Swimathon: Coached by Karen Pickering!

On February 20th I was lucky enough to be able to attend a swimming master class hosted by Duncan Goodhew and Karen Pickering. The class was offered to 2014 #swimathon #blogsquad participants – we are being given free entry to the swimathon and the chance to take part in classes like this in exchange for regular blogging (and posting on Twitter and Instagram) about the Swimathon. The master class with Duncan and Karen was a fun opportunity to focus (again) on my stroke and overall efficiency in the water, to ask Duncan and Karen any questions which we had, and a chance to meet some of the other Swimathon bloggers (like Charlotte of Lunges & Lycra and Faya of Fitness on Toast).

As I met Duncan Goodhew in January (I still pinch myself for having this opportunity!) I sought out Karen for another opinion on my swimming.

For those of you who have not heard of Karen before, she is a four time Olympian and former world champion freestyle swimmer (200 meter).

She is also the third former Olympian who has noted that I should fix my head position to improve my swim. I mentioned to her this is a bit different to the advice that my coach Tim has given to me, which is not to worry so much about my head but to put the focus on my hand entry and the stroke itself. Karen said this often comes up as a difference between pool swimmers and open water swimmers – I appreciated her willingness to discuss the difference between the two approaches to swimming.

At the root of it – no matter whether you are a pool swimmer recreationally seeking to get fit through swimming, or if you are an open water swimming seeking to cross the English Channel, the aim is to make your stroke more efficient so that you can accomplish your goals faster. In the pool I worked on my hand entry and also spent time focusing on my stroke finish. I loved the tip that finishing the stroke deserves as much attention as starting it, and also that by focusing on a strong finish this will naturally result in more extension in my opposite arm and a stronger overall stroke. I’ve really taken this on board in my sessions, and I find that not only does it work – but also that I am getting a major tricep workout now when I swim! Talk about tired arms!

Karen spent lots of time answering the questions everyone posted on my Facebook status. Thanks especially to Jon, Jason, Valerie and Valerie for the following questions! I have paraphrased Karen’t actual answers as I did not have a voice recorder or notebook with me (I was in the pool when I asked most of these questions).

How can I swim better?

KP: Swim more! Kidding aside, set short, medium and longer term goals, and then work to meet these. Make sure that every session has a purpose and pushes you to meet these goals.

How can I break a one hour ironman swim (3800 meters)?

KP: A great set to repeat over and over again is a broken 4000 meters. For example, set yourself a time target to do 4 x 1000m, each 1000m in say 15 minutes. Give yourself enough rest between (a minute) to achieve this goal. Play with the broken set concept. For example, do this as broken 500s, and a bit more thresshold, with less rest time. Broken sets enable you to work on pacing, don’t get boring, and offer lots of possibility. Over time you can shorten the target time for each leg of the set.

KP: You need to make sure to keep to the time goal you set for each leg of the set. If you set a 10 x 400m set, for example, with a 7 minute time goal for your 400 meter swim – you have to keep it for each 400 meter. This set requires discipline to do properly!

KP: Also I do not believe in getting in the pool and just doing your target distance over and over again. You will find more improvement through structured shorter sets which each have a purpose – some drills, some repeated longer sets. Don’t do long continuous swims all the time and expect to see improvement. Do interval training of various lengths, broken sets, and drill / technique work.

Does distance per stroke matter, or is it better to work on stroke rate?

KP: It is a balance of the two.

Karen then set me a few distance per stroke sets to do to illustrate her point. We did a few lengths with a target of 12 strokes to cross the pool, which required me to go very slowly and focus on form. Then Karen told me to speed up but to still target 14 strokes per length.

KP: Distance per stroke forces you to focus on stroke efficiency, getting the most out of each pull. When you go faster it is natural to lose some efficience. You need to find the right balance. So do a few lengths working on DPS and count. Do the least possible strokes. Then go your steady speed and count the strokes. Do this as a regular check to see if the drill work you are doing is feeding back into a more efficient swim.

How do you stay motivated to train? And consistent?

KP: Goals are key. Each session should have a purpose. And you should have a long term goal that keeps you coming to the pool. Break this goal into short term (session based) goals; medium term checks and goals; and then your longer term goal. Make sure they are all aligned and that you drive toward your long term goal each time you enter the pool.

I’d like to thank Karen for her time and also for her insights. She was a hugely motivating coach and I really benefitted from the hour in the pool with her. As a coach, Karen offers bespoke one-to-one swim plans, designed to help people who already can swim achieve their goals. I benefitted so much from my time with Karen and her insights that I told her I would share her one-to-one information here, so click through if this appeals to you.

Just Keep Swimming!

Disclosure: I have been invited to be a part of the 2014 #swimathon #blogsquad, and in return for free entry into the 2014 Swimathon I am regularly posting about the training and opportunities being given to me – including coached swim sessions like this one with Karen Pickering.

For more information on the Swimathon check out their website. Registration for the 1k, 2.5k, or 5k challenge is open and costs £11, with incentives for participants who also fundraise for Sport Relief. I have participated in the Swimathon since 2010, doing the 5k in 2010, 2011, and 2.5k in 2012 and 2013. This year I will be swimming the 5k challenge on Friday 21 March at 7am at London Fields Lido. Maybe see you there?!

2 responses to “Swimathon: Coached by Karen Pickering!”

  1. Thank you for asking my question and for posting the answer.

    Eating elephant is best done one bite at a time right?

    And seriously, what a great opportunity you had.  I know you appreciated their time and chance to learn.  That is awesome.

  2. Great Blog Donna !
    I wish I had the opportunity to have a training session with Karen & Duncan.
    I will try to incorporate some of their tips into my swimming.
    Hopefully it will help me to set a new PR Time !!!!
    Good Luck with your challenge Donna !!!!

    Best Wishes

    John K

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