Swimming can be as tough on your mind as it is on your body -- especially if all you do is swim continuous laps every day. It’s important to design swimming workouts that challenge you physically while keeping you mentally engaged so you’re not thinking about how many minutes or yards are left in the workout. You can accomplish this by incorporating variety into your workouts.
In a typical 3,000-yard workout, the first 400 to 600 yards should be a warm-up. It’s important to swim easy, concentrate on good form and engage all the muscle groups, from neck and shoulders down to your legs. The warm-up should start on the deck, where you can swing and stretch your arms and get them loose before you plunge into the water.
Drills are any type of swimming in which you concentrate on improving elements of your stroke. A drill might involve kicking or pulling, where you hold a buoy between your legs and wear paddles on your hands that emphasize your underwater pull. Other drills can focus on technique. These include swimming freestyle with a fist, dragging your fingertips up the side of your body during your recovery, or trailing your fingers in the water during recovery. Drills are often designed in a sequence that breaks down aspects of your stroke and ends with you swimming regularly, incorporating the drilled-in refinements.
The Main Attraction
Main sets are the hard training portion of your workout. They should form 33 percent to 50 percent of your total workout. A set is a group of repetitions of a particular distance, completed in a given interval of time. For example, a set might consist of eight 100-yard swims on a two-minute interval, which means you start out on another 100-yard swim every two minutes, so the faster you go, the more rest you get.
Variety and Mental Games
You’d get bored doing eight 100s every day as a main set, so add variety. One day it might be to work on speed by doing a set of 50s. Another day it might be to work on endurance by swimming three 500s. You can further spice up these sets by swimming each successive distance at a faster pace, or by steadily reducing your rest interval. One way to keep your mind off your fatigue is to set challenging intervals that force you concentrate. For example you might do three 100s on two minutes, three 100s on 1:55 and then three on 1:50, with either a descending or ascending pace.
Adding Different Strokes
You can also add variety by mixing in different strokes. Many swimmers focus on freestyle one day, but then focus on the other three stokes -- butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke -- on the following day. On non-freetyle days, you can focus on your favorite stroke or design a workout around doing individual medley: all four strokes done in the order of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. Backstroke helps swimmers recover from hard freestyle workouts because it lengthens the freestyle muscles.
One way to complement your swimming workouts is with dryland training, which can include weight training with lighter weights and higher repetitions, running, rope climbing, jumping rope, and core-building exercises such as planks or push-ups. When you aren’t swimming much, you can do these workouts three or four times a week. Do them less often if you’re able to swim more.