Last weekend, I had the awesome opportunity to meet, interview, train and swim with four elite Team Speedo athletes; Michael Jamieson & James Guy (both pictured above, with me in the blue suit), plus Jazz Carlin and Siobhan O’Connor. It was part of a collaboration with Speedo to promote their #GetSpeedoFit campaign, which is all about inspiring people to swim more in pursuit of their full body workouts and healthy lifestyle; that’s something I fundamentally agree with, and I found the insights from these athletes to be absolutely fascinating. Click MORE to read my interviews along with a brief ‘Benefits of Swimming’, and to see some of our fun/goofy photos from the day at the London Olympic Aquatics Centre!
PART 1) BACKGROUND & BENEFITS:
You might have read some of my previous posts about swimming and its many benefits (a full body workout which improves circulation and lung capacity, can consume c. 500 calories per hour, offers natural resistance, is low impact on the joints, is relaxing for the mind and yields a fabulous endorphin release into the bloodstream!). I’ve found amongst my clients a common misperception that swimming isn’t an effective form of exercise, that it’s more for a relaxing paddle; I couldn’t disagree more. Now that summer is properly here, it’s typically the time I’ll swim more than usual – cooling off in the gym pool or splashing around in the holiday waves. If you want to get fit and stay fit for summer and beyond, this is a supreme form of exercise, whether you’re on holiday or at home; it’s incredibly tough to the uninitiated, but improving your swimming technique can make all the difference. When I was training for the Swimathon with Comic Relief, my coaches, a few tweaks here and there (and a lot of help from the BioFuse Power Paddles which are like little motors on your arms) helped me make massive progress.
As per the above images, this session gave me the opportunity to warm up and train with the athletes, in the same way they do each day ahead of their own training sessions. My taskmasters were the following: Michael Jamieson (Olympic, World & Commonwealth breaststroke Silver medalist), Jazz Carlin (Commonwealth & European Championships Gold medalist), James Guy (Relay Gold and Commonwealth freestyle Bronze medalist), and Siobhan O’Connor (Gold 200m IM, Silver 200m freestyle, youngest swimmer on the London Olympic).
PART 2) THE INTERVIEWS
F.O.T. Which is your favorite piece of equipment for training and why?
Jazz: Probably fins, it’s always feels good to put them on – it balances your stroke out a bit. You can focus on little things then, it makes you forget about your legs! It strengthens your legs a lot, we do a lot of fast training as well; if you’re going faster than you normally do it makes it feel great then when you take them off. Siobhan: I would say fins as well – I quite enjoy putting my fins on, for a bit of resistance work, it emphasis your under water technique. Then I would say for technical work with your freestyle, paddles are really useful, basically they’re a really big surface area so it makes you properly think about the placement of your arms. If you’re slightly obscure, your paddle comes off or you’re not able to complete a proper stroke. So paddles are great to correct and guide your technique. James: For me, I’d say the snorkel because it’s great for head position and neck alignment. You can practice keeping your head down, and focusing on that long neck when you’re doing you freestyle stroke. And for me, your goggles as well make all the difference – they’re so comfy and don’t let any water in – that’s why I like them personally. Michael: It’s got to be the fins. I think they really help with the volume of training we do, as they take the pressure off the upper body, and you consequently swim a little bit faster. I think, for me as well being a little bit older, I need the help with the equipment; it mixes it up a bit as well and makes it a wee bit more exciting. We use our full equipment bag each session so that it really varies the training up as well. We do 10 sessions a week, 5-6kilometers a session and we use every piece of equipment in the bag each session! We usually do sets and reps of anything from 25-400/500meter reps. depending on the type of the session – so for example if it’s a speed session then sets and reps will be a lot shorter so maybe 15-25 meters all out efforts and that’s where we can really bring in the equipment.
F.O.T: Can you talk a bit about the focus and intensity required to compete at the top level in swimming?
Jazz: I do 10 pool sessions a week, and about 5 or 6 gym sessions a week on top of that – it really is a full-on week! We get Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, so it’s nice to switch off at the weekend, unless you have competitions. That’s a lot of training, so it’s nice to have other things aside from training to take your mind off it as well because it is very intense. We do a lot of hours and a lot of early mornings; ultimately when it come to the competition, you get to race against the best in the world – you can’t really get any feeling like it. It’s a pretty special feeling you get with the adrenaline of that race. That’s why I do all the hours of training!
Siobhan: Jazz and I train with the same trainer – we train together, so I try to do the same amount of sessions as Jazz. I feel like I do loads, and yet Jazz does even more still – it’s pretty intense. I really enjoy swimming and have always enjoyed it ever since I was little – I found the more I did, the more I improved and then when you get to sort of a top level in sports it’s the fine margins that count. You have to put in all the hard hours, and add to that the nutrition and really fine tuning technique and race times – everything like that and those little alterations make all the difference… It’s not just the hard work and training, it’s thinking about every single aspect. Michael: I’ve done it for so long now it’s kind of second nature now. I’ve been professional for 9/10 years now. It’s a long time to be involved in a sport but I absolutely love it and everyday you’re trying to find a new area that you can make an improvement on – in the water or on land in the gym. We do so many different types of training as well, and everything we do has a purpose – the focus is to try and transfer those improvements into the water – improve your swim speed and to get you ready for your major competition.
F.O.T: What type of training would you do outside the pool? Michael: My week outside the pool will consist of 3 strength sessions in the gym, doing some Olympic lifts and strength training like that. I’ve got two soft tissue massage sessions weekly, to keep as fresh as possible. I’ll have some physiotherapy sessions which are really specific and are targeting any imbalances or weaknesses you have in the water. Also one or two self-kick sessions as well just for a fitness aspect to try and keep the weight off and try to keep in good condition! I do little bits of Crossfit pre season – September, October each year, as we usually tend to vary the training up a little bit. The volume in the pool is pretty low at that point so we spend a bit more time on land doing some Crossfit exercises, and I love it! It’s something I would actually quite like to get into when I finish swimming so watch this space!
F.O.T: What does the average day look like in the run up to a big competition?
Michael: Just now is a good time actually because I’m about four weeks away from my major competition of the year. This past week has been my last hard week of full training before I start resting. I’m up at about 6:30 – that’s not too bad actually, on the poolside and we do circa 30 minutes of warming up and stretching exercises. Then we swim for two hours, have an hour physio after the swim session, about three of us rest between just to try and take on as much food and refuel as well as possible, and then in the afternoon it’s 90 minutes in the gym – strength based exercises and then two hours in the pool again. So it’s a pretty packed day! When that two-hour window in the morning and afternoon coincide with a real heavy week, I can do up to 8 km a session, and just now it’s down to about 5 / 5.5 km a session. Over the next 3-4weeks that will gradually decrease as we get ready for the biggest race of the year; I’ve got a month to go!
F.O.T: How strict is your nutrition?
Jazz: I enjoy eating healthy really, I like little smoothies and things like that – snacks – but I think you’re allowed a treat here and there – we’re doing a lot of training, so we have to eat a lot. With gym as well, you’re maintaining your muscle mass which is really important so you need enough to fuel your body for each session. Obviously your recovery is really important as well. We constantly have to think about what session you have coming up or what you’ve just done before, and think about the nutrition according to that.
F.O.T: What’s the average calorie consumption a day in order to keep you going?
James: I would say we burn 2000 calories per session, so I tend to consume about 6000 calories a day. You’re constantly snacking because you’re trying to get energy as quickly as you can throughout the day. You’re putting two session in per days so it takes a lot of effort – and it takes a lot out of you! You’re trying to gain as much carbohydrate and protein as you can, in order to recover well after the session, and in order to be ready for the next one! That’s a lot of food.
Jazz: I don’t think I eat quite that much personally, but I obviously still try and eat quit a lot. We have a nutritionist who goes through a plan with us and depending on what phase of training we’re going through, how much protein we should be having, what balance of carbohydrates, because soon we’ll be running in to competition where we’ll be taking everything down, so we’ll have to adjust the meals. It’s very cleverly thought out by someone else, not by me!
F.O.T: Do you know how many calories your body needs just to tick over?
James: Not specifically, but my sessions are 6/7km of distance, you’re burning up loads and it’s pretty hard as well – so that’s as little as 15km or as much as 40km a day, and then you’ve got gym sessions as well… and then you’ve got cardio too – it’s a lot of work so you need to put in calories to replace every session so usually protein shakes are quite good as well for after sessions, between sleeps.
F.O.T: So sleeping is part of the daily training?
James: That’s right, you totally have to focus on your sleep – train in the morning come back, breakfast, sleep 2-3 hours a day for recovery, and then lunch and get ready for training again. That’s just what I’m used to – it’s my daily routine now so it’s seems really normal to me.
Siobhan: It sounds like really good fun and that we’re really lazy, but we wake up really early in the morning and then if you go about regular activities, you wouldn’t be able to just turn up in the evening and deliver a good session. It’s just making sure that every time you can rest and recover, that you do so as best as you can. It is nice to get that recovery but it doesn’t allow for much else during the day!
F.O.T. Do you guys ever go swimming just for fun or a bit of relaxation?
Jazz: Not even on holiday?
James: Usually on holiday, I’ll try to avoid the water! If anyone says ‘James get in the pool’, I just say ‘No, you go in. I’ll just watch you’. I’m in the water everyday, twice a day so I try to get away from it as much as I can on the weekend as well and just do some fishing or whatever. I’ve been by the pool my entire life so when I get a break I try and stay dry!
Jazz: When I was younger, my mum and dad couldn’t get me out of the water! I was literally always in the water – not necessarily swimming but jumping in or whatever and having fun and that was sort of where it was home to me. It was sort of natural. I wasn’t scared of it as a kid – I loved it! My mum actually can’t swim – she’s just not confident in the water, I think. I’ve got her to do the best she can but my dad used to take me when I was younger, right up until I sort of joined a local swimming club. So I’ve always loved to be in the water, but I think on the weekends I prefer spa pools! Michael: It’s always work. I think just because of the amount of training we do there really isn’t that much time to swim recreationally anyway. I think we’re doing around 30-35 hours a week of training. Perhaps ten years ago when I was starting to really ramp up my training, I think I would’ve chosen to go swimming recreationally but now it’s just performance in mind and it’s purely for work!
F.O.T: With so many determined competitors out there, how do you get that edge to lift you ahead of the pack and give medal winning performances?
Jazz: Everyone’s obviously got a lot of motivation for Rio next year – that’s a huge drive for everyone within sport right now. Every athlete’s dream is to go to the Olympics and just be part of that. For me personally, I’m just trying to be the best I can possibly be. You can’t control what everyone else is doing. As long as I do everything right, and put myself in the best position, then I can’t really ask anymore of myself. You just have to stick to the right training and diet, work hard then you can’t really do anything more!
F.O.T: Are there ever any days where you think ‘I can’t be bothered today, I don’t want to go to train’… And if so what do you tell yourself to push through?
Siobhan: Yes! I think that’s the case for many swimmers, and it’s similar to what Jazz was saying – there’s that great feeling when you stand up on the block of a big race and think that you can draw upon everything; if you’ve done the very most you can, then you won’t have any regrets. However the race goes, whatever your result, you know you’ve done your best. I read something quite recently which said something along the lines of; ‘everyone has good days in sport, they’re great, and that’s what you do it for, that reward. But the reward is the easy part. The tough part and the part that defines you is when it gets tough; the bad days, and whether you’re able to push through them, think about the long term goal rather than on how you feel on that day. You just have to be really disciplined, and I think that comes up quite a lot of times, especially with swimming because it’s a really grueling sport. It’s one of those sports where I don’t think it has the recognition for how relentless and intense the training is. There are definitely days where everyone must go through that feeling that you don’t want to get up, or you don’t want to get in the pool – when your body is just screaming. You just have to get in and do another killer session. I think that’s when people are separated; whether you can push through it or you decide not to. That makes every bit of difference.
PART 3) THE RACING!
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t win – even though I slipped off the line slightly earlier than the professionals. But with relentless practice, voracious and balanced diet, multiple gym sessions daily, and little time for much else, I might fare better against these perfectly-tuned semi-aquatic athletic machines! I’ll definitely try harder next time. Thanks to all 4 of them for their patient tuition, honest responses and good fun 😀