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Swim Training post-COVID: Getting back to the pool

As pools open across the country after the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to build back carefully

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

If you’re like most Canadians (or pretty much everyone else in the world) you haven’t had access to a public pool in quite some time. By now, though, the lakes across the country have warmed up, but many Canadian triathletes don’t have the luxury of open water access.

What can we do while we’re waiting for the reopening and how should we approach our return to the pool after such a long break?

Maintaining swim fitness without pool access is a challenge, to say the least. Endless pools start at $5,000 – and that’s if you already have a backyard pool. They get up to $30,000 pretty quickly if you need to build a pool as well.

Vasa Trainers are good, but they start at $1,500. If that kind of money has you balking, there are a couple cost effect ways to help maintain swim fitness when you’re not swimming.

A set of swim cords can be had for less than $20 and, if you’re ambitious and have a yard to do it in, you can set up a tethered swimming pool for under $200.

Swim cords can be purchased at any number of swim outlets, but making your own is pretty easy.  Just attach some smaller swim paddles to an exercise stretch cord and you’re off.

Swim cord sessions need to start gentle – 30 seconds on/ 30 seconds off. Build from there, adding 5 to 10 seconds a session as long as you’re able without creating any sharp shoulder pain.

A home-made backyard tethered swim system

In a nutshell, I purchased a 10-foot pool, 30 inches deep for $170 from Canadian Tire and then, using some punctured inner tubes, created a tether. It works fine. I didn’t bother buying a pool heater, but if we’re still using it next year, I’ll likely do that. They can be had for as little as $65.

When it comes to tethered swimming, I recommend using a snorkel. This reduces the disorientation that some report when swimming in such a confined space. And the stretchier the tether the more difficult it is to maintain your position – so multiple tethers can be useful for different effects or different swimmers.

Again – start with 30 seconds briskly/ 30 rest and build from there.

Return to the pool

And when those pool doors do reopen, how best to manage your return to the water?

To say some of us will be keen to get back in our lanes and swimming with our mates is an understatement, but it bears mention that we need to exercise a great deal of caution when we get back. I can’t think of anything worse than taking a four-month forced break from the pool, only to get an “enthusiasm” injury and be forced out again. Some thoughts:

  • Listen to your body. Start gentle and, above all, give yourself permission to do much less than you might be accustomed to.
  • If you left the pool swimming 4,000 to 5,000 m a day, four or five days a week, then that first week back should not exceed 2,000 m, three times a week – especially if you haven’t been diligent with your swim cords or other specific swim work.
  • You can build back quicker than you might imagine, but if you find yourself altering your stroke pattern to alleviate shoulder discomfort, you’ve likely already pushed too hard, too soon.
  • Your intensity needs to be modified as well. As it is with biking and running, you’ll be well-served if you build some base yards before drilling some 14 second 25s.
  • Use your pull buoys.
  • Use your cheater pants and whatever other toys you favour.
  • Feel good putting in the metres and only look at the clock to make sure you’re getting enough rest between sets.
  • Consider this a time of starting up again – the same way you would after taking an “end of season” break.
  • Start with your foundation and work on your technique.
  • Focus on good body position first – long tight boat from top to bottom, level with the horizon.
  • Make sure you’re not wiggling – swimming in the narrowest path you can.
  • Lastly, is your stroke efficient and pulling you through the water as opposed to just pulling your arms through the water? I’m a big fan of snorkel use but especially during this start up phase.

Hopefully most of you are doing what you can to maintain swim fitness while swimming isn’t available. When the time comes that we can return to the pool, hit the reset button, remain patient and take the time to build back up to your previous glory.

An early session you might execute during this start-up phase could look something like this:

  • 200 easy swimming of your choice.
  • 200 with snorkel, focus on perfect form
  • 200 with snorkel and fins – lift stroke for 6 strokes and cruise for 6 strokes
  • 200 kick with snorkel and fins, no kick board – change the effort as the body dictates – quick for several seconds, then cruise for several seconds
  • 200 pull buoy and snorkel – reset that nice body position

Main Set: 2 x

  • 200 with pull buoy – moderate effort with 20 seconds rest between
  • 3 x 100, progress effort on each (cruise, moderate, stronger) with 15 seconds rest between

Cool down:

  • 200 easy choice to cool down

Clint Lien is the head coach of Victoria’s Mercury Rising Triathlon www.mercuryrisingtriathlon.com

This story originally appeared in the July, 2020 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.