Swimming is a skill – Training for the Ironman Swim. Listen to Campbell’s take on what helps

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Find out more about Campbell’s approach to training for the Ironman swim and how mobility helps with his technique. Campbell Hanson on this podcast episode of The Kona Edge chats all things swimming and the importance of consistency in the water.

Full Podcast Transcript Below

BRAD BROWN:  Welcome onto the next edition of The Kona Edge, my name is Brad Brown and we’re chatting some swimming today. Returning guest on the podcast as we head back to Sydney in Australia, Campbell Hanson joins us now. Campbell, welcome back.

CAMPBELL:  Thanks Brad, good to be back.

BRAD BROWN:  Campbell, let’s talk about your swim. You’ve got a fairly, I say fairly decent, people are probably rolling their eyes. You swam a mid-50 minute swim in Kona last year, that’s more than decent; you must be pretty chuffed with the way you swim?

CAMPBELL:  I never grew up as a swim kid, so I learnt to swim as a triathlete, well, learnt to swim properly as a triathlete as 15/16 years old. One of the benefits of living in Australia is that the level of swimming is really, really high. You look at the age group racing in Australia, access to the beach, public pools, swim squads, that sort of thing, the ocean, the open water swimming, events that are on every weekend, the level of swimming is high. You get sucked along with that. My swim volume, going into Kona last year, my goal each week was to swim 12km a week and that would be usually 2 x 4km squad sessions with a fair bit of intensity in there and then one sort of aerobic recovery technique drill swim session that I would do by myself.

I might have had a couple or a few weeks where I swam 14-15-16km, probably had a couple where I didn’t make 12km but essentially that was the benchmark. I think for me to swim 55 minutes, I’m pretty happy off that volume. Again, we talk about Dan Plews and his amazing performance out there, he averaged 20km a week for 20 weeks, so that’s a lot more swimming.

BRAD BROWN:  Absolutely. Let’s talk about some of the things that you think has made a difference in your swim? Obviously you talk about those three sessions but there is anything that you can nail down and go, these one or two things really move the needle for me?

CAMPBELL:  Yeah, it usually comes back to the same thing and that’s consistency, just get it repeatedly, getting to swim squad and [fronting?] up and consistently doing the work. Swimming, it’s probably a little different to cycling and running, it’s a skill and it’s like hitting a golf ball or hitting a tennis ball but the technique is important. I think with cycling and running, if you do it enough you naturally become more efficient at it. Swimming is a little bit different. Some things I worked on last year that made a difference was increasing my stroke rate. I had a big dead spot where my arm entered the water and I ended up dropping my elbow a little bit and pushing the water, so I did a lot of drills around, like a band around my ankles and my pool board between my ankles and then trying to turn my arms so I’d go faster. As soon as my hand entered the water, just pushing down and catching. Some speed work around that I think made a big difference.

Flexibility as well, you look at the numbers and we do a bit of this through our practice as physio, the numbers around swimming are really interesting, to increase your velocity in the water by 10%, so to go from swimming say 90 seconds per 100 down to 81 seconds, which is a big difference, you can either increased for your force output by 30% or you can decrease your drag force by 3%. You can either improve your boat shape, which is basically flexibility, thoracic extension, hip extension, ankle flexibility or you can increase your output by 30%. To increase your output by 30% you’re probably going to metabolically be able to do that for 100-200m before you’re absolutely blowing or if you try and do a lot, you’re potentially going to end up injured with your rotator cuff or something like that as the weakest link in the chain.

Technique and what we call boat shape flexibility in the water is massively important. I think the better you get as a swimmer, the more gears you’ve got, so you can change pace during a race to get on feet. I used to have trouble with that and I still do occasionally. I’ve had shocking swims where I get out of the water and I think, oh my god, I’m three minutes behind people that I train with that I’m quicker in the pool and then the next race I’ll be ahead of them. I think being able to have that upper end where you can change pace and get onto feet and close gaps makes a difference.

In terms of technique stuff I worked on last year was really just faster arm turnover and trying to lose that dead spot in the front of my stroke.

BRAD BROWN:  Those numbers on getting more streamlined, the boat shape, as you say, that’s phenomenal, I’ve never heard that. That is just mind-blowing and I think a couple of people’s heads just exploded. In your professional experience, what are some things you can do to improve that?

CAMPBELL:  The numbers come out of the AIS swimming programme and that’s why, it’s basically flexibility based. If you’re not hyper mobile, you won’t make it as an elite swimmer because you don’t have the flexibility in your shoulders and other parts of your body. Things we look at generally will be thoracic extension, how straight you can get your thoracic spine in the water, what your hip extension is like. If you’ve got tight hip flexors and they’re pulling your legs down in the water, that’s going to increase your drag force. If you’ve got stiff ankles and you can’t point your toes really well when you kick, then that’s going to increase, you’re going to disturb more water and have a bigger drag force behind you. We run a triathlon screening programme here that’s mainly used by the local Balmoral Triathlon Club and we’ll measure all of those things and then there’s benchmarks you want people to be able to hit and then we’ll put a flexibility/mobility programme together for them to work on. It takes time. You’re not going to change it in a week or two, it’s months or years of working on it and all those little things add up slowly.

Then you also just need to train hard. Brett Sutton talks about a lot of age group triathletes being completely focused on swim technique and yes, swim technique is important but you also need to be able to hold good form when you’re fatigued and the only way you’re going to get to that point is by swimming a lot when you’re fatigued and working on that form when you’re under stress. All of those things add up and hopefully you make an improvement.

BRAD BROWN:  Absolutely, that’s amazing, Campbell, thoroughly enjoyed that chat, I look forward to talking about your bike because I know you did a couple of things again, if you talk boat shape on the bike, from an aero perspective in the buildup to Kona last year, but we’ll save that for next week, thanks for your time today.

CAMPBELL:  Thank you.

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