Learning how to swim and recover as Ironman journey continues with ILSS

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  • Sport360°’s Chris Bailey has signed up for the challenge of his life in November – an Ironman. Follow his adventure as he prepares his body for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a marathon to finish …

    Swimming, how I love and hate thee.

    Cutting through the water is both glorious and horrifying, soothing and traumatic, synchronised and discombobulated – sometimes all within the space of a stroke.

    The mission over the next eight months is to turn down the chaos and crank up the calmness for a swim leg of an Ironman that, if all goes well, should only encompass 10 per cent of the race.

    It’s certainly doesn’t feel like 10 per cent at the moment. In fact, coach Dmitriy Firsov and I Love Supersport (ILSS) Dubai have given me a thorough drenching.

    Before knuckling down into serious training I considered myself an adequate swimmer, a couple of notches above doggy paddler and a few lengths short of confident.

    Endurance and strength has followed rather rapidly since racking up the kilometres both on land and in water but tailoring technique, as I’m finding out, is a lifelong process.

    Take writing. Picking up a pen and jotting down a few words should flow naturally. But when was the last time you thought about angle, finger placement, letter shape? Try it – the mind rebels having become accustomed to the same action after thousands of repetitions.

    Exactly the same applies to swimming technique. Suddenly I’m trying to process the angle of my hands, keeping my elbows high, ‘feeling’ the water, body balance, kicking, propulsion, and recovery within a couple of seconds.

    If you’re a beginner all this is coached from the ground up. As a so-so swimmer it’s much harder to untangle bad habits from the good.

    Thankfully Dmitriy – a former national triathlete who used to swim two kilometres just for warm-ups – is at hand to help demystify the process.

    I’ve joined the ILSS Swim Squad, which runs at various locations throughout the week and includes both veterans and improvers in an extremely welcoming environment.

    Not that Dmitriy lets you get away with slacking. Sharp with his whistle and incisive with his advice, it’ll amaze you just how far you can push yourself with such little rest in between lengths.

    My first session in the state-of-the-art 50-metre pool at SIS School, in Healthcare City, left me glowing. By the start of the second I was blowing.

    The accumulation of the ‘loading’ phase of six-day-a-week training – adapting the body to heavy triathlon workloads – and some late shifts at work set me sinking during the first technique drill (look up – sculling it’s certainly not my favourite activity in the water).


    Dmitriy ordered me out and told me to change. A little embarrassed, I eventually shambled pack poolside. But instead of a scolding, he told me I should relax and observe.

    Lesson learned? Recovery is more important than any tweak of technique.

    Whether I heed that advice regularly is another thing entirely …


    Dmitriy Firsov

    Swimming works on a very simple basis: 80 per cent of success is technique, and 20 per cent is speed, endurance, stamina and strength. Even for myself, in a swimming programme, I put a lot of attention on the technical drills. It’s better to correct mistakes from the beginning, and not create bad habits.

    Technique is not just simply learning stuff. We have to put lots of effort into the beginning stage, so that a swim is delivery from ‘Point A to Point B’ on raceday. As of now we have a swim accented block which will give us more time to develop the bike and run in future.

    If you are afraid of the water, change your attitude to it. Love it, and swimming will be the most pleasant thing you’ve ever done.

    The ILSS swim squad is based on three abilities for the body to develop: strength, endurance and speed. The technique aspect is implemented inside the programme, but not like level 1, 2, 3 (technique educational swimming). Mostly it’s intervals and endurance sessions. In combination, all these things will bring you the best result. You also challenge yourself, competing with other team members to give you extra motivation.

    Chris was tired at the beginning of the session a couple of weeks ago. At the start everything was good, but suddenly Chris started to make simple mistakes like imbalance and being uncoordinated. He was tired from the loading week. It is sometimes good to take a small step back, and make small changes in the plan according to your body condition.

    Although training is important, recovery is more important. That’s why I let Chris rest, and play a role of the coach, observing different levels of swimmers from the side. It’s a very good experience, and I use it a lot in the preparation of athletes of different levels.

    I Love Supersport Dubai is the premier international endurance sports school. No matter your age or ability, achieve your goals as a swimmer, runner, cyclist and triathlete under the tutelage of some of the region’s best coaches. Visit dubai.ilovesupersport.com for more details.