Using a metronome to improve your Ironman swim

Using a metronome to improve your Ironman swim

In this episode of The Kona Edge we catch up with Brice Williams and chat about how he adjusts his stroke to improve his swim in open water.

We also discuss how using a metronome can be very beneficial in training for your Ironman swim.

(Read the transcription of our chat here)

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BRAD BROWN:  Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge, my name is Brad Brown and we’re chatting some swimming today as we head back to Utah in the United States. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Brice Williams onto the podcast, Brice, welcome back.

BRICE WILLIAMS:  Thanks for having me Brad.

BRAD BROWN:  Brice, I’m interested to dig into your swimming a little bit because coming into the sport of triathlon you did have a bit of a swimming background from high school and college days. You might not have been swimming much at the time when you got into the sport but I guess it’s a bit like riding a bicycle, once you’ve figured out how to do it, you never quite lose that skill and you just need to build up the fitness and the endurance. Do you think that was a bit of an advantage having that background coming into the sport?

BRICE WILLIAMS:  Absolutely, it is a little bit like riding a bike, your stroke comes back, your feel for the water comes back quickly and most of all, you have that confidence going in that you’re going to be okay. It’s always a little scary to be out there with a bunch of people and you’re getting hit and rolled over and stuff, but having that swimming background gave me the confidence that I knew I’d be okay out there.

BRAD BROWN:  I’m glad you used the word ‘confidence’ because that plays such a big part in swimming, especially when your face is in the water and you’re trying to control your breathing. When you’re starting out in the sport or if you’re not really a confident swimmer, when something happens, maybe you get punched or you get kicked, it’s easy to break that rhythm and then panic and everything then goes backwards, but having that confidence, knowing that you can deal with those sorts of things is a huge plus.

BRICE WILLIAMS:  Absolutely.

BRAD BROWN:  Do you think it’s something that comes with time? Is it a case of just spending more time in the water or is there anything you can do that you think would improve that confidence?

BRICE WILLIAMS:  I do think time in the water is going to be number one, but you can also accelerate that confidence development by putting yourself in frequent situations similar to race conditions. One of the things that we do sometimes here is put three or four people in a lane and we all start and swim together in that pool, the swim lane and we purposefully run into each other and grab each other and push on each other and you’re trying to become comfortable with the discomfort of swimming in groups.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s a great way and that’s Ironman, you’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable I guess. That’s one of the keys to success. Having that background of swimming and we spoke a little bit about the background, it was more from a sprint perspective, but you did big volumes in the pool, how has that translated into swimming an Ironman swim but then also having to swim open water? It’s a very different skill set being in a pool as opposed to being in open water.

BRICE WILLIAMS:  It is a very different skill set. My flip turns give me a huge advantage in the pool and if you take that away, in the beginning I was kind of an average swimmer in open water. I finished not in the top front group and it took stepping back and realizing that just because I had a pool swimming background, didn’t automatically mean I’d be a front pack swimmer and that humility to relearn some of the skills that are more important for open water.

BRAD BROWN:  What are some of the differences?

BRICE WILLIAMS:  Well, the biggest thing I noticed was having to increase my cadence rate. In the pool you have such a nice surface of the water and it’s calm that you can do a little more gliding and a little more of a strong full pull. In the open water you almost have to shorten your stroke a little bit and increase your cadence so that you constantly have the pull forward to keep your propulsion up. That was something that I had to relearn a little bit. Coming from a sprinting background, my kick was also a humongous part of my speed and I had to realize that that’s not going to help me too much in a long distance open water event. I dropped my kick way down and learned how to just increase my front crawl cadence and pull.

BRAD BROWN:  Over your triathlon career, is there something you’ve done in the pool you think has made a really big difference to your swimming performance?

BRICE WILLIAMS:  Yeah, I do longer sets. I do follow the TOWER 26 swim programme; I think Gerry Rodriguez does a fantastic job of helping people like me that have a pool background to learn some of those open water skills. I’ll spend plenty of time in the pool sighting, it’s part of almost every workout, especially during race season. We get out of the pool a fair amount and practice the transition of being in the water to being outside water. Then I get a metronome, a little swim metronome by FINIS and I’ll make sure during my longer sets that I don’t drop off a little bit on my cadence, it keeps me honest and steady for that. Honestly, there’s no way to fully simulate open water conditions without being in open water and so I usually swim three times a week, twice in the pool and those are bigger days and then once a week I’m either in the open water or in my forever pool, I happen to have one of those endless pools that I can just swim without stopping and there’s no walls to give me a nice break.

BRAD BROWN:  Talk to me about that metronome, I’ve been doing this podcast for about four years now and you’re the first person that’s mentioned the metronome. I know a few people that use it, tell me, I’m guessing there’s a couple of people listening to this podcast that have never heard that either, tell me a little bit about what it does and why you use it?

BRICE WILLIAMS:  So, it’s a little device that sits under your swim cap and I just put it next to my ear so I can hear it all the time. The overall goal is to slowly increase your cadence rate through the months or years, but also despite increasing your cadence rate, you’re still maintaining that level of effort. For the swim to be about an hour, you can reach into a tempo kind of effort. It’s above aerobic, it’s just below threshold, you can hold that for an hour. The metronome helps me to slowly improve my cadence rate, but still maintaining that same effort level over time and it’s helped me to change my stroke so that I’m not going too slow on my stroke, especially at the end of my longer sets. If I’m going to go out and do a progression set where my longer swim gradually gets longer, 200 all the way up eventually to 800, I’ll turn my metronome on, at the 200 and set it to something that I feel I can attain. For me it’s in the low 80s, strokes per minute but by the time I get to the 800, I’d better still be able to hold that or I know that I’m going to suffer on an Ironman swim.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s pretty interesting and you’ve obviously seen big results with it over the years?

BRICE WILLIAMS:  Yeah, and I’ve used it more in the last year or so. My swims have gradually come down from, in the beginning it was in the high 50s and I think I’ve done 52 or 50. I’m hoping to break that 50 minute barrier at some point, you never know. My build for Texas is going pretty well, so there’s a possibility.

BRAD BROWN:  Good news, Brice, it’s been great catching up, I look forward to talking about your bike next time out, thanks for joining me on The Kona Edge today.

BRICE WILLIAMS:  My pleasure.

About Us

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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