shropshire topwards the end of last year which was ok too.
  • Yes of course! When we practiced the transition at the training day we did do it by the poolside for convenience. But yes, in real life, you have to run outside in your cossie and bare feet don't you?? Would be a huge advantage having shoes on......

  • I am currently in a similar position as you Juicer with my level of swim/tri experience. I did my first ever mini tri in Lanzarote in March and since then have been swimming twice a week in preparation for my first UK based tri which I was going to do at the beginning of May but was unable to through illness. I'm now looking towards the end of June and also mid July for my first couple of tris.

    With regards to swimming (also my weakest discipline) I am a pretty decent breast stroker but have only been swimming front crawl properly for about the last six months. Unlike a lot of people I find breast stroke much easier and less tiring than the crawl and will probably be looking to alternate between the two for my first few tris - i.e. 50m crawl, 50m b/stoke etc. I have done a few time trials and can swim 400m in 8 minutes this way.

    My crawl however is improving and at a push I can probably do 200m at race pace. My advice would be to keep practising twice a week and as you start to become more and more accustomed to the stroke you will be able to increase the distance. I find that if I slow the stroke down it helps me get a better feel for the correct technique and most crucially to co-ordinate my breathing on every third stroke. As you improve you can then start to add more speed into the equation. I must admit though, like you, it is the breathing that is the tricky bit for me. But it's true that the more relaxed you are, the easier the breathing part becomes. Hope this is of some use and good luck for your first tri!

  • Cheer for that SG. Yes, I too find breast stroke a LOT easier than front crawl – and it’s certainly a chance to get my breath. Depending on how much progress I’ve made by September then, I think I’ll also do a combination of both strokes. Haven’t got a clue what my current time is, I’ll have to do a timetrial so I can see how much I improve over the months. I’d guess somewhere around 12 mins. Definitely will need to speed up from that!!

    When you say you breathe every 3rd stroke, does that mean you’re breathing on both sides? Is that the recommended breath rate?
  • I did one alternate lengths of front crawl and breast stroke on my first tri at Derby nearly two years ago, now I only swim breast stroke as a cool down. This is down to adult lessons but then lots of practice. It does click I promise. The next big thing is getting your head underwater that is murky and learning to sight- a different technique from pool front crawl.
  • Monique, I was once told not to do Breastroke until I was already warmed up (certainly not warm up or cool down) as there is quite a lot of leg kick and its more likely to cause injury than front crawl.

  • How do I find out about these swim classes? Do I need to be a tri-club member? I live in Birmingham and could do with some swimming help. I can do front crawl just fine, so long as I don't try breathing.

    Really helpful thread!
  • Juicer, ideally for an efficient front crawl technique you should breathe after every third stroke but (and here's the tricky bit) when your head is under water you are not supposed to hold your breath in the same way that you do for the breast stroke. For the breast stroke when the head comes out of the water you breathe out and then in before going under again. For the crawl you are supposed to start breathing out under water turning your head sideways mainly to breathe in. I'm sure that my breathing problem was caused by trying to breathe in the same way that I do for the breast stroke whilst doing the front crawl (if that makes any sense). That is, holding my breath whilst under water and then trying to quickly breathe out and then in again. I was able to do this for two or three lengths before simply running out of air!

    It's a good point you make about breathing alternatively on either side. Personally, I breathe to the right because it is the more natural side for me. For some people the left is more natural. However, I have seen people at my pool breathing on alternate sides and it probably makes for a much better balanced stroke. It also is advantagous for a triathlete to be able to breath on both sides during an open water swim because if the surface of the water is choppy and being blown towards the right breathing side, you are able to turn your head to the left to breathe thus avoiding swallowing mouthfuls of water!
  • Juicer,
    I bought my first road bike last Friday and am determined to have a go at triathlon this year. So I'm in a similar boat to you. I'm trying to get in touch with the Black Country Triathletes but emails don't seem to be getting replied to. Hopefully I'll pick up all the popinters/tips/advice etc from joining a club and training with them.
    There is also a good club based in the centre of Birmingham, Birmingham Running and Triathmon club (BRATs). Went riding on Saturday morning with some of them and they seem like a friendly bunch.
    Maybe I'll see you at Wombourne for our triathlon debut?
  • Hi Matt. I've emailed you a contact for Black Country Triathletes. I'm sure they won't mind!!
  • Thanks for that Juicer. Don't give up on tri. Remember the weather was muggy at the weekend which won't have helped you and we all have bad races. Cycling and swimming will only help your running and stop you over training.
  • This is a great thread with loads of good advice. I'm in a similar position to many on here, that I can't swim more than 2 lengths without feeling like my heart is going to explode. Pushed myself to do 4 lengths this morning but had to stop then.

    I'm hopeless at breast stroke (can't do the legs), ok at the crawl but all the old biddies in my local pool at 6:00am keep pushing and kicking me as I pass - presumably because I splash them a bit as I go past.

    It's good to know I'm not alone, and that getting a few lessons to sort out technique should help.

    Anyone going to the Guildford Lido tomorrow night for the duathlon there?
  • Nolene, when I started swimming again about 6 months ago I couldn't do many lengths without a rest. Someone said I was swimming too quickly so I tried slowing down and they were right. I kept going and going.
    As for the old biddies, does your pool have different lanes for different speeds. If not you could suggest this to the management. If they do then just let the life gaurd know they are getting in the way and are in the wrong lane.
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