The Joy of Swimming By Yourself

I swim by myself*. That's not very remarkable. After all, plenty of people show up to the pool, put their heads down and plod back and forth on the black line. Many of them are not competitive swimmers, they are the "recreational" swimmers that drive many "competitors" to practices. Also, swimming with other people can be fun and motivating.

For many people though, doing workouts on your own can make or break whether you continue to compete. Better yet, there are a lot of reasons why swimming on your own can be even better than being on a team. Let's talk about them:

1. You do a workout just for you- Every time you add another variable to a given workout (another person), it becomes more and more challenging to fit that workout to the swimmers to it.

2. You swim on your own time- I've heard rumor that people are busy these days. Sometimes even the most well made schedule of practices can mean that you sacrifice going to the pool because it just doesn't fit. When you swim by yourself, you swim on your own time when it works for you.

3. You are an introvert- For introverts, the socialization at large group team practices can really be draining and distracting from the energy you need to workout. Especially if you use training to "recharge" from other activities, a solo swim can be an incredible time to not have to talk to other people.

4. Swimming by yourself is infinitely better than not swimming- If there is any other immovable object stopping you from swimming by yourself, get in the pool alone. A lot of people who want to swim consistently don't because they beat themselves up over a 30 minute swim by themselves not being "good enough". Hogwash.

Today I started my day by going to my local pool for a swim. It was refreshing for both my mind and body, and I left with a feeling of accomplishment. Another day at the pool is a good day.

Want help training for competitive swimming by yourself? Write me.

Chris DeSantis Coaching and Pro Swim Workouts

Today, I'm really happy to announce Chris DeSantis Coaching's first partnership. I'll be working with Pro Swim Workouts, beginning with a podcast, to continue to my mission of providing better conversations around swimming.

The partnership grew out of a conversation with Nico Messer of Pro Swim Workouts shortly after I revived the Swim Brief podcast. Nico saw a gap in the swimming podcast world. When he presented it to me, I agreed wholeheartedly, and we agreed to try and fill that gap together.

Don't let me get too far ahead of myself. Why Pro Swim Workouts? Because I believe that Pro Swim Workouts walks the walk when it comes to making the swimming world better. It spreads knowledge, including the type of practical stuff (workouts from top coaches) that you used to have to fly, book a hotel and sit through hours of a conference to see.

Pro Swim Workouts puts money in the hands of swim coaches in exchange for their valuable work, and I like that. It also gives that valuable work to beginning coaches who so desperately need it. Now, we want to take a conversation into a dynamic format. Each podcast will feature a discussion of workouts, addressing all the questions you might have as a coach (or swimmer) about a given workout.

What is the point of this workout? Why should I do it? How do you implement the workout the best way possible? How does this workout fit into the greater context of a week, month, cycle or season?

These are the kind of questions we'll try answer. and we don't pretend to know everything. This is a podcast for people who want to hear an intelligent conversation about swimming training, and although we can't deny that we'll bring our own biases to the table, we're also going to work hard to not treat training like religion. Part of the journey will be trying to figure out how workouts neither Nico or I would ever use ourselves can work for other coaches.

The podcast will start with a bi-weekly format, with room to increase depending on demand. So get ready to join in the conversation with us and talk some workouts.

The Different Demands of Race Pace Coaching

"5000 Pull". That was all Gennadi Touretski, often hailed as a the genius of the swim coaching world, wrote up on the board. Then he walked away.

I heard this story from a swimmer who was training with Touretski as a part of his required Swiss army service. Touretski had for some time assumed the mantle of working with these swimmers, but didn't seem particularly interested in coaching them.

The purpose of this post is not to mock Touretski, who's coaching relationship with all-time great Alexander Popov is the stuff of legends. Touretski has used his coaching mind in far more creative ways than "5000 pull", but on this particular practice, he clearly wasn't feeling it.

I'm left to guess as to why. Did he feel the swimmers in the water weren't worth the effort? Was he not getting properly compensated for his time? I tried to put myself in his place- what would have to be going on for me to throw in the towel with a 5000 pull?

Intense Coaching

One of the least discussed aspects of the ongoing debate in the swimming community over practice intensity is how demanding the coaching is. Coaching a 5000 pull (especially if you walk off the deck and don't even watch it) is very light lifting. 

Meanwhile, a set where swimmers are going to swim 20x50 at 200 pace is exceptionally demanding on a coach. Swimmers need constant technical feedback, and will have time to hear it. Furthermore, having it "all on the line" means that swimmers will need specific adjustments based on where they are that day.

So, a coach that wants to do the right thing and change over to race pace will face some real challenges in doing so. For one, they will have to carefully consider whether they will still spend the same amount of time on deck, knowing that they will be coaching at a full sprint instead of a slow walk?

Do they want to have the same number of swimmers in the water? How will they divide attention between swimmers when there is so much more time that they are on the wall and able to receive feedback?

Race pace swimming undeniably demands more from the coach for the time spent on the pool deck. The tradeoff is better quality of both technical instruction for the swimmers in the water and just flat out more coaching.

Swimmers get a lot more value, and coaches should consider that as they change to race pace. Coaches should expect to get something of value in return for this expansion, a not easy feat with many administrators and boards. But it's crucial to start at the very beginning, before race pace becomes the "new normal" for swimming practice and coaches keep everything else on their plate.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate race pace into your own training or your team's? Write me!




Three Things Mallory Comerford Did Better Than Ledecky

NCAA Swimming is great. One of the reasons it's great is that the short course format magnifies a different skill set from the long course swimming we see in the Olympics. Because of this, some of the world's best swimmers face hard races at the NCAA level.

Mallory Comerford did just that to the best swimmer in the world, Katie Ledecky, when she tied her in the 200 free. The Louisville sophomore went toe to toe with not only Ledecky but one of the hottest swimmers of the meet, Simone Manuel. How did she do it? Let's take a look:

Comerford is barely mentioned by commentator Rowdy Gaines off the top, even though she was fairly well known in college swimming circles. With the focus on Manuel and Ledecky, don't miss what Comerford (third from the top) is doing early on to set herself up to tie Ledecky in this race.

Efficiency underwater

Comerford is very efficient in the underwater portions of her race. She actually has a poor start in relation to the rest of the field, jumping too far up instead of out, resulting in a slow entry into the water and landing too deep.

She makes up for it immediately with a compact and controlled kick. Look at how still her upper body is when she is kicking- this shows great control. By managing the size of her kick, she comes far underwater without spending too much oxygen, this is a 200 free after all and she will need it at the end of the race.

Comerford repeats this process for each wall. Off the first turn she puts her feet on the wall almost simultaneous to Ledecky but breaks out ahead, and the next wall flips behind but pulls even again. 

Because Comerford is able to do such efficient work underwater, she can actually relax more during the swimming portion relative to Ledecky, who in this race had to stress to maintain contact with Manuel and push her lead on Comerford.


Rather than guess at the psychology of who was "swimming their own race" in an NCAA final, let's take a look at something quantifiable. Comerford swam a better paced race than either Ledecky or Manuel.

Here are Comerford's splits:


Compare these to Ledecky's


Ledecky's splits reveal that she went out too fast, as she jumped significantly in time from the 2nd to 3rd 50., Comerford's splits almost appear as if she swam in isolation, trying to hit a strong first 50, and then three splits within about 1.5 seconds of that pace. 

Changing kick speed

Take another look at the above video, with particular attention to Comerford's kick in the first 100 yards. She looks as if she is barely kicking, and if you had never seen her swim before you might guess that she is not a strong kicker.

Then watch the second 100, where she appears to change speeds (even though she is just maintaining speed) by engaging her kick. This is such a smart strategy because kicking in a 200 is like taking out a high interest loan. You will get a big reward immediately but pay it back down the line a lot. Fortunately for Comerford, by waiting to fully engage her kick to the second 100, she only had to pay back her loan in the warmdown pool.

Mallory Comerford may have stunned many with her victory, but probably not her coaches, who no doubt worked on all of the above throughout the season. These are changes that even beginning swimmers can make to the way they approach a 200 freestyle that can make a big difference. 

Do you want to add video technical analysis to your training? Fill out a contact form to discuss plans. 


Project Under: Back in Competition

When I stood behind the blocks last Friday, about to swim the 100 breaststroke for the first time in four years, I was smiling. Was I nervous? Of course. Where I once let my anxiousness overwhelm me to the point that was I relieved that my swimming career was "over", I was excited to swim.

I proceeded to swim a very sloppy race, and my time (1:06.11, with 30.1 and 36.0 for splits) reflected that. Afterwards, my instinct was to beat myself up. I thought about the people who would read this blog and think "this guy thinks he's going to break a minute?". Then I told that part of my brain to quiet down. I know it may always be there, but I don't have time for that crap.

Pre-meet doubt

Let me back up for a second. When I last wrote I was having trouble sleeping, something that has improved moderately since then. I cut back on alcohol and started drinking chamomile tea nightly. I began writing an occasional journal where I wrote out arguments against the nagging internal monologue that tries to convince me I'm a disappointment.

Two weeks before the competition, I was at pre-school picking up my daughter. I squatted down to give her a hug. I heard a loud click and felt my kneecap move sideways. Startled, I gathered myself and walked my daughter home with my adrenaline pumping. I woke up the next morning with my knee throbbing.

What should have been my mini-taper was full of limping, careful dadding (I dare you to try to avoid getting down on the floor with a three year old) and a slow progression towards being able to swim breaststroke. I was able to finally do breaststroke with light pain two days before the meet, and felt confident I wouldn't make it worse by competing.

Seeing What Happens

I know it may sound like i'm making excuses, but I'm not. I swam in the meet, unsure of how it would go, but knowing that finding out where I truly would help me no matter what.

And find out I did. My 1:06.11 was full of information for me. Here were my big takeaways:

  1. I need to do a lot more work on my turns, starts and breakouts. I skied my start, ended up too deep and broke out underwater. My turns were loose, especially my pushoffs.
  2. I was happy with how my pull worked, with the only minor quibble that I often went into a new pull without really finishing the previous recovery
  3. I need to get in better shape. Would I have come home better had I felt confident in my legs? Probably. Would I have an easier time finishing without poor starts, turns and breakouts? Sure! But it is also true that it is much easier to execute these skills when you are appropriately fit.
  4. To that end, my training needs more volume. I spent a lot of my breaststroke workouts chasing 15 second 25s, yet my final 25 on that 100 was around 19 seconds. I believe I could use a lot more volume of 16s before I try to build up 15 again.

Here's the race (I'm in the closest lane, lane 8, as my former college teammate Mindy Williams states off the top)

Back to work

This morning I was back in the pool. This afternoon I'll be back in the weight room. This last few months was only the beginning. not nearly the end. 

I swam a 50 breaststroke the next day, and already my start was better with one race under my belt. I even had the fastest reaction (.58) of my swimming career. I'm in the far lane this time, lane 1:

A time, like age, is just a number

This project is titled for the goal of two digit swim in a 100 breaststroke, but that's not what it's about. This project is about the process of achieving that goal. When I stood on the blocks last Friday, I felt like I had already won.

I knew that in the past year, I had worked hard to get to the point where I was, improved my fitness and put myself on the line. More importantly, I knew that I was a good father, a good husband and that I did it all while going through the hardest year of my life.

You can't measure that with a stopwatch.