Published: 22 April. Written by: Lizzie Simmonds.
Hey everyone! My name is Lizzie Simmonds, I’m an ex-Olympic swimmer and now a Vitality Performance Champion. With pools in the UK now open, I’m sharing my advice on getting your family into swimming. This time I’ll go through some ways to make things a little more interesting by switching-up your routine.
Swimming lengths may be beneficial for our health and wellbeing but splashing up and down without a focus can get a bit tedious after a while. Although many of us haven’t been in a swimming pool for months, it’s likely that the novelty might wear off unless you have a bit of a plan for the time you spend in the water. Most lessons and club sessions will be structured, but if you don’t fancy joining a class, then how do you structure your own session?
Having competed at an international level for 12 years myself, I’m no stranger to the tiles on the bottom of the pool, and the pattern on the ceiling. The good news is that there are many different ways to mix up your swimming sessions, and you don’t need to be an expert to try them out. So here are my top 5 tips for keeping swimming fun and interesting, for all ages and abilities:
Mix up your strokes
Doing the same stroke all the time can get boring, so try mixing your strokes throughout your session. In general, front crawl and breaststroke are the easiest strokes, followed by backstroke. Last of all is butterfly, which can be a challenge, even for expert swimmers! Trying new strokes with the family is a really easy way to keep things fun—try watching each other from the side (or underwater) to give some coaching tips!
If you want to look like a real pro, you could even try doing an ‘Individual Medley’ repetition – this is a length of butterfly, followed by backstroke, breaststroke and finally front crawl. The 400m Individual Medley is one of the most challenging events for elite swimmers; 100m of each stroke is not for the fainthearted!
Try your moves at the wall
Swimming efficiently involves all sorts of coordinated movements; balancing arm strokes with leg kicks, plus remembering to breathe at the right time! If you’re struggling with this coordination, try some of these elements whilst practicing at the wall. For example, to practise your front crawl side breathing, you may want to stretch your arms out in front of you (holding onto the wall) and kick your legs behind you on the surface. Of course, you won’t move anywhere, but you’ll have the perfect opportunity to practise turning your head to the side to take a breath.
Breaking down strokes like this is really important; even elite swimmers do drills to improve one part of their stroke at a time. If you have little ones, practising at the wall can be a safe way to introduce the feeling of putting their face in the water. Holding onto the wall and trying to kick as hard as they can is also a fun (and splashy) way to improve their leg kicks! Just watch out for other swimmers who may not appreciate their efforts quite as much as you…
Swimming at one pace for the whole session can be monotonous and, once you’ve built up a base level of fitness, you might find that your progress plateaus too. Luckily, there are a number of different ways you can continue to build your endurance, speed and power, whilst keeping training sessions interesting and varied too. Elite swimmers will work at very specific energy levels across their session, based on measurements of their heart rate and blood lactic acid levels. For beginner and intermediate level swimmers, there is no need to go into this much detail. Instead, it’s helpful to think of three simple levels of effort:
- Aerobic: this is steady swimming, well within your comfort zone. This should be the effort you do warm-ups and cool downs at, plus some of your base level training. It’s possible to swim aerobically on all four strokes, although you may find it hard to do lots of backstroke and butterfly at this level! if you’re just starting out, even this base level effort may feel hard; that’s okay, just make sure you take plenty of breaks as you start to feel tired.
- Strong: this pace is still within yourself, but you’re starting to push a bit harder. At the beginning of your journey, you may only be able to do the occasional 25m at this pace, but as you build you, you can start to build up to reps of 100, 200 or 400m.
- Maximum: just as it says on the tin, this is the biggest effort you have! For most people, swimming very short repetitions (15-25m) at this pace is great for helping build speed and power across your swimming strokes. Remember to take plenty of rest in between repetitions, to enable your body to recover and your heart rate to come back down.
The challenge as you increase your pace is to maintain your best technique. Although you may be putting more effort in, if you’re less efficient in the water due to poor technique, you’ll find it difficult to make improvements. Getting this balance right is a lifelong challenge for even the most expert swimmers!
Try different equipment
There’s plenty of equipment available to make swimming sessions more interesting including floats, hand paddles and flippers. At the very least having a kick board and a pull buoy allows you to isolate your legs or your arms, so you can practise the ‘kick’ and ‘pull’ elements of the stroke. Even though kicking on a board, or just using your arms, may seem very different to swimming full stroke, it can have a huge impact on your overall strength and endurance. Plus, having a full kitbag of equipment can really help to keep things varied during swimming sessions.
Remember to always check with the lifeguard or pool manager before using equipment, as some pools don’t allow certain items such as flippers, particularly at busy times.
Get some headspace
Swimming isn’t just beneficial for our physical health; it can also improve our mental health, giving us time away from busy schedules and stressful lives. It’s great if you want to focus on your technical skills and progress in the water, but having a few quiet lengths can also be a great opportunity to switch off, daydream and enjoy the freedom of movement.
It might be that you love the opportunity to get away from technology, but some people even enjoy pool-safe devices that allow them to listen to music or podcasts as they swim. It’s certainly one way to make following that black line up and down more interesting!
Now you’re in the pool and have started changing your routine, are you ready for some improvements? Lizzie looks at some ways that you can begin to progress with your swimming!
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