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Want to be a stronger swimmer? Train like a life depends on you.
As a professional triathlete, Brittany Pierce works regularly on her swim skills to shave seconds off her race times. As a lifeguard at Florida’s Clearwater Beach, she also works to swim faster—because when someone is drowning, every second counts.
“We usually train 30 minutes each morning as a group, doing combinations of run-swim-runs, paddling on our rescue boards, and practicing sighting,” Pierce says. “We also get one-hour breaks throughout the day, which many of us use to train solo with strength training, soft-sand running, and sprints.”
On the opposite coast, lifeguard Dana Vanos has patrolled San Diego’s beaches for 12 years. She credits a daily regimen of swim, run, and strength training with her ability to remain calm and swim strong in even the toughest conditions. “I’ll combine swimming and soft-sand running with body-weight squats, pushups, and lunges for a full-body beach workout.”
Though not everyone is able to access a beach for daily training, it’s still possible to train like a waterman (or waterwoman). The key workouts Pierce and Vanos recommend:
“Some specific swim skills that I maintain are stroke technique, kick strength, and overall endurance,” Vanos says. Her favorite workout incorporates underwater breath-holds. “It builds endurance and lung capacity, which is essential in the ocean environment.”
2 x 200 at 75-percent effort, focusing on elongating the stroke and maintaining a steady kick
1 x 25 yards underwater breath-holds
Repeat 5 times
At Clearwater Beach, lifeguards train daily to pass a required fitness test (every six months) involving a 500-meter ocean swim and 1-mile beach run. Pierce says triathletes can benefit from these aquatic brick workouts, even at the pool and on sidewalks, as switching between the disciplines also allows practice for transitions.
1-mile easy run
5 x 100-meter running sprint, 100-meter jog recovery
Repeat 5 times
Swim 500 yards
“The key to staying calm in the water is knowing that you’re prepared for any situation,” Va- nos says—universal advice that applies to triathletes. “The best way to condition yourself to stay calm is to put yourself in those challenging stressful situations.” Her tips for mastering open-water:
- Build up your endurance in the pool first.
- Transition to the ocean by practicing ins and outs through the surf line with the gear you intend to use on race day.
- Swim with a buddy to help bring the stress level down and provide a safety net.
- Focus on the moment, control your breathing, and know that if you keep putting one arm in front of the other, you will successfully reach the end.