Monthly Feature Article:
Training with a Partner
By: Kris Goodrich
As both a coach and a pool manager, I have the opportunity to swim many different ways: lap swim, with my team, or train with a partner. I love the team atmosphere with bantering back and forth across the lanes, feedback from a coach on deck, and the competitiveness of multiple people working to complete a hard set. However, in the past eight months due to pool shutdowns and local pandemic restrictions, most do not have the opportunity to swim with their team. Swimming solo can be a Zen moment – time to reflect, enjoy the water, and work on technique. It’s the rare swimmer that can push themselves when swimming solo, either in total distance or working hard within a set, so often a workout isn’t quite as challenging on your own. A third option is to find a regular training partner to meet up with and swim. In the past several months I have found that to be the best way to swim due to restrictions in my area. Each of my training partners pushes me in different ways in the pool, sometimes physically and sometimes mentally. I am not only able to get a great workout but sometimes have to step out of my comfort zone to accommodate their needs as well. Since there are only two of us, you get the camaraderie of the team. Similar to a solo workout, you also have a vote in planning what you’re going to swim that day. Swimming with a training partner can often be the best combination of team and solo swimming.
My perfect workout would last about an hour and be almost all freestyle. Since I like to sprint, there would probably be nothing over 200 meters in any set, and lots of rest throughout the workout. An hour is about all the time I have to fit in a workout each day along with family activities and coaching. When training with a partner, their goals and strengths are often different than mine. Our workouts tend to be a mix of what each of us would like to swim.
Over the years I have had many training partners: a former D1 NCAA swimmer and Olympic Trials qualifier, triathletes, fellow coaches, teammates. The one thing I have learned the most is to be flexible. Our intervals may not always be the same so sometimes I have to remember that it is about the workout as a whole and not making my goal time each swim. Depending on who I am swimming with, sometimes I get a lot of rest. If I’m swimming with a much faster swimmer, it may be touch and go for me. Often, we’ll plan a set knowing that one of us may be swimming 200s and the other 150s, but we both get a great workout in the same amount of time.
Don’t be afraid to use toys to modify a set with your training partner. If one person has a great kick and the other doesn’t, use fins or zoomers on that set. When pulling, fingertip paddles are a great option for the stronger swimmer while the other uses full size paddles. I love the TYR PDR fins that allow you to swim all four strokes. They’re a lifesaver when I am swimming IM sets with friends – they keep me a lot closer and we can stick to the same interval. Plus it’s always good to have an excuse to swim a whole workout with fins! Instead of thinking of fins or paddles as a crutch, think of them as tools to even out the disparity between your individual strengths and weaknesses.
Take advantage of someone with more experience than you to swim better or learn new skills. My NCAA training partner has amazing turns so when I swim with her my goal is to try to get off the wall just like her. If you are the partner with more experience, don’t be afraid to slow down and share that experience. How to make their turns better, how to pace a hard set, work on their streamlines, etc. The more you work together, the more both of you get out of your workout.
Remember that just as everyone is a different swimmer, their mental approach to the workout differs as well. Triathletes are some of my favorites to swim with not just because they always want to swim freestyle but they are amazing in their determination towards the end of a set or workout. Since they typically train long and hard, their encouragement and perseverance at the end of a set, 10 x 200 for example, can push you harder than normal (now if they would only do flip turns!). Other partners may need your encouragement to finish the set. You may find that rallying them to work hard switches your focus off how hard it is for you. Whichever side of the equation you are on, it is a win-win situation for both swimmers.
Over the years of swimming, I have had many training partners come and go. Each brought something totally different to my workouts and my life. The best thing about training partners is they often become close friends. They know if you’re having a bad day and need a friend. If you’re tired physically they’ll push you to go farther but understand it if you need an easy day. If we can’t get to the pool, a hike, bike, run or even Zoom workout keeps us connected. Training partners can help keep you physically and mentally healthy in a time where we all need both. Find a partner, reserve a lane, and jump in the pool for a great workout!