In his book ‘Outliers’ Malcolm Gladwell wrote that 10 000 hours is the magic number to greatness. Do you need to spend 10 000 hours in the pool to become an Ironman world champion? We’re not sure, but Mark Livesey shares with us today on The Kona Edge what he believes creates the magic if you want to become a better swimmer.
Swim faster without spending more time in the water
Discover the 4 most common swim killers and how to fix them so that you can shave minutes off your swim time.
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome back onto this edition of The Kona Edge, it’s good to have you with us, my name is Brad Brown, by the way, it’s time to chat some swimming today and we head back to the UK and it’s a great pleasure to welcome returning guest, Mark Livesey onto the podcast. Mark, welcome, thanks for joining us once again.
MARK LIVESEY: Hello, thanks for having me back again.
BRAD BROWN: Mark, let’s talk swimming. It’s a discipline that you’ve said you’re not the best of swimmers, you’re not the worst of swimmers, out of the three disciplines, which would you say is your weakest?
MARK LIVESEY: I’m pretty good, I say good, but I don’t really have a weakness, I’m pretty average at all three. I think that’s where my strength lies, again, like a lot of your athletes you’ve interviewed before, similar, they’re pretty average at all three and as such, they’re quite strong overall. I swim pretty well, so I do, I think you ask sometimes favourite sessions in the pool. I don’t want to pre-empt you, but we do an Ironman swim set, which I like to do to confirm how well I’m swimming and it’s a pretty good indicator to your open water Ironman swim if the Ironman swim is accurate cause obviously they’re not always accurate. Yeah, I’ll swim five minutes for 400m, I’ll be swimming 20 minutes for fifteen and my pool test set that I do for Ironman swim set that I do, I’ll do a 53:45 in the pool which is one of the swim sets we like to do, just to find out where we’re at.
BRAD BROWN: Mark, you mentioned what your 400 time is now, in our first chat you mentioned that first triathlon you did, I think you said you did about a 7:47, your first swim split, can you pin it down to one thing? If you have to say the one thing you’ve done that’s given you the biggest gains in the water, what would it be?
MARK LIVESEY: I was never a swimmer, didn’t swim at school, in fact when I joined the army, you do a swim test, which isn’t swimming as you and I know, they put a set of coveralls on you and throw you in this pool –
BRAD BROWN: It’s just to make sure you don’t sink!
MARK LIVESEY: Yeah, and I remember vividly, as a young soldier doing the swim test and you have strong, moderate and weak and they marked me down as ‘weak’, so I was a weak swimmer in the eyes of the military. I didn’t swim as a child, but the thing that did this for me, is I got injured, I had a knee issue, it took me out for a season, so what I did is I trained in the pool every day and really worked on my swimming and it was volume. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t ride, so I did gym, lots of gym work and I just swam every day and sometimes I swam twice a day. From swimming from 2-3 times a week and swimming only 2.5km, we’re talking 10-15 years ago, I was then swimming 20k’s, 3k, 3.5k sets, 4k sets and the times just tumbled, got quicker and quicker and after about, I would say about 6-7 years ago it plateaued. If I can get down to sort of the 5 minute pace for 4’s, I’m happy, cause that was my PB, I did a 4:50 back in the day, so if I can get close to that, when I was a bit younger, then I’m happy, then I know I’m swimming well.
It was just volume, and the situation of an injury, I didn’t allow it to stifle me, I used it as an opportunity to actually address my swimming and that’s what I did. Once you punch through the next level of performance, whether it’s swim, bike or run, it’s very easy to tap back into it, the difficulty is getting to that point. For me, it was this knee injury which forced me to swim, I just swam more, that’s essentially what I did and that’s what I do now. I’m not, my technique is not great, I know it’s not great, people could pull my stroke to bits. I’ve pulled my own stroke to bits, with my own video analysis, but I swim, that’s the best way I swim, that’s the most efficient way I move and if I’m swimming five minutes for 4’s, then I’m happy. It’s not that inefficient, so yeah, I’ll be swimming, Caroline and I will swim 5-6 times a week now, every morning and we do a master session on a Saturday with the local club, which is great cause it really pushes you that extra bit. The rest of the time Caroline and I just do our sets together. Yeah, it’s just volume.
BRAD BROWN: What advice would you give to a new swimmer, someone who is just starting out in the sport, what should they focus on? Really mixing things up or is it a case of just getting consistency and volume under the belt to start with?
MARK LIVESEY: I think, cause I coach a lot of athletes and I coach a lot of guys who are not swimmers, and I’ll tell them the truth. The thing is with swimming, it’s a very, very difficult skill to learn and if you’ve not done it as a child, then it’s even more difficult. Trying to learn a movement as an adult takes a long time. So if I’m telling a guy, I can tell guys all day what they’re doing wrong, but if they’re not aware of it and they can’t apply the change to that movement, then nothing is going to happen to their swim stroke. The only thing that will really hasten that development from it being a technique to a skill and not being a conscious thought process within the movement is repetition and sadly, there’s too many age group athletes out there who just don’t have the time to allow that technique to become a skill because they just don’t, if you’re swimming twice a week, then that acquisition, that transition from technique to skill is just not going to happen because you need to move in a particular way, hundreds and thousands of times for it to be a skill. I think there are too many people out there that will intimate that actually there’s a quick fix. There isn’t a quick fix to swimming. You’ve got to get in the water, you’ve got to be self-aware, you’ve got to be self-critical, you’ve got to be able to understand your own movements and awareness and apply the change to that movement. If you can’t do it as a swimmer, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you what you’re doing wrong. That’s certainly what I’ve seen in my 15 years of coaching, especially from swimming as well, is the guys just don’t have enough time to allow that change to happen. It’s really difficult and it’s frustrating for the guys cause they just want to swim better and if they’re only swimming 6 days a week, it ain’t enough, it’s that simple.
BRAD BROWN: Interesting and again, I think it all boils down and we’re not saying you need to spend 10 000 hours in the pool, but it was Malcolm Gladwell’s 10 000 hour rule that if you want to master something, you need to do it for 10 000 hours and you’ll become an expert. Interesting that. Mark, I think let’s leave it at that for the swimming, we’ll get you back on to chat some cycling in the near future, thanks for your time today and we look forward to catching up again then.
MARK LIVESEY: Cheers, excellent, thank you very much.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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