How far should you swim?
I recommend a distance that will push your perceived (mental) endurance limits just a little. But not too far. Something you can do within the hour. Something between 500 and 2000 meters may be about right for many.
Some of you are training to achieve a longer distance you’ve never swam before, and in your mind right now you’ve regard some short distance as your limit. Start about where you think your limit is and in your next long swim go past this distance just a little. You can increase the distance gradually as your mind feels more confident from each swim.
Some of you are training for a distance you can already swim, but you’ve want to swim that distance in open-water (more challenging conditions), or at higher quality performance. (Some of you are preparing to take a qualifying swim test so you know you need to swim that distance at a certain speed). So, you may pick that test distance, then you can add variables that gradually increase the challenge on your systems over that full distance – you can set more complex Focal Point goals, set higher SPL goals, set higher Tempo goals, set variable Pace goals, etc.
Why Should You Do It?
Here are a few reasons why:
- This is the easiest, safest, lowest pressure way to try longer distances. With solid TI skills in place you really may not have a distance limit any more (just add fuel), except for what remains in your mind.
- You will become familiar with what happens to your body and after you swim past various ‘exhaustion points‘. Get to know what these changes feel like and learn how to respond to them so they no longer create negative experiences.
- When you get tired, you need to swim even smarter and apply all you’ve been practicing with TI to keep going. It will push your brain to use your new skill much better than short distances (and abundant energy) will.
- Such distance will no longer be ‘special’, it will just be normal. And you can feel proud that you are truly a distance-swimmer because this is what distance swimmers do!
- You fall into a rhythm that you can only experience after 12 minutes of continuous swimming, and a deeper rhythm after 25 minutes, and an even rhythm after 45 minutes (times suggested by my own experience). You don’t know what you’re missing until you swim past those points and give your body and brain time to unify.
- You get a substantial test of your increasing abilities, and a way to find out where your weak spots are when energy is no longer abundant. You can compare results – taking notes on your external objective performance and your internal subjective experience.
There are many more reasons to do this. You may even have some of your own that urge you to have a regular distance test swim like this. I would be glad to hear how you are using test swims and what your motivations are.
I have challenged some of you about swimming longer distance already. And some of you are challenging yourself without my prompting.
I encourage you to set up a longer test swim that you will do at least once a month, up to once a week, if you like. You’ll find that you are more capable than you realize, and then after several swims, you feel quite capable at this distance.
I have been doing this in various forms for as long as I have been training myself in swimming (and running, and cycling back in those triathlete days long ago). I didn’t do this when I first started swimming, but it became a habit later on. When I was in high school (on a state championship swim team, but I was not one of the champions) all of us who were less-gifted in swimming dreaded the 500 yard race. We prayed the coach would not assign us to it – it seemed so far. To those of us with inferior technique the 200 yard sprints were quite hard enough, so 500 yards seemed like a survival event, not a race.
After 3 years away from swimming (severely injured in my shoulders by that poor technique) in college I was drawn to Olympic Distance triathlon and so I had to get comfortable with 1500m, and ready to do it in open-water (but with a wetsuit). I had other teammates making some good peer pressure so, in addition to my normal workouts, I started swimming that full distance once a week to just ‘get in shape’ for it, physically and mentally. I wanted to remove the intimidation of the distance and make it a normal thing.
But I didn’t stop there. The Ironman race was the greatest triathlete test at the time and there were IM athletes on our triathlon team who inspired us all. I removed the intimidation of the 3800m (4200y) swim by swimming it once a month – an ‘hour of flip turns’ in a 25 yard pool can make you dizzy! But by doing this regularly I could feel confident I could handle that distance when I needed to. And this was all before I found Total Immersion!
When I did find TI several years later, I was still doing a 1500m swim about once a week. So, I immediately started applying my new TI skills to see how they worked on my test swim. And that is how I got sold on TI – it got so much easier, so much smoother, that distance was no longer something I was proud to endure, it became something easy to enjoy. (Being tough lost it’s glamor when suddenly I could swim smart!). Several years later from that, when I moved to Antalya Turkey and began swimming in the sea more and more, I started seeing the profound advantages TI gave me for swimming in open-water and for swimming longer distances. I quickly started challenging my perceived distance limits and pushed them back farther and farther. A 45 minute continuous swim turned into 1 hour. 1 hour swims became 1.5, which became 2 hours, which turned into even a couple 3-hour swims just because I was so curious how far TI could take me on one tank of fuel. 10k suddenly became a pleasant (though long) swim, not an epic endurance event.
Now I am confident that I could handle great distances as long as I have fuel and can stay warm enough. (And that is why I do cool water winter training now – to remove that perceived barrier also!) I did these longer swims with no pressure to accomplish them at any speed – I just started gently and went along to see what would happen, and learn new things. And though I had a distance goal in mind for each swim, I set my course so I could get out any time I needed to, at any sign of trouble in body or mind. That gave me great peace about pushing those perceived distance limits. And they fell away so easily.