How to train for a long distance swim event or tri

Nine tips for building endurance in swimming.

Are you planning a big swim event or three this summer? Maybe a triathlon? 

Triathlons come in a few distances: 

  • Sprint = 750m swim + 20km bike + 5km run 
  • Olympic = 1.5km swim + 40km bike + 10km run 
  • Long Course = 3km swim + 80km bike + 20km run 
  • Half iron = 1.9km swim + 90.1km bike + 21.1km run 
  • Ironman = 3.9km swim + 180.2km bike + 42.2km run 

Open water swim events also have fairly standard distances: 

  • 1.2km (like Pier to Pub or WOW Challenge 1.2) 
  • 2.5km (plenty of these around) 
  • 5.0km This is a FINA junior official distance 
  • 10km FINA official swimming marathon 
  • 25km FINA ultra-marathon (don’t even think about it) 
  • Channel swim (like the English Channel) = over 33km 

Depending on your starting level of fitness, for any event over about 1000m, you need to put in a significant amount of work to build swimming endurance.  

Here are some tips to follow to build your endurance for open water and triathlons: 

  1. Learn to swim straight and sight effectively in the open water. Swimming off-course can add hundreds of metres to your swim event. Both sides of your body have to be balanced. Strokes have to be long and straight. To sight effectively, look before you breathe in by lifting your head only as high as your goggles out of the water. Your nose should still be in the water – blowing out bubbles. Make it a natural part of your stroke. Never inhale then left your head to look around. 
  2. Swim three times per week minimum – in addition to your other fitness activities. To build swimming endurance, you should be doing two hard pool sessions and one long open water swim (minimum) every week. It doesn’t matter whether you run a lot, cycle a lot or go to the gym. You still need to swim three times per week to maintain your skills and feel for the water. There are plenty of fit people who fall apart in the swim leg. 
  3. Going for a long slow swim does not make you a long-distance swimmer or eligible to enter long distance events. An event is always tougher than training, even if only in your mind. So, you need to raise your heart rate during training to build your fitness and endurance. Your heart rate while swimming needs to be at least double (minimum) your resting heart rate to get any fitness benefit from the activity. Swim fast and train smart. 
  4. Complete 2.0 km each swim: Swimming 500m – 1000m per swim session doesn’t cut it. Yes, start small but quickly build up to two or more kilometres. Really if you are not swimming 2km total pre session, your progress and improvement is going to be very slow. You are not pushing yourself. 
  5. Swim intervals on a timed cycle. Yes you want to swim a long distance but the best way to build up to that is to swim short distances repeatedly on a limited time cycle. So, 10 x 100m @ 2.0 minutes is better for you than 1km @ 20 mins. 
  6. Stretching: Yes. Do stretching. Lots of stretching.  Stretch your calves, your thighs and do a full range of stretches every day. Do the swimmer’s stretch – elbow behind head. Firstly, stretching helps you avoid cramping, strains and muscle injuries. Secondly stretching helps you be flexible and fluid and swim properly in the water.  
  7. As you get close to the event, swim at least half the distance of your event a couple of times. So, if you are training for a 5.0km event, swim 2.5km or more at least twice in the month leading up to it. 
  8. Experiment with feeds and drinks you will use before and during the event. Don’t leave it to the event to try that new energy goo. Personally, I like bananas and apples for food and sweet black tea for a drink, with hydralite for a few days beforehand. Don’t forget to take your vitamins and eat sensibly. 
  9. Taper – Yes ease off in the last week before the event. So that means no heavy weights, hard gym sessions or extreme workouts of any kind. But still go for your three swims and do some exercise every day. 

Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

Dump your lazy, land-based breathing habit with these ten tips to breathe like a swimmer.

There are four steps to sustainable swimming – 

  1. Breathing, 
  2. Floating, 
  3. Kicking,
  4. Arm strokes. 

Every learner and every parent thinks only about number 4) – developing those big powerful arm strokes.

Plenty of adult learners neglect the most important first step – breathing – and breathing for swimming is unlike breathing for any other physical activity. When you enter the water, you need to start breathing like a swimmer and drop your “land-based breathing” habits. 

Land based breathing is often shallow and slow. Land-based breathing is often inhaling through the nose. When you’re exercising on land, your breathing is often fast and in and out through the mouth and nose. To breathe like a swimmer is to get the maximum benefit from each lungful of air. Swimmers focus on the exhale part of breathing because inhaling comes naturally – it is a hardwired reflex.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here are ten tips to get you breathing like a swimmer. If some of them sound repetitive, umm, yes: 

  1. Inhale deeply and quickly through your mouth. The inhale has to be fast and deep – the air must get to the bottom of your lungs straight away. And it has to be through your mouth. You might not realise that land-based breathing does not involve quick, deep inhaling. Usually it’s more relaxed, takes a long time and breathing is often quite shallow. Mostly we breathe in and out through your nose. In swimming It’s in through the mouth and out through the nose.  
  2. Exhale slowly and steadily from your nose – you can even close your mouth and hum to ensure the air is leaving through your nose. 
  3. Swimmers generally don’t hold their breath. When your face is in the water, you should be exhaling, slowly from your nose. Your mouth can be closed (so a little hum is good). Little bubbles are leaving your nose so no water can get in and you are safe. 
  4. Practice breathing like a swimmer – quick and deep inhale through the mouth, and long slow exhale from the nose by putting your head under the water and watching your bubbles. You should be able to produce a steady stream of little bubbles from each nostril that can last up to about 10 seconds. 
  5. When you turn to breathe in, your aim is to only lift your head enough so that one eye is out of the water, and one remains under the water. So, you aren’t lifting your head very much at all, you are turning your torso using your abs.  
  6. Practice taking one breath every three or four strokes. You can take one breath every two strokes when you’re racing or swimming fast but as much as possible train yourself to lengthen your exhale. 
  7. Learn bi-lateral breathing. Everyone has a favourite side for breathing but you really do need to be able turn to the other side if necessary to take an inhale. And always breathing on one side means you will develop an unbalanced stroke and become stronger on one side than the other. You won’t swim straight in the open water. 
  8. Your leading arm needs to hold you up as you inhale. Don’t start your stroke until your head is back down, exhaling. So, if I turn to my left to inhale, my right arm is stretching forward holding me up. My left arm is pulling back hard but my right arm stays in that forward position until my lungs are full of air again. 
  9. Breathing is done quickly in the back half of the stroke. If I am breathing on my left side, my right arm is stretched forward and I turn to inhale when my left arm is passing under my face. The inhale must be all over by the time my left arm is returning back, through the air to the front of the stroke.
  10. Breathing is all important to swimming. When you’re exhaling you are relaxing. When you hold your breath you are tense and that is bad for swimming. Children develop their swimming breathing skills by playing in the water, by going under the water, by blowing bubbles in the water so spend time doing all these things.
Photo by Jess Loiterton on Pexels.com

Most importantly – remember this: Swimmers don’t hold their breath, swimmers exhale and stay relaxed. Play around in the water and blow bubbles to get on top of this skill.

Respect always pays dividends in swimming

Most of us are not training for the next Olympics but we all want to be fit, healthy, strong and to keep improving at swimming. Maybe you have a goal (good idea) to complete a big swim event in the future. One thing I like about swimming is the respect you need to make it all work. This goes for adults as well as kids.

Kids who find themselves in competitive squads and going to race meets soon work out there are no short cuts, no way to improve on their own. To prosper in the sport, respect must become a cornerstone trait of their personalities.”

In this apparently very individual sport, they need the group, the team, the coach.

There’s no shortcuts. You need your team, your friends, your coach.

When you make swimming your physical exercise activity you are taking on the toughest of all sports. Sure, it’s very low impact, so pretty safe, but it’s tough physically and mentally. You require strength, aerobic capacity, cardio fitness, co-ordination and all-over conditioning. Talent and body type can help but these attributes are dwarfed by commitment and respect. In order to succeed in our world, it all boils down to one thing: Respect.”

There’s method behind the occasionally repetitive madness of swim training. You don’t get much benefit from doing something once. You have to repeat that thing, that skill, that set, hundreds of times over months and years to change yourself. But more than that – You have to accept and be ok with all that. You have your swim training friends to share the experience with. This is your lifestyle and when you respect and accept it, you get the full benefits.

You’ll meet the swimmers with all the gear, the apps, the jargon who are doing it on their own. Please reach out to them and offer support 🙂. You need to be in a group with other swimmers, doing it together, respecting each other, learning and supporting each other if you want to get the most of this thing.

I’m not saying this to get you to pay me money (really 😉), I’m just urging you to be part of the scene, participate in the groups, learn from each other, support your mates. This thing is not an ordinary sport, it’s a level up from everything else. 

The flipside of respect is that really good swimmers can commonly become a bit arrogant – perhaps coz they know they are better? Haha this is an old problem and issue.  But if you level up from mere mortal human being to swimmer, and to open water swimmer, maybe you have earnt the right to feel good about yourself. You’ll know when you’re good, coz you’ll have respected the process of getting there.

And check out our latest vid from the 9am Swim group here.

Get your hand behind your elbow …

“What are you talking about? Get your hand behind your elbow? What does that even mean?”

A long straight freestyle stroke is much more efficient than lots of short strokes. And long strokes are faster through the water, even though your stroke rate falls.

Freestyle technocrats – swim geeks who focus too much on correct technique (like me)  – have an important, if obscure, rule:

Get your hand behind your elbow as soon as possible and keep it there as long as possible, even in the recovery stage.

Left hand is behind the left elbow, even in the recovery phase

Step by step, that means:

  1. After your hand enters and catches the water, get your forearm vertical as soon as you can, bending from the elbow, using your bicep strength. This brings your hand ‘behind your elbow’ if looking from above.
  2. Keep your elbow high and forward during the pull and push phase of the freestyle stroke and lead with your hand.
  3. Brush your thigh, or hip, with your thumb to ensure that you have long straight freestyle stroke.
  4. At the end of the stroke, as your hand exits the water down near your thigh, lift and pull your elbow (not your hand) to bring it back to the front. Drag your hand forward by pulling with your elbow. Leave your hand behind and let it ‘hang’ off your elbow as you recover your arm to the front to begin the next stroke.
Right hand is ‘behind’ the right elbow

Don’t be a crab. Crabs can’t get their claws behind their little elbows. Their claws are always pointed forward from their elbows and many, many freestylers are a bit like crabs.

As soon as their hands exit the water at the end of their stroke, they lead with their hand and get it back in front of their elbow. This leads to shorter strokes, shoulder injuries and pain in the elbow joint. Also leads to heartache for your coach when watching from the pool deck ☹.

John Travolta Staying Alive (from Saturday Night Fever). This is a great freestyle drill

Try the ‘Stayin Alive’ (John Travolta) drill. Like the Fingerdrag drill, this one is mostly about your elbows – keeping them high and forward and getting your hands behind them.

In the Stayin Alive drill, you get both arms straight at the same time and really push them straight.

One arm is stretched forward to 10 or 11 o’clock and the other arm is stretched back to 4 or 5 o’clock.

It’s an exaggeration of good freestyle (like all drills). It will help you train your brain to tell your body to keep your strokes long and get your hand behind your elbow.

Wakey wakey – are you a snaky swimmer?

“I’m raising awareness about Swim Self-Delusion-itis. You could have it now and not even realise.”

You might not even realise that you’re snaking your way down the pool or through the open water. This is one of those bad technique habits you can get into without even knowing you’re doing it. 

Is everything just a bit difficult? Are you looking up at the sky when you turn to inhale? Are you swimming off in an unpredictable direction in the open water? Are you trying really hard but not really improving as much as you’d like? Is there lots of splashing and moving and not enough gliding and sliding through the water?

Right now, you’re probably saying: NO this doesn’t apply to me. But how would you know?

You most probably don’t even know that you’re rolling around too far and not keeping your hips steady. You might be bringing your arms under your body in an S-shaped pull and that will lead to over correcting, sinking and not enough strength pushing you forward.  

You might be creating a lot of resistance through the water and don’t even realise how good it can feel when you get things right.

You’re probably also be doing a big scissor kick if you are a snaky swimmer, especially on the stroke when you are turning to inhale.  This is part of the over-correction and balancing act that snaky swimmers have to perform to stay traveling in a straight direction. 

Video is the best friend of the snaky swimmer and the enemy of Swim Self-Delusion-itis, a serious condition impacting millions of people around the world. I’m raising awareness about Swim Self-Delusion-itis because this huge problem can affect even the most confident swimmers. You may not know you have it right now.

So please, get it checked out. A friend watching on poolside might be able to tell you, or show you with a simple video on their phone. A coach is best placed (of course) to give you advice and analyse your technique. But left undiagnosed, this condition can worsen so don’t put your head in the sand and pretend that it can’t affect you.

Being a rolly and snaky swimmer is best diagnosed with video because, when told about it, most swimmers flatly deny it..  

“I am staying firm in my core.” 

“I am reaching out straight, I’m pulling through straight.” 

“My legs are straight and my kick is small and steady.” 

Sure. Sure. sure. Let’s fix you up Snaky. 

First: Swim down the centre of a pool lane with the line underneath you. Make sure you keep your hands well wide of the line through the entire 360-degree cycle of each arm stroke. That means your hand will never break your view of the line. 

Your hands need to point to 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock upon entry. Your shoulders are wider you’re your eyes so you might think you are reaching straight in front of you when you are clearly coming in close to your body’s centre line. 

Second: Do some kicking practice. This is important but you probably don’t want to hear it. I don’t like saying it. You don’t need a board, just kick for a few laps. Keep your kicks small, and your legs straight from the hips down to the toes. Practice a fast furious kick and a slower more deliberate kick that still keeps you moving forward. 

Third: Buy borrow or steal a swimmer’s training snorkel – This will really help you develop a nice balanced stroke technique.  

Try these drills: 

The Swordfish – kicking for three strokes on each side is a good one for this. Like all drills it exaggerates the movements we need to develop the good steady core technique that stops snaking. 

The John Travolta Stayin Alive drill – that means both your arms should be straight at one point in the stroke cycle. One arm reaching forward to 11 o’clock and one arm reaching back, down near your hips pointing at 5 o’clock. 

One arm freestyle – Hold one arm out in front perfectly straight and complete a whole lap of freestyle with one arm. This helps you develop balance and core strength when you need it – during the pull phase. You should be able to swim straight even using just one arm.

Ten tips to build your aerobic capacity

Do you lose your breath and get ‘puffed out’ after swimming just a short distance?  Do you want to be able to go further than you have gone before – not just while swimming but during all physical activities?

Or maybe, like a lot of athletes, you can run or bike for an hour, non-stop, but you can’t swim for more than a minute or two without needing a rest?  You’re not actually tired, you don’t have muscle burn, you’re just ‘puffed out.’ 

More than other sports and physical activities, you need to develop excellent aerobic / lung capacity for endurance swimming. And using swimming to develop aerobic capacity – the ability of the lungs and body to absorb oxygen and transport it to your muscles quickly – will help in other activities.

You build aerobic capacity by swimming long distances but this is difficult when you have to keep stopping. Swimming only works as a fitness activity when you have developed good aerobic capacity. You can speed up the process by trying these ten aerobic training tips. Some may not apply to you but at least some will definitely be worthwhile thinking about and trying: 

  1. First – go back to basics. Every now and then playa round in the water, diving down, blowing bubbles. Forget about inhaling. Your body knows how to do it without thinking. Just make sure you are breathing in deeply and quickly when you do emerge to get air.
  2. Exhale and relax – You only need to consciously think about getting your exhale correct. But are you actually thinking about it? Or are you focused on: ‘When am I breathing in again?’ Sit on the bottom of the pool or sea and exhale. When you have no air left in your lungs, stay down for a few seconds before coming up – to reprogram your body to not to be impatient about inhaling. 
  3. Once you can breathe out a steady stream of small bubbles for ten seconds, then make sure you can emerge to quickly breathe in and submerge again and repeat the ten second exhale. Just because you can do it once doesn’t really count. You have to be able to come up for air and go back down again, sit on the bottom again and make your exhale last ten seconds again. And again. And again.  
  4. Master bi-lateral breathing. Breathing on both sides means you have more control, more confidence and more choice about when you breathe. There’s no reason why you can’t inhale on both sides of your body while swimming, except in your head. Your head controls your body and all its movements. Take control.
  5. Keep your head down and exhale for three freestyle strokes for four full 25m laps. Then try going for five strokes, then seven strokes. This is difficult. Try swimming a whole 25m lap with no inhaling. The longer you can go without breathing in the better you are getting at using the oxygen you have in your lungs already. Don’t overdo this. Don’t get light-headed. 
  6. Even when you are doing a lot of strokes without inhaling, avoid holding your breath as much as possible. When your head is in the water, you need to be exhaling as much as possible – so a long slow steady stream of bubbles from your nose (mainly) is the key to all this. 
  7. In the open water the general rule is we inhale more often than in the pool but we need to be more confident about our aerobic capacity in the choppy sea than in the flat calm pool. If you want to swim in the open water, these skills are twice as important for you. Don’t breathe everything out, keep a little air in your lungs when swimming in the open water. But be able to keep your head down if needed.
  8. Swimming fast in intervals with an elevated heart rate will build your aerobic capacity a lot faster than long slow swims – but you won’t feel it initially because you’ll be having interval breaks. Keep an eye on the timing clock – improvement is incremental so may not notice without checking your times. But most importantly, occasionally go for a long swim – longer than you think you can manage and you will surprise yourself. You may have developed good aerobic capacity without really testing it out. Then you’ll really be getting fit, feeling the muscle burn because you’re at the edge of your aerobic system’s ability to supply the muscles and your anaerobic system is taking over. 
  9. There’s a wall in swimming similar to The Wall you hit when going for a long run. It can be harder to just push through it in swimming (without stopping) because, you know, you’re in the water and you want to keep moving and not drown. That wall will dissipate (have faith in yourself) and keep going. When you are puffed out, your anaerobic system is ready to take over.  
  10. The better you get at all this, the better you’ll be at all aerobic sports and activities, not just swimming. Developing your lung capacity with these swimming exercises will make you a better runner, cyclist, sportsperson and human person. Swimming is the best way to build your aerobic capacity. Once that’s done your body starts to build strength and anaerobic ability itself when you workout. All sportspeople, footy players, netballers, runners, cyclists, couch potatoes, armchair experts etc, should be going for a regular swim and they will, after the Coach Jason revolution, when it will be mandatory.

Ten tips for a magical Lazy Freestyle

Murray Rose in the early 60s did it as did Shane Gould and many other Australian crawlers but then it fell out of fashion in the late 70s. 

“Congratulations Jason, you’re getting a gold medal,” said my coach sometime in the 80’s. 

“You’re Australia’s laziest freestyler. Why can’t you have a go?” 

I thought I was having (a bit) of a go, but these were the days of trying to be Mark Spitz, of S-shaped pulls, big splashy kicks and high stroke rates.  

Since then, science, the genius of Ian Thorpe, Alex Popov and others have shown us there is a better way to swim. 

A long, strong, straight stroke is faster and easier than plenty of short, fast strokes. When you get it, the feeling is magic. You can slide through the water easily for thousands of metres without getting exhausted. 

“When you get it, the feeling is magic”

We’ve all seen a lazy freestyler, often as they cruise past us, going much faster than we are. A lazy freestyler can look slow but mysteriously speeds through the water. The water loves the lazy freestyler largely because they have worked out how to slide through the water by minimising resistance. They get extra speed from swimming well.

Not everything needs to be done totally perfectly for lazy freestyle to work. You don’t have to be a zen master of technique to be able to swim easily for miles and miles. But you do need to think about a few very important things.

Have a quick read of these ten elements of lazy freestyle: 

  1. While it’s called lazy freestyle, your mind is active the whole time. You are managing every little movement, because they all count. You are never dreamily going through the motions without thinking. You are never leaving it up to muscle memory.  
  2. You are putting your hand in the water at the beginning of each stroke , pushing it forward and feeling the water. This is essential. You have to love this part of the stroke and know how important it is. 
  3. Meanwhile your other arm is pulling back powerfully, with a high elbow and a vertical forearm. 
  4. This is when you can take a breath. When your breathing arm is passing your face and your opposite arm is stretched forward holding you up. 
  5. Controlling your exhale is crucial or you’ll be rushing to get to your next arm stroke. If you can’t go under the water and exhale constantly and steadily for 10 seconds, that’s where to start. 
  6. Your core muscles, your abs are powering all this. Your shoulders are rotating almost 180 degrees but your hips are fairly steady and firm. 
  7. Your kick is narrow, not very big, it’s at the top of the water (most importantly) and is working independently of what is happening above your waist.  
  8. You feel long, narrow, tall, strong but lean, sharp, fluid. You feel powerful but never heavy. You’re in charge, in control but also fluid and in touch with the water. 
  9. And you are using significant strength to make it happen. But there’s more to lazy freestyle than muscles. You don’t need big muscles, you need a willingness to use what you’ve got. 
  10. You have to love the water for the water to love you back. You have to feel the water, not smack it, you need to want to be in the water for everything to happen smoothly.  

How to taper for swimming events

Have you got a big event coming up? Have you heard about tapering your training but don’t know exactly what that is about?

Tapering is not simply reducing your training or not training before a big event. Swimming tapering is different to the reductions you might make for running or cycling.

Plus it’s a very individual thing. It’s different for everyone and every kind of event. Ideally, you need a coach to give you some individual advice on how to taper your swimming and exercise regime as you approach your event.

If you are training for a long-distance swim event (or triathlon) try these 8 tips to adjust your training as the event gets closer:

  1. Tapering or resting? Firstly, ask yourself – have you been training hard enough to warrant a taper? No really, tapering is for people who are training seriously most days of the week and a swimming taper lasts up to four weeks (or more). Maybe you might be better off taking a few days rest before the race. Even then, you are best advised to still go for a swim, but make it an easy one, with a few longer reps with rests, a few drills and short sprints, again with rests.
  2. Get in the water. Tapering still involves plenty of swimming. You need to be swimming a lot in the lead up to an event or you risk losing some of your inherent feel for the water. So, in the last couple of weeks, you lower the intensity of your workouts but still spend plenty of time in the water. Maintain the frequency of your training – if you usually train four times per week, keep it at four or go up to five, don’t go down to three.
  3. Go easy. Double your easy, slow, warm-up metres and double your easy, slow cool-down metres. Cut out some of the hard main-set metres. You can mostly forget about butterfly but dolphin kick is good to keep your core activated and your feel of the water strong.
  4. Swim at race pace: Do a few laps at race pace, as hard as you can. But because we are in taper and going pretty easy, these have to be short with plenty of rest in between. So, sprint for just 25m, do it a few times with plenty of rest between these reps.
  5. Drills. Along with plenty of easy swimming, do all the drills, like Catch-Up, Fingerdrag, pool buoy, one-arm freestyle and kicking sets. You can use flippers and paddles but sparingly.
  6. Yoga instead of weights. Ease off weight training and heavy gym work a couple of weeks before an event. If you are into weight training (not compulsory for many distance swimmers), tone it all down a couple of weeks before an event.
  7. Don’t stress. Distance swimmers are used to hard work and long training sessions. Missing out on hard training can make endurance swimmers stress that they are not working hard enough. You taper your training when you know you have been doing the work.
  8.  Go to bed: Look after yourself in the lead up to an event. Don’t party too hard, eat well and get to bed early for a week beforehand. Try to get one hour more sleep per night than you usually might manage.
Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

Living, and swimming, with MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

By Belinda Rogers

I have been living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 20 years now and although it has been life changing, I’ve made sure it hasn’t been life destroying.

My life is happy and active, even though I am now a full-time wheelchair user. I find it is less the MS that restricts me and more the obstacles that our society throws in my way that makes my life difficult. With the right equipment and support and true accessibility in our communities there is very little that I can’t do and enjoy.

And this is where MS Australia does so much excellent work in supporting people living with the disease, their carers and supporters, and in doing amazing research into the disease. Without MS working tirelessly on our behalf educating and advocating for us, life would be much harder for me and all the many others living with MS.

LINK: What is MS?


I love swimming and heading to the beach for the day. With more and more beaches rolling out accessible wheelchair beach matting and having beach wheelchairs available for use, this is easier and easier for me to do.

Accessible Beaches Australia has a directory of beaches near you that wheelchair users and people living with mobility challenges can access.

With the right wheelchair I can go bushwalking and spend the day out and about exploring with my dog. I have a wheelchair modified vehicle so I can retain my independence and make the most of going to new places.

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com


Just before Covid hit I was fortunate enough to win one of the MS Go For Gold Scholarships which enabled me to achieve a long held dream and do a self drive holiday for a month through the UK. And it was through the generosity of sponsors of the MS Mega Swim, amongst other fund raisers, that the Scholarship is made possible to so many of us each year.

MS hasn’t ruined my life, but it isn’t all adventures and excitement either. There are many days when I am laid low by crippling fatigue and pain, unable to move because of agonising muscle spasms or even unable to eat because of lancing facial nerve pain.

And there are the indignities of bladder problems as well to deal with. But again, MS Australia is invaluable in the support they offer with their MS Connect phone service. Any time you ring, you’re able to speak with a knowledgeable and compassionate person to guide you through the tougher times.

The MS Employment team is also available with excellent advice to help you navigate your rights at work and to help you keep working as long as you want to. I worked continuously from the time of diagnosis until retirement a couple of months ago.

Without the organisation behind me, the last twenty years would have been so much harder. But with MS working in partnership with me on my journey,  living with the disease has been less devastating than it could have been.

Please, consider making a small (or not so small) donation to our MS Mega Swim fundraiser. Our club, Melbourne Open Water Swimming Club, is participating in the MS Mega Swim 18-19 February 2022 to raise $$ and awareness to assist people like Belinda who are living with MS.

Click through to our MS Mega Swim page and give a little so people with MS can fully participate in activities many people take for granted…

Swimming – It’s a brain exercise

Sometimes swimming can make me feel really dumb. We think swimming is a great physical exercise and will make us really fit, right? But yes and no to that idea….

Because only people who can do it fairly well can get fit from swimming. The rest can’t get their breathing and rhythm together long enough to get fit.

Freestyle swimming (and the other strokes) is a brain exercise, a mental puzzle that you FAIL if you don’t stay focused and consciously thinking all the time. 

The puzzle is that your body must be in the high floating buoyant position to start with – that’s takes skill and an experience of your own centre of buoyancy. Then you have to master your breathing. Then all your body’s limbs and levers have to do what you tell them, when they’re told and while you monitor how they are doing it and you must be able to adjust with small movements and modifications as necessary. 

Even experienced swimmers can fall into the trap of ‘going through the motions’ and not concentrating on what they are doing. That’s when they FAIL at swimming.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

You need to mentally solve the puzzle to make it work for you. So here’s some mental tricks – some questions to ask yourself – that will change the way you manage your own body when you’re swimming. Get back in charge by thinking your way through it. 

  1. Freestyle is not arm strokes 

You might have heard the freestyle swim style called ‘overarm’ or ‘crawl.’ 

Stop thinking of freestyle as a cycle of arms – stroke after arm stroke. Just think about the stretch forward. Think about freestyle as just a stretch and pull. Forget about strokes and think stretch forward while you pull back with the other arm. 

Look forward to that reach forward because this is the fun gliding part of swimming freestyle, the rest is work. If you think of freestyle as an endless process of one arm stroke then next arm stroke etc you risk losing focus. Then you will run out breath for sure. 

  1. You don’t need air 

Breathing is important but try forgetting about it and you’ll swim easier. Think of it as unimportant, even though. in distance freestyle, you actually need more air so you probably will inhale every stroke cycle – so every right arm or every left arm and that’s OK.

BUT you can’t let it dominate your thinking. You have be confident both in your ability to breathe and confident in your ability to go for a few seconds without breathing. 

So – focus on exhaling. Forget about inhaling. Get your exhale long, steady and in control, then your inhaling will largely look after itself. The best way to exhale is via a steady stream of small bubbles out of your nose. The best way to inhale while swimming is via a large, deep, quick breath in through your mouth. 

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  1. Breathing and bubbles.  

If you are losing your timing or losing your breath, choose one side to be your favoured side for breathing and stick to it. Then look at your hands and label one hand the hand you move when breathing and the other hand is the hand that is stroking while blow bubbles. One hand/arm for breathing and one for bubbles. Breathing and bubbles. When you’re getting anxious or really pushing yourself in a swim, you fall back to calling your hands Breathing and Bubbles. This reminds your brain that you are soon going to inhale and to stop worrying. 

  1. Kick or don’t kick, make up your mind. 

I’ve written about kicking a lot over the years and I’ve coached a lot of swimmers with a bad kick and plenty with great ability to kick. Good swimmers can either kick very well, probably from a childhood spent in swim squad, or they hardly kick at all. Bad swimmers always think they are kicking but are probably just wriggling their legs around or making a cycling type of motion. That means a lot of splashing and movement without getting much go-forward at all.  

Kicking is a cardio activity so use it sparingly or not at all if you want to conserve energy over a long distance. Don’t fool yourself, if you don’t have a good kick, stop moving your legs around. Can you actually stop kicking? Do you have control over your legs or are they just moving out of habit? 

  1. It’s your body, so take control. 

Can you order your arms to do what you want them to do? And when to do it? What about your legs? Really?

Many swimming drills, like catch-up, 1-arm freestyle and others, are mostly about making you, your brain, take control of your body, your legs, your arms. If you can’t do the full range of swimming drills and skill exercises you are not in full control of your body. Everyone is either left or right brained. Everyone is better at controlling and working on the right or the left side of their body. But in swimming everything has to be balanced. You have to be able do exactly the same movements with the same strength on both left and right side.  

That’s one part of it but there’s more. You have to be able to tell your body when to move and when not to move. Sounds easy right? Most people can’t do it. Swimmers can do it. A good swimmer’s arms and legs never fall into an automatic cycle of actions, they are always in active control. 

Did you know that your arms and legs don’t have their own brains? Yes it’s true, that’s just science so they can’t be trusted with ‘muscle memory’ to get the job done correctly every time without you in control. 

Do exercises like catch-up, fingerdrag and one-arm freestyle regularly as a way of telling your body that you are in charge.

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