How to make your swim workouts more effective and a Choc orange smoothie bowl

Balancing a demanding a career as a research scientist whilst training for multisport events can be difficult. Over the years, however, I have implemented a number of tactics that have allowed me to manage both, just. In this post I am going to go over some of the strategies that I use to make my swim workouts as effective and time efficient as possible.Swimming

  1. Do not swim with a squad. This only applies if you are happy with your swim technique and are self motivated in the pool. When I first started training for triathlon and had not swum properly since I was a kid, attending a swimming squad was the best thing I could have done for my swimming. The coach helped me to improve my stroke, I learnt about swimming drills and I learnt how to put together a swim set. Now that I am more confident with my swimming, I swim on my own. This eliminates any chit-chat between sets (if you enjoy the social aspect of a swim squad then by all means keep going) and allows me to design my own swim workouts based on my goals and how I am feeling.
  2. Use the clock. Performing sets on a time cycle reduces rest time, which is great for improving fitness and endurance, and ensures you maintain a certain pace. I find that if I am not swimming to a time cycle, for example 10 x 100m on 1: 40, then I tend to let my pace slack off.
  3. Kick with a pull buoy instead of a kick board and don’t use fins/flippers ever. Kicking with a pull buoy is actually quite a bit harder than using a kick board due to the reduced buoyancy and I really believe that performing kick sets with a pull buoy helps build leg strength that makes you a more efficient kicker, and translates over to running and cycling. I personally think that fins are a bit of a waste of time for your average age group triathlete/multisport racer. Using only a pull buoy also reduces the amount of equipment you have to take to the pool so you can run with just a pull buoy in your backpack.
  4. Incorporate drills. Although drills are not necessarily good for improving your fitness, they do help to improve your stroke and sighting in open water. I always finish a swim set with the crocodile eyes drill, which consists of you raising just your eyes out of the water and looking straight ahead just before you turn your head to take a breath. Do at least 100m of this drill every swim workout.
  5. Swim hard. Incorporate at least some hard swimming into each swim workout. Even if it is only 4 x 50m on 60 seconds, swim each of these 50m laps hard so that it is uncomfortable. You need to experience this intensity so that you can feel comfortable with a more moderate pace during a race.
  6. Finally, if it is logistically feasible, run or ride to and from the pool. I will often tuck my swim cap and goggles into my shorts and run to the pool. This saves time as you can combine two workouts in one and helps to simulate race day conditions.

This morning I rode to the pool for a 2.8km swim consisting of the following:

Warm up – 400m (50m swim, 50m drill)

8 x 50m on 50 seconds

4 x 200m (1st 200m – 50m hard, 150m easy, 2nd 200m – 100m hard, 100m easy, 3rd 200m – 150m hard, 50m easy, 4th 200m – 200m hard with 15 seconds rest in between each 200m)

400m with pull buoy focusing on technique

8 x 50m kick with pull buoy – no fins on 90 seconds

Cool down – 400m of 50m swim, 50m ‘crocodile eyes’ sighting drill

At the moment my swimming fitness is pretty average compared to what it has been in the past, so I am trying to build that fitness back up. This set took me approximately 1 hour to complete. As my swimming fitness improves (I am currently training for another adventure race in September – details to come in a future post) I would perhaps repeat the 4 x 200m set and try to do this on a particular time cycle.

So as you can imagine, after this swim set I was ready for a decent breakfast. But as always, I was in a hurry to get to work and needed something quick that was filling and nutritious. Smoothie bowls cover all these needs. I just don’t feel satisfied if I drink my breakfast so I prefer to make my smoothies super thick, sprinkle nuts and coconut on top and eat it out of a bowl. So below is a recipe for the Choc orange smoothie bowl that I consumed this morning. With protein provided by the whey powder and cottage cheese, medium chain triglycerides from the coconut cream, sufficient carbohydrates from the orange and some extra vitamins and minerals from the spinach, this smoothie bowl really was a complete meal.

Choc orange smoothie bowlChoc orange smoothie bowl

Makes 1 large serve


½ an orange, peeled and cut in half

30 grams of a good quality chocolate flavoured whey protein powder

2 blocks of frozen spinach

2 tablespoons cottage cheese

2 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 trays of ice cubes

½ cup reduced fat coconut cream

Shredded coconut and walnuts to sprinkle on top


Shark knife

Chopping board

Measuring cup and spoon

High-speed blender


  • Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until a smooth texture is achieved. Pour the smoothie into a bowl, sprinkle with shredded coconut and walnuts and eat with a spoon.

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