How do you train for swimming when you can't get in a pool or open water? We've asked four Precision Fuel & Hydration triathletes to give us the lowdown on how they approach life without swimming and ask them for training advice we can use on dry land... 

Hi guys, hope you're all keeping safe and well. It's obviously difficult to train for the swim at the moment, so what's the top exercise you're doing to make up for the lack of time in the pool? 

Sarah Crowley - 2x podium finisher at IM World Championships: We've only recently lost our pools in Australia due to the coronavirus, but we can swim at a nearby dam and also in the ocean.

For me, open water swimming can sometimes feel like it lacks purpose, so I like to do a long warm-up followed by long, hard efforts for around 400m - it's great because it makes me feel like I’m working super hard. 

If things change further in Australia, I'm lucky that I have a bungee cord and can swim in small private pools with that.

Three-time Norseman winner, Allan Hovda: I've been working on an oil rig for 12 years, so I've quite a bit of experience of this situation as I often go 2-3 weeks without swimming when I'm working.

My solution has been to use swim-specific strength work with stretch cords. The bad news is that it can't replace swimming, but the good news is that you can keep your swim-specific strength and endurance surprisingly well.

Kat Matthews - 2019 ETU Middle Distance Championships winner: Well, I went a weekend without any swimming and... it was bliss! 

I didn't do any band work to start with and just revelled in the “guilt free” no pool time.

It's all change this week though as I’m prone on the coffee table with resistance bands and following Dave Scott’s routine.

Precision Fuel & Hydration Ambassador of the Year and GB youth triathlete, Hamish Reilly: I've started using cords (elasticated bands with paddles attached to them) and my coach has set me sessions, which I've found harder than actually swimming!

I’ve not braved the cold water in the UK yet, but when I do (hopefully soon), I’m just going to take some time to get used to the different technique in the open water.

If you had to put together a 30-minute routine for a dry land workout, what would that include?

Allan: Personally, I do a 30-minute stretch cord session every day. It's mostly freestyle, motion-specific pulling, but also includes drills to work on my upper back and shoulder stabilising muscles.

As a 'bonus', I also do a 2-minute dynamic plank where you basically stay in plank position and move your feet and arms out, back, up and down.

Hamish: Focus on keeping up core work and engaging the lats and surrounding shoulder area so you're prepped for when you get back in the water.

To do this, use swimming bands (cords) and a session such as:

  • 4 sets of: 40x free arms, 20x double arms, 30x free, 10x double arms, 20x free, and 5x double arms
  • 3 minutes between sets
  • 15 seconds between reps
  • Do 30x core reps on the 3-minute recovery

These sort of sessions should really help. There are great videos online of the correct technique to use. 

Sarah: I think I'd use a swim erg and train on it like a swim set. I don't have much experience, so will rely on my coach for advice when the time comes.

As for my bungee I will swim to time rather than distance. Luckily the lap swim function on my FORM goggles allows me to see how long my effort has lasted.

Kat: I think it could be a really great habit for some band technique and strength work, that I hope I will stick with in the future.

Ask me in 4 weeks once I've put it into practice rather than creating something untried, but I'm aiming for my sessions to involve two parts:

  1. Arms with pull work
  2. Specific swim, floor-based core/anti-rotation routine 

And what tools/equipment are you using to do these workouts?

Sarah: I have a swim erg on order and will use swim cords in the meantime. 

Allan: I use the StretchCordz branded cords.

Kat: Coffee table, cushions, resistance bands, swim paddles attached (makeshift attachment) and some headphones!

Hamish: It’s best to use swimming bands with a paddle, but you can create your own ones using elasticated bands and hand paddles, or even an old inner tube. 

Is there another form of cross training that you've taken up given the inability to swim? Or are you going to put a greater focus on your bike and run?

Sarah: Most likely a greater focus on bike and run for me!

Allan: Cross-country skiing would be good, but we don't have any snow. So it's stretch cords all the way for swim and get the interval work replaced on the bike. Replacing the swim volume with running could be a big risk in terms of injury.

Kat: I don’t think I'll increase my focus on bike or the run as I'll keep this the same. Any time gained from no swimming (i.e. the pool commute and changing time) will go towards being healthy, decreasing life stress and supporting others, rather than just adding more miles to the legs - they need the time to recover and adapt.

I think this is actually a really key point - it would be easy to overtrain at this time, so I'm shifting my scale of intensity bias back towards Zone 2 rather than continuing my race-build block.

Now more than ever, the focus is the long game.

Image Credit: Kat Matthews Instagram ©

Hamish: I’ve enjoyed spending more of my free time on the bike and exploring new routes. I’m doing more gym work at the moment and making sure I’m as prepared as I can be when we can return to swimming.

And finally, how has the situation affected your mentality and what are you doing to overcome any obstacles?

Kat: Last week I fluctuated a lot as there were so many new changes from one day to the next in the UK. I was concerned for my family (older generation and my siblings at exam age) but having conversations with them has really settled me (plus they’re all positive and adaptable people).

Living with my husband really is the key to my mental health as he's so rational and adaptable, so we just discuss any concerns we might have (and eat chocolate).

We're able to train together still (as we're in the same household) and it's ace to be able to have a hug - I think it's quickly becoming one of my life's most valuable things! 

I’m maintaining a routine as best I can. Training is scheduled and recovery is prioritised.

I think we have accepted that mental health will be lower than 'normal' as we adapt, but that's to be expected and that's definitely okay.

The idea that life should be hard at the moment is something we accept and work with.

Allan: My motivation is found in the process, not the outcome or race.

Obviously, actually swimming is far more enjoyable than stretch cords work, but it's only for a limited amount of time.

The open water temperature is 6-7°C (42-44°F) at the moment where I live. It means that I will get into the water soon. With enough clothing, 10°C (50°F) is just fine.

Sarah: I've switched my focus from training and racing to other activities, like improving my German. I think this will reduce the sense of the unknown.

Hamish: Of course, it's very annoying, but what’s going on now is greater than our sport. I’m just focusing on the present and doing all the things I can do make sure I'm in the best position when the season starts up. 

Thanks team! Plenty for us to take into our own training in the coming weeks. Take care and we'll speak soon.