Interesting Developments in the Water

I’m feeling very inspired today, so I have to put pen to paper. Last year at Texas 70.3 I came out of the water shoulder to shoulder with fellow Canadian triathlete Cody Beals. Here are the results (he’s in 5th, I’m in 10th). This year on the other hand, he came out 2:01 ahead of me. Here are the results. After the race I gave this some serious thought. I think it’s blatantly obvious that he is doing something right. He is training under Tim Floyd with the Magnolia Masters group out of Woodlands Texas.

I have spoken to Tim on a number of occasions, and I read Cody’s blog regularly. From what I have been able to gather, Tim doesn’t believe in swimming massive sets. He believes in doing short but very fast sets. Said in my own words, he believes in getting into the pool, swimming really fast, then getting out. Two weeks ago I also had my most trusted training advisor come over and he went for a swim with me. I showed him what I normally do at the pool and he politely said he thinks I’m going about it all wrong. He had me do some hard 50s instead of the “long stroke 100s, 200s, and 400s” I had been doing.

On the first day of doing short and fast 50s I was able to come in around 37 seconds, leaving on a minute. If I swam really hard I might be able to get down under 36 seconds. I did some more 50s the next day but interestingly I was able to get under 37 seconds much easier. The sensation I got was that my arms and hips were beginning to work more in unison. Said another way, I was beginning to lock onto the water with my arm and then pull my arm through the water utilizing my hips and core, as opposed to just pushing my arm through the water utilizing the muscles of my arms.

With Ironman Texas looming, I decided to do a 2k tempo swim the next day. I swam 28:19. That is 1:25/100m. What was interesting about the swim was that it didn’t feel very taxing, it actually felt quite controlled. The next day I went back to doing fast 50s, and a couple of 100s. This time round I was starting to come in consistently in 36 seconds, and if I pushed hard I could go 35 and sometimes even 34 seconds. The most interesting part was that the 36 second 50m effort after a couple days of practice, felt like the 38 second 50 meter effort from a few days ago. I swam a few 100s at the end of the set and I was surprised at how easy and controlled a 1:18 hundred felt. For fun, I swam a 200m fairly controlled and the clock read 2:36. I thought perhaps I had made a mistake and that it said 2:46, so I swam another one. Nope, still said 2:36. I was taken a back a bit, it was the easiest a 2:36 two-hundred had felt in my entire life.

The next day I did some more 50s. Once again there was progression. 36 seconds was feeling pretty decent, and I was beginning to come in consistently at 35 seconds. The next day I decided to do a 3k tempo. My intention was to hold 1:25/100m again, but for 1 kilometer longer. When I started swimming I realized that 1:25/100m was too slow. To achieve the same perceived exertion as I had just two days prior in my 2k tempo, I needed to swim faster. I ended up swimming the 3k in 41:30. That is exactly 1:23/100m. The most interesting part of the swim was that it actually felt easier than the 2k tempo I had done a few days prior!

At this point I was starting to really believe that Tim Floyd must be onto something with his training philosophy so I messaged him to find out more information. He said he’s not surprised I am seeing very quick gains and that he feels I could improve my swimming drastically based on what he knew about the training I had been posting on my blog. Long story short, we’re going to meet up while I’m in Woodlands Texas for the Ironman, and we’re going to discuss if there’s a way for us to work together.

But the story doesn’t end there. We’re nearing the reason why I am even writing this blog post. I took the next day off to compete in the Ironhawk Duathlon. Results here if you are interested. This brings me to yesterday, where I swam some 50s and 100s. I was hitting 35 second 50s pretty consistently. When I went up to the 100s, I was surprised to find how much easier 1:15 felt. Since I haven’t swam a straight 4 kilometers in at least a year, I decided today was a better day than ever to do it. I went through the first kilometer in 13:20, the second kilometer in 13:44, the third kilometer in 13:41, and the fourth kilometer in 13:42 for a total time of 54:27.

Being a weak swimmer for almost as long as I can remember now, I was a bit flabbergasted that I had actually swam that fast for that long. That is 1:21.7/100m for 4000m. If you had asked me three weeks ago if I would be able to average 1:21.7/100m for 4000m I would have most definitely said NO! What was even more amazing was that it wasn’t very difficult. My prior best for 4 kilometers was 58:20, set about a year ago. This swim was definitely easier than that one!

I’m not quite sure what the moral of the story is here. Perhaps the moral is that I don’t know anything about how to coach myself in swimming. A more useful take home message is that swimming is very complex and it is likely that there is not one single solution to the problem. I had become infatuated with swimming “the long stroke,” and I do believe this had value in my development, but I do not think it is the final solution to the problem of swimming slow. Regardless, perhaps incorporating some short fast 50s into your training will help you see some gains. The best way I can describe what I feel is happening at the moment is that: My arm is locking onto the water out front, then instead of pushing my arm through the water using the muscles of my arm, I am engaging the lat and utilizing my hips to generate the force. The whole body seems to be working more in unison, and it appears that this is allowing me to generate more force for propulsion, which is resulting in me not feeling as taxed at constant speed.

As I learn more, I will continue to update. I was just blown away by how quickly I have seen gains from this style of training and I thought it was worth sharing.

9 thoughts on “Interesting Developments in the Water

  1. That is amazing. Thank you for taking the time to let everyone know your improvement, and sharing you knowledge. I want to wish you well for the weekend and will be following you. 🏊🏼🚴🏽🏃🏻

  2. Thanks for the tips – most of us age-groupers can actually benefit from all the advice we can gather – I will literally try this (most of the sets we are taught are 100’s and up as mentioned). 54 mins for a 4k swim is super fast considering you are a monster on the bike and run. I am so stoked to tune in to IM this weekend – have fun and leave it all out there! (win / lose who cares, just learn so you can win in KONA – we believe 🙂

  3. Interesting read. I was wondering if you have used the Vasa Ergometer for swim training since you do a lot of indoor training on the Computrainer and treadmill. I found it useful myself when time crunched and helped me build up my strength as an adult onset swimmer. Good luck this weekend in Texas!

  4. Hey Lionel – thanks for posting – I’ve noticed the same things you have. I followed the USRPT format (the same that Tim subscribes to – see and after 10 sessions in December I got my 400m TT time down to 5:11 (compared to a season best during 2014 of 5:22 that required 30km per week of training). Now I just swim hard 50s, sometimes mix up 100s, and then before a race include a few more endurance race pace efforts such as 10 x 400 for Ironman. Then during taper it’s hard 50s right up to 2 days before race day. I’m hoping to break 5 min for 400m this year using that philosophy.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing Lionel, fascinating post. I’ve heard this advice before – but in much less inspiring words, and thus have yet to really make an attempt at it. Time to change that!
    & Congrats to you on Texas, awesome victory! Keep getting faster!

  6. It makes sense though doesn’t it for AOSs. Quality over quantity with adequate recovery to maintain technique. Why work through 200s, 300s or 400s with tight send offs when you could do a higher intensity, faster, better quality set doing 50s with more rest. I started doing the same after reading Cody Beals’ blog as well.

    Good luck in Texas this weekend. I hope you have a great race like you did at Galvaston. Catch up and hang on the bike then hammer the run seems to work quite well for you!!!

  7. I was in Raleigh for a race this weekend and noticed a Freshii. Decided to stop in and grab a chomp. Great food and decent pricing! Your sponsorship made me check it out too.

  8. Awesome post Lionel, would love to know if your stroke per lap is still as low as you mentioned is your previous update. Or, has your style changed with the faster training?
    Awesome to see you hard work paying off in your recent results!!

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