Core Strength – Secret to a better Ironman swim
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.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome back onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge. Don’t forget if you haven’t left us a review or a rating on iTunes, I would appreciate it hugely.
It helps us get in front of more people and the numbers of the podcast are growing really nicely and that’s just because of those ratings and reviews so, if you wouldn’t mind doing that I would appreciate it hugely. Let’s head back to Brisbane in Australia now to catch up with Jarrod Harvey. Jarrod, welcome back. Nice to chat again.
JARROD HARVEY: Thanks Brad, glad to be back.
Better swim technique after a break
BRAD BROWN: Jarrod I’m amazed. In our first chat, you mentioned that you only really started swimming properly when you were in your early 20’s. I thought all Australian kids were almost born in water, that they all swim fantastically well.
We’ve seen what the Aussies do at the Olympics, they clean up everything. But you were a slow started when it came to swimming?
JARROD HARVEY: Yea, I lived out in a little town called Bono which is 45 minutes west of Ipswich, so like an hour and a half out of Brisbane and our pool was only open probably 4 months of the year, it wasn’t heated.
So, a large majority of the year I didn’t have access to a pool so I kind of grew up on the land and not on the water which is strange for an Australian boy.
BRAD BROWN: Yea, it is weird but have you found that it’s come a bit easier as you’ve gotten older or is this something that you’ve had to really struggle with?
Upper body and core strength for the win
JARROD HARVEY: I really struggled with it until, I did triathlons through school, stopped at about 18/19, and then played some AFL. Funnily enough, I put on a lot of upper body muscle during that time doing AFL.
When I came back to swimming I could just swim good. So, whether it was just that underlying muscle or just using it in a different way for a couple of years, but when I came back I was never exiting the water in the front, but you know as a teenager I was always last, always last out of the water.
Then when I came back in my mid 20’s, I was kind of coming out mid-pack, so I wasn’t complaining about that.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s just put it out there. You’re not a terrible swimmer. If you look at Ironman Kona 2016, you swam a 53, so you must have some ability. Nobody who is an absolute mug in the water is going to go and swim a 53.
Working hard on your Ironman swim
JARROD HARVEY: Yea, it’s something that I’ve worked on and when I came back to triathlon I was suddenly swimming ok. I saw it as an opportunity to get away from what was happening previously in my juniors.
In my juniors, I was left with always one option, that was to bike my legs off and then run as hard as I could because I was such a terrible swimmer. I was swimming a little bit better in my 20’s. Opened up a little bit more tactics wise so I decided to kind of work on my swim more than I would normally.
I then tried to get it to the point where I was getting out of the water at least, on a bad day, mid-pack but hopefully front pack or maybe the start of the second pack.
BRAD BROWN: Jarrod, as far as your Ironman swim training over the years, is there one or two things you can think of that you’ve done that you thing has given you, or helped your Ironman swim?
And I’m taking AFL will be one of them. But I know that all triathletes can’t go and do a couple of seasons of Aussie Rules football, but tell us what the secret is.
Swimming more will improve your Ironman swim
JARROD HARVEY: For me previously, I always found swimming and heaps of people trying the same thing, as really, really boring. Straight up and down.
I’m actually pretty lucky out at Ipswich, there’s a school, Ipswich Grammar, and it has really good swimmers. One of the coaches there, Greg Fasala, who’s actually a former Olympic Gold Medallist, so I kind of, being a teacher myself, I kind of swallowed my pride for a bit and got back in the water with the 16 and 17 year old boys from Ipswich Grammar, and they were fast.
I would be absolutely flat out just keeping up with their warm ups. So, I joined their sessions and I found the improvements were coming really, really fast, and they were doing peak sessions and big volume per week.
So I really tried to focus on, when I was swimming, trying to be like a swimmer. Not think of myself as a triathlete that was trying to swim fast but just do the sets they were doing. They were obviously doing lots of butterfly, lots of drills for a reason, so I kind of just embraced their squad culture there.
Sometimes I do still go often now, if I want a really hard set I’ll go to that squad now.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. As far as the swim squad, there was obviously lots of volume, like you were saying you swim like a swimmer, not like a triathlete trying to swim. But as far as technique goes were you getting some work with the coach as well on your Ironman swim technique and some things you were doing right and wrong in the water?
Core strength improves your Ironman swim rotation
JARROD HARVEY: Yea, so previously I wasn’t getting nearly as much rotation as I should be through the water. My catch was pretty hard too, we worked on a couple of things in terms of just getting that front end of my stroke a little bit better.
And then, I’m lucky enough to get sponsored by a Pilates group, so we really worked on my oblique’s and then just trying to maintain my core strength.
I was a little bit snaky through the water. I’d weave my way up the pool rather than straightening my core and rotating around that. So, we did a lot of that core strength stuff which has worked well. I’m swimming ok at the moment.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you mention the Pilates because I think a lot of triathletes again, it comes around to the scheduling and you’ve got 3 disciplines to train for and it’s so much. They almost neglect core strength and conditioning and it does play such a vital role. You almost don’t want to say it, but you almost want to write those core strength sessions in first.
It’s not like you’re doing 10 of those core strength sessions a week. 1 or 2 will really help you straighten up and improve your core strength. It really gets you swimming a lot better.
Core Strength keeps you injury free
JARROD HARVEY: Yea, that’s right. There’s 2 sessions of a week that I pretty well refuse to miss and one of them is gym and the other one is Pilates.
It’s at the point now where I will go in, book my Pilates and then make my other training around that. I had a period where I just couldn’t get injury free and we got the issues sorted. And I’ve been going to Pilates once, if I can twice a week, for about the last 8 months and touch wood I haven’t had an injury. So a massive, massive believer in it.
BRAD BROWN: It’s very, very underrated and I’m guilty of exactly that as well. When you get busy those tend to be the sessions you think are ok to skip. In essence you shouldn’t be. Jarrod as far as your favourite swim workout, what do you love doing in the water?
JARROD HARVEY: It’s taken me a while. A set that I’ve done a couple of times in the build up to races is 10 x 100’s on 125. A 125 cycle would be my favourite at the moment.
If I can get through that set, I’m swimming well.
Big Ironman swim sets make you faster
For me that’s a key Ironman swim set. If you asked me that 18 months ago, that set would’ve been 10 x 100′ maybe on 135. That’s what I like about that. It’s a very basic set.
It’s only a par of the main set, being 10 x 100’s on a time cycle. Then we continually move on. It is a really good Ironman swim set. It’s a good gauge and it’s also good for people’s mental state as well.
Like if I look back at 18 months ago, if I could do 10 x 1’s in 135 I’d be absolutely stoked so it’s a stable set. It gives you a guide to look back on.
Basic Ironman swim sets produce steady improvement
BRAD BROWN: Yea, it’s cool to gauge. It’s like a confidence boost almost. You can go run a time trial, or you can go ride a time trial for example.
But the conditions are never going to be exactly the same when you’re out on the road. But in the pool, nothing changes, that’s what it is. There’s nowhere to hide. You’re taking 10 seconds off your 100’s over the space of a year. You’re definitely seeing some big Ironman swim improvements.
JARROD HARVEY: Yea, and that’s right. I really like that Ironman swim set because there’s a time when I tried it I thought I was ready.
When I get to rep 5 or 6 in the cycle, then 2 months later 8 or 9. Then you get to 10 finally. You know you’re improving your Ironman swim. It’s nice to actually see it on a piece of paper. You know now you can do 10 x 1’s or whatever the cycle is. Then in 6 months they might be 3 , 4 or 5 seconds less.
Simplifying your Ironman swim
I think it’s a nice feeling. It’s a very basic set but it will work you hard. You can set a nice time and it gives you something to shoot for.
BRAD BROWN: Yea, absolutely. I don’t think it matters what the time is. If somebody is listening to this and their goal would be 100’s in 2:10 as an example, or 150’s.
It’s just what it is. I think that is awesome. Jarrod, thank you so much for sharing that with us today. Looking forward to catching up on your bike next time out but we’ll save that for next time.
JARROD HARVEY: It’s amazing. Thanks mate.
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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