A handy guide to training

Whether you’re a novice swimmer or a regular swimmer who’s experienced in the water, it’s good to know how to get the most out of your body for the swim. This information will help all participants go about the right ways to prepare for the event.

First thing's first - Get your stroke right

Swimming with a bad stroke can cause several problems that might not have crossed your mind – this can happen both during training and the race itself. 20kms is a long way to swim with a bad stroke! Even if you’re swimming in a duo or team, training can be enough to cause shoulder problems. Ask an experienced swimmer or coach to look at your stroke before you increase your workload. It’s also recommended that you’re careful of using swim paddles until you’re strong and fit.

When do I start training?

Solos and duos

If you already swim, continue your normal workload until September/October. If you’re unfit, start doing some light work in June/July/August.

Teams

You might not have to start training until October, but this depends on how fit you already are.

How much should I do?

Don’t over train too early. You’re making a major change to your normal lifestyle, and this will be hard to maintain for too long –  make sure you build slowly. By late December, you should aim to reach:

  • Solos – 25km per week
  • Duos – 20km per week
  • Teams – 15km per week

Duos should train a similar amount to solos. Many people have found a duo swim to be just as taxing as a solo swim. Keep in mind – if your partner gets sick or tired, you may need to swim more than half the race.

How many sessions should I do per week, and how far per session?

Specific training amounts depend on your lifestyle and existing base fitness. However, as a general guide:

Solos

  • Until November: 3-4 sessions, average 4km per session
  • November-February: 5-6 sessions, average 4-5km per session

Duos

  • Until November: 3-4 sessions, average 3km per session
  • November-February: 5 sessions, average 3.5-4.5km per session

Teams

  • Until November: 3 sessions, average 2-3km per session
  • November-February: 3-4 sessions, average 3-4km per session

What type of training do I need to do?

Here’s a general guide on how to structure a training session, as well as some sample programmes.

Solos (for a typical 4.5km session)

  • Warm up – 800-1000m
  • Main endurance set – 2000-2500m
  • Kick/drills – 0-500m
  • Other strokes – 300m
  • Sprints – 400m
  • Cool down – 300-500m

Duos (for a typical 4.0km session)

  • Warm up – 500-800m
  • Main endurance set – 1600-2200m
  • Kick/drills – 0-400m
  • Other strokes – 300m
  • Sprints – 400m
  • Cool down – 300-500m

Teams (for a typical 3.0-3.5km session)

  • Warm up – 400-500m
  • Main endurance set – 1500-2000m
  • Kick/drills – 0-300m
  • Other strokes – 300m
  • Sprints – 400m
  • Cool down – 200-300m

Other training tips

Main endurance set

This doesn’t necessarily mean long distances – it can be a set of 100s, e.g. 15 x 100m, with short rests between each.

Think about your kick

A lot of people don’t focus on this, but it’s really important for open water swimming. Even if you only do a ‘2-beat’ (stabilising) kick, you have a better chance of maintaining a good body position in choppy water if you’ve strengthened your legs.

Other strokes

It’s important to do small amounts of other strokes (breaststroke, backstroke, and even butterfly) to rest your freestyle muscles/joints. Butterfly is also good to ‘stress’ the body in short bursts – try doing a freestyle set where the last 25m of each 100m is butterfly. This will replicate body stress through coping with rough water in the open water.

Get some sprint in

Don’t neglect your sprinting totally – it helps keep you vibrant and helps avoid that sluggish feeling. It’s important to develop all types of body fitness and energy systems in order to cope with long, open water races.

Hypoxic training

This is a good way to learn how to swim when you’re getting tired. It trains your breathing system to cope with less oxygen than it’s used to. Instead of breathing every 2 or 3 strokes, do some training swims where you only breathe every 4-5 strokes, or every 6-7 strokes.

Train with someone

It’s much easier to swim in a group – either a structured swim squad or a group of friends. You can find many squads and groups at all pools around Perth. It’s a good idea to find one with other swimmers at your level with similar goals.

Ocena swimming

Although you can do most of your training in the pool, it’s important to practice your swimming in the varying conditions of the open water. There are many open water swimming races throughout the summer – at least one each weekend. Enter some of these, or at the very least, find a friend to have an ocean swim with at least once a week throughout January and February. We’ve included some swims you can get involved with below.

Taper off to help your body

In the second last week before the race, drop your training down by about 20% (both in the number of sessions and distance per session). In the week before the race, only swim when and how you feel like it. Your total kilometres for the last week only need to be about half of your average amount.

Don’t swim on the Thursday before the race if you don’t feel like it, but definitely don’t swim on the Friday before. Don’t worry, you won’t lose any fitness – you’ll actually sharpen up your body and make sure you feel fresh and eager on race day.

Keep track of your training

Use a logbook to record your swimming training, including your total kilometres. This is a great way to keep track of your progress and is something you can refer back to.

Swims to get involved with

2019/20 Open Water Swim Series

If you’re looking to challenge yourself this season, check out Swimming WA’s Open Water Swim Series. The OWS series offers a range of events to help you gain some great open water experience before the Rottnest Channel Swim.

To get in touch with Open Water Swimming, email ows@wa.swimming.org.au or call (08) 9328 4599.

Training safety

There’s a number of different ocean swimming groups who train between Cottesloe and Grant Street. This stretch of water is also used by at least two surf clubs for ski paddling, surf boat and board training.

In recent years, the number of swimmers and paddlers in particular has grown. It’s great to see more people getting active, but unfortunately it has also led to some clashes. This is because swimmers and paddlers have become congested and haven’t always recognised (or understood) the training needs of each other.

It’s also important for paddlers to be aware that council by-laws (for the whole coast, not just Cottesloe waters) require all paddlers to be 200 metres off the beach, except when entering and exiting the water.

This means that paddlers who are supporting swimmers training for Rottnest should also be 200 metres off the coast. However, it has been raised with the Cottesloe Ranger that this defeats the purpose of the paddler-swimmer support training which is all about ensuring the safety of swimmers undertaking the Rottnest race. The Cottesloe Ranger has advised that the Council supports swimmer safety.

The RCSA suggests the following rules of ‘etiquette’ for both swimmers and paddlers to make sure there’s no issues and to assist local Councils in managing coastal by-laws. Most importantly, these rules ensure everyone can train safely and to their own level of fitness:

Swimmers

  1. Groups must not be more than 2 or 3 people wide to avoid collisions between Grant Street and the Cottesloe groin.
  2. Swimmers should periodically swim solo, practising ‘sighting’, which is essential for navigating in open water races and spotting oncoming swimmers and paddlers.
  3. Swimmers should wear bright caps when possible so other swimmers and paddlers can see them.
  4. Swimmers should hold their line and swim as straight as possible (this also helps in races) when paddlers approach so they can pass at a safe distance.

Paddlers

  1. Groups must not be more than 2 or 3 people wide to avoid collisions between Grant Street and the Cottesloe groin.
  2. Surf paddlers must stay well clear of swimmers as outlined in council regulations.
  3. Paddlers need to remember that generally swimmers can’t see them and will have difficulty in maintaining a straight line in rougher water.
  4. Paddlers must be aware that many swimmers (especially at the start of Summer) aren’t experienced or confident in open water and they can sometimes panic when paddlers come by close or at speed.
  5. Paddlers training with swimmers need to stay as close as possible to their swimmer. In crowded waters (e.g. big groups of swimmers), they must move offshore after telling their swimmer to go out deeper. These moves are needed at the beginning and end of the Rottnest swim and other paddler supported races – so it’s important to be practised.
  6. Paddlers must note that swimmers have right of way – both in a race and training.

These points are about swimmers and paddlers extending courtesy and common sense to each other. If you’re a swimmer, it’s great to have paddlers around (whether or not they’re training specifically to support in the Rottnest race) as it helps keep you safe. Most paddlers training are surf life savers and will be able to help you (and have done in the past) if you or others have difficulties.

All in all, these rules are in place to make sure everyone can share the water space safely whilst getting the most out of their training.

Nutrition

Fuel yourself up – Carbs, carbs, carbs!

The Rottnest Channel Swim is not only a challenge in fitness, mental toughness and ability – but a challenge in managing your food as well. Swimming this far requires a lot of energy, but as we all know, swimming and eating don’t really mix.

Swimmers should consider a few factors:

  • What to eat during the swim?
  • When to eat it?
  • How to eat to prevent seasickness?
  • What to do in the lead up to the swim?

This will vary depending on whether you’re a solo swimmer or team swimmer, but the bottom line is carbohydrate – and lots of it. The race can take around eight or nine hours, so it’s important that the body is well fuelled before the event. This means that you’ll need carbohydrate stored in your muscles as glycogen.

It’s important in the week and (most importantly) the day before the swim, that you eat a considerable amount of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are good sources of energy without being too fatty and heavy. All breads, pastas, noodles, rice, fruit, yoghurts and milks contain carbohydrate. It’s best to have these as the main part of every meal to fill up the glycogen tanks in your muscles.

However, like all fuel tanks, your tank will become empty at some point as your swim progresses. This means it’s important to top up your energy throughout the swim. Solo swimmers in particular will need to stop and eat while treading water.

If you haven’t been training your stomach as well as your body before the event, eating could be problematic.

Training and eating

It’s important for swimmers to prepare their stomach for the ocean conditions by training just after eating. Many swimmers train with sports drinks at the end of the pool, but during the swim it’s important to have food to complement the energy provided by sports drink or other fluids which contain carbohydrate (e.g. cordial and fruit juice). You won’t do well if you only drink a carbohydrate drink for eight hours while exercising – your fuel is going to run out too quickly.

Training just after eating or stopping for a snack break during a training session will help you acclimatise to eating and swimming.

What to eat during the swim – Duos/teams

  • Bananas and tinned fruit
  • Fruit yoghurt
  • Flavoured milk

These are all foods which are light, quick and easy to eat but high in carbohydrates. They’re particularly good if you’re in a team and have time to sit on a boat and grab a snack.

What to eat during the swim – Solo swimmers

  • Cut up fruit
  • Breakfast bar
  • Blend of tinned fruit and juice or milk

For a quick energy injection:

  • Fruit juice
  • Sports drink
  • Cordial
  • Jelly beans

Keep in mind that these foods always need to be followed up with more sustaining high carbohydrate foods like bread, fruit, pikelets and yoghurt.

Fluids

Fluids are important – even if you’re eating regularly throughout the swim you must continue to drink constantly as well. Aim to have about a glass or large mouthful every 20 minutes.

When to eat

It’s important to have a light snack every hour and something a bit heavier like a sandwich and a piece of fruit or yoghurt every three to four hours.

How to prevent seasickness

Seasickness can be a real problem, especially if you can’t keep food down – it can also be worse on an empty stomach. It’s important to have a solid carbohydrate meal three to four hours before starting the swim, and a small top up meal one to two hours before to help top up your fuel. If you do start to experience seasickness during the swim, try just having a high carbohydrate fluid drink or some dry crackers – but not together.

Dealing with the cold

Many swimmers experience extreme coldness, particularly team swimmers who are constantly getting in and out of the water and losing body heat. A thermos of hot milo or sweet tea can really warm you up and keep you keen to get back in the water.

Remember to train your stomach

It’s very important to train with the foods you’re going to eat on the day. Going for a few small ocean swims with these foods in your stomach will help you figure out if you’ll be comfortable or not.

The Rottnest Channel Swim is a great event and one that you should be well prepared for – it’s a long way to swim. Getting fit for the event is only half the preparation – getting your food and diet right is the other half.

If you’re serious about your swimming regime then see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) specialising in sports nutrition.

Links for nutritional sites include:

Australian Sports Commission and Gatorade Sports Science Institute.