Using one of the oldest drills in the book in this different way is great as an advanced next step from the original.
The time we’ve all been waiting for is here, triathlon offseason! This time of year being the offseason is quite new to me though. As a competitive swimmer my down time from racing was always August and April, and this time of year was full of championship meets. But I definitely like how triathlon and open water racing offseason coincides with the colder months, that’s super convenient. Especially considering I think everyone’s biggest obstacle in getting to the pool right now is not wanting to be outside with wet hair, talk about a win win. So now that we’re here, what do we do? Sit around and start training to become all star couch potatoes? I wish, but alas, that’s not what I wanted to write about (although I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to be a couch potato for at least two weeks, I won’t tell anyone, I promise).
Offseason training is the absolute perfect time for two things: skill and speed work. You’re probably thinking, “But Lissa, shouldn’t I be working on those things during the season as well?” To which I say, yes, yes you should be. However, these two things in particular take a lot longer to make positive changes and progressions, so being able to work on them when you don’t have races getting in the way will allow you to really solidify your progress and help your body better adapt to what you’re looking for.
If you’ve been swimming with improper form (don’t worry, I didn’t know how to catch properly for over 20 years…), and that’s how you’re used to swimming, making changes to these movements is going to take a bit longer than you’d probably like. Muscle memory and I have a love hate relationship. It’s great when you’re tired and you can let your body take over for that early morning swim practice, but it’s pretty terrible when you’re trying to make technical corrections and it just wants to go back to your normal way of swimming. This is why skill work is so important during the offseason. You don’t have to fret about spending too much time on drills that you won’t get your yardage in. Instead, you can actually take your time, focus on the changes you’re trying to make, and not worry about anything else while doing so. Unless, of course, you’re like me, and your mind wanders to that never-ending to do list whenever you swim long distances at swim practice…
Speed work is the absolute best thing you can work on when you don’t have races scheduled every other weekend. I say this because building up your anaerobic capacity takes SO MUCH LONGER than building up your aerobic capacity. And, exciting news coming at you, whenever you’re training, either in season or offseason, you’re always working on your aerobic capacity. Every time you get in the pool for a long swim practice, hop on your bike for a 20+ mile ride, or go out for a long run, you’re building up your aerobic capacity. You do this without even knowing about it, that’s how easy upping your endurance is. But anaerobic? That takes timeeee. Why? Because you’re working on building up your lactate tolerance, increasing your resting levels of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate - the high energy molecule in all living cells that supplies you with energy), and increasing your fast twitch muscle fibers. That’s a lot to work on all at once. You might be thinking, “why do I need to do this if I only compete in long distance races?” Building up your anaerobic capacity is going to allow you to perform at and maintain a high level of intensity over a longer period of time. What does that mean? Faster times.
If you’re not sure where to start, try out this simple workout that allows you to focus both on skill and speed work at the same time.
1 x 500 warm up
4 x 50 drill - one arm freestyle; alternate by 25s with :15 seconds rest
4 x 50 - descend 1-4 with :10 seconds rest
1 x 100 - easy with best technique as the focus
40 x 25 - freestyle fast - take :10 seonds rest
4 x 50 - moderate effort with good technique - take :10 seconds rest
1 x rest for a minute
30 x 50 - freestyle fast - take :15 seconds rest
1 x 200 warm down
I know you’ve all jumped in the pool and thought to yourselves, “Gee, how can I use my training gear in a way it wasn’t made for?” And by that I mean I doubt anyone has ever had that thought, and this is the very reason why I question my husband’s sanity at times. But, since he thinks outside the pool (see what I did there? or maybe I should have said “outside the SwimBox,” take the one you like better and re-read this last sentence. Go on, I’ll wait) and plays around with these things, I now present to you my all time favorite drill. Paddlehead.
I love this drill because you DO NOT NEED a coach to practice it. Yes, you heard me correctly. The paddle gives you all the feedback you need to know if you’re doing the drill properly or not. And what does the drill work on? Head position.
Paddlhead drill is the perfect drill to use to help you learn proper head position in freestyle. For beginners you’re going to start the drill WITHOUT taking a breath. No, I’m not asking you to hold your breath and swim until you pass out (although that might be a fun contest…). I mean when you’re first starting this drill, take 6-8 strokes - or however many strokes you can take without needing a breath - then stop when you need air. When doing this you want to focus on keeping your head in proper position. What’s that, you’re asking? With the paddle on the crown of your head, look straight down at the bottom of the pool. Make sure you’re not cheating here and pushing your neck downward while doing this drill, as that will more often than not keep the paddle from falling off, and will also take you out of proper head position.
In the image above you can see the exact placement of the paddle that we’re looking for. The paddle should be placed right at the hairline and above the forehead. If you place the paddle directly on your forehead you’ll be able to cheat the whole drill and won’t get any feedback from the drill itself.
After you’re comfortable with your head position and can swim confidently without the paddle falling off, it’s time to add in the breath. Now, this is where things get tricky and sometimes downright discouraging. Be patient! This is the hardest part to have the paddle stay on. When you go to take your breath, focus on keeping your head low to the surface of the water and make sure your chin is pointing slightly down towards your collarbone. If you lift your head up at all, or move out of proper head position, the paddle will fall off when you go to breathe. Don’t try to do this too fast and get frustrated. I tell you this with 100% honesty, we’ve never had a client take a breath for the first time doing this drill and not have the paddle fall off (not even me). This movement takes time and patience to get right, you just have to keep at it.
When taking your breath, try using your eyes to make the movement and have your head follow. It sounds weird, I know, but your head will follow the path that you make with your eyes without having to completely focus on solely moving your head. You want to look down in your eye sockets and try to look about 4 feet behind you. Another cue is to try to look down towards your armpit. Focus on these things when working on adding in the breath, as this is what will help you keep your head low to the water and prevent the paddle from falling off.
For detailed instructions on this drill before adding it to your next swim make sure to check out our video! You’ll be able to see how the paddle stays in place when I go to take a breath and how low you want your head to be in the water.