A common question I get asked by Total Immersion swimmers and Triathletes is “should I swim with a group or club?” I love to swim with other people and have benefited hugely from swimming with clubs over the years so I never try to discourage anyone.  But there are times when swimming with a group has ruined my stroke and made me slower.

Training in a group can be incredibly sociable and great fun. Being part of a community can really help to keep you motivated and sometimes this is more important than how fast I swim or how good my technique is.

Training with other people can make you work harder and push you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise consider.  Watching other swimmers gain ground on me after every turn really motivated me to master my turns.

Group swim sessions can be well disciplined and structured.  I learned how to use the pace clock properly when I swam with a Masters Club. I also learned how to be disciplined about rest periods, pace and rep times. Something which I’m never so good at on my own.

Another reason I swim regularly with a group is the pool time. In the UK public pools have complicated timetables and are often very busy making it challenging to swim lengths at any reasonable pace.  A club swim session gives me a regular hour of pool time for front crawl swimming that is not likely to be interrupted by someone doing breaststroke with their waterproof ipod on. As club swims are at set times, on set days, it also acts as an anchor in my diary and helps me get a quality swim done.

Before you join a group find out what type of club it is and what type of training they do. A masters club might be very focused racing in masters swimming competitions and not be suitable for fitness swimmers or triathletes.

Masters swimming groups often do a lot of shorter, faster repeats which are more sprint like. This  isn’t so useful to triathletes and longer distance swimmers who need more endurance. Masters clubs will usually do a bigger mix of strokes which although will make you a better all round swimmer might not be how you want to spend one of your only two swim sessions a week as a triathlete.

Find out if they publish a training programme or follow any sort of schedule so that you know if its time trial night so that you don’t turn up wanting an easy swim. Or you turn up expecting the regular front crawl endurance session only to find out there’s 20 minutes on dolphin kick and back stroke starts.

Are there people in the group swimming at your pace? I once swam with a club where the warm up was 400m in 6min.30. I pointed out that would be my race pace on a good day so I wouldn’t manage that in a warm up.  After I was told to try and keep up  I realised that club wasn’t for me at that time.

It can be a great opportunity to learn about swimming from a coach, as well as other swimmers, and can really help you to be more aware of your own swimming.  Find out about the coaches, their qualifications, experience and style.  A typical swim coach might not understand the needs of triathletes and long distance swimmers. Also a triathlon coach has 3 sports to learn about so may not have a high level of technical knowledge and education about swimming.

If you’re still learning to swim front crawl and need to develop your technique find out if the club is able to help with this and how. Some groups have a technique lane for newer swimmers, or offer a more focussed stroke development session on a regular basis.

For a Total Immersion swimmer it will be useful to know what sort of drills are used and how much kicking, pulling, and paddles are used. These are likely to be completely different to Total Immersion swimming and could actually be counterproductive to your stroke.  Using what you know about TI swimming decide how you’re going to manage this.  Is it possible to not do these bits without getting in the way or Is it possible to TI-ify them with focal points that are useful for you.

How focussed and mindful are you able to be when swimming in the group? Do you end up distracted and swimming mindlessly to keep up with the person in front or can you stick to your focal points and get the benefits of a mindful practice.

Go to the club session with some purpose for your swim regardless of what the group programme is. I decide on my focal points or my tempos before I go the pool and always use my tempo trainer in group swims. If I need a technique tune up I might swim in a slower lane and at the back, so I can focus.  If the group is swimming reps off set times then use either the tempo trainer or strokes per length to make it a deliberate practice rather than mindless lengths.

If you live in Coventry come along our swim practice on Thursday evenings and learn how to use how to practice effectively and use the tempo trainer to help your swimming.