Planning and documenting your swim training
In 2021, I signed up for a series of swims as part of a personal challenge - to swim 100 kilometres or more of unassisted marathon swimming in a single season. You can read more about that here if you like! It became a good opportunity to document how I prepare myself for longer swims, in the event my practices and experiences help others in their own preparation. I'm learning as I go.
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This post is about how I plan my training. It took me a really long time to write this post. I kept thinking, do I really want to share what I do to plan and track things? What do I know, what if how I do things isn't good enough for others? I don't use fancy tools or apps, just a simple excel spreadsheet. Well, the whole point of these posts is to bring a frank and open look at what I actually do, so here goes...
My planning and tracking workbook
I created a simple but effective excel workbook, made up of a number of tabs that can be used for different things related to training and planning forward. I don't use anything else, this is it. I like excel because you can customize things to look and work exactly as you want them to, I can make it work entirely for me, rather than having to adapt myself to the way something else works. I've uploaded a copy of the basic template (click here), in case you'd like to take a close look.
The tabs in the workbook consist of the following:
Year Plan (dark blue tab) - a year long look at my event dates and the distances I'll train leading up to that
Monthly Plan (medium blue tabs) - a 4-week planning template, to organize what each month's specific training will be
Swim Tracker (lime green tab) - I like to track my individual swims and the distances for each one
Bucket List (yellow tab) - I like to dream forward, and keep a list of big swims I'd like to accomplish later on
Others...I tend to add other tabs to the workbook as needed, to track additional elements of training
Year Plan (dark blue tab)
The Year Plan is used to keep track of the bigger picture, the entire year at a glance. I add the year to the top left corner, remove the yellow highlighting and change font colour too black. The left-hand side of the sheet has a single line per week, and those weeks are grouped into blocks of 4 weeks, simply because that's how I like to plan my season and train - build, long, speed, rest. And repeat, a lot. But you can organize the weeks in whatever way works for you. And you don't need to start in September if you don't want to, just change the date in cell B3 to your start date, the rest of the dates will recalculate automatically.
You'll notice the headers and columns going across the sheet include the 4 ways that I swim; on a tether in my garage pool, pool club swim practices, pool open lane swims, and open water swims. I track swims only, I don't bother tallying up how many workouts or stretching sessions I do, but you can change up these columns as you like - rename, delete, add more.
I start by plugging in the events that I've registered for, and I highlight those cells in red. I put them all in, no matter how short or long the event is - remember that every swim is preparation for the next swim - it's all training leading up to your bigger goal.
Next, I give some thought as to how the smaller events lead up to the bigger one, and what training I'm going to need to prepare even for those. I start to plug in where I'll do some long swims or swim weeks. There's a number of strategies for how much distance swimming I'll want to do to be "ready", which is a term relative to any swimmer - only you know how much you need to do - but they are good guidelines for planning. Here are the strategies, I go into more detail in this post if you want to read more:
Swim at least 75% of your longest event distance at least 1-2 times beforehand. The theory here is that if you have the skills and stamina to go 75% of the way, you'll most likely manage the remaining 25%.
Swim the distance of your longest event as the total training per week, at least a few times beforehand. There is a longstanding notion in marathon swimming that whatever you can swim in a week in training, you can swim in a single day during an event.
Swim the distance of your longest event in smaller chunks over consecutive days. The idea here is that you can "stack" the swims one day after the next, and by the end of it you're as tired as if you'd done them all in one day.
Swim what you can, build a decent base, and let your technique work and feed plan carry you forward.
With these strategies in mind, start to add details to the training cycle column, longest swim goal, and total planned volume columns. As each new 4-week training block gets closer, I start filling in some details about how I will reach those training goals - how much of it will be on the tether, club swims, lane swims, and in open water. Once I start to roll this training out, I tally up the swim volume I do in the white cells, and everything totals up at the end to show me my week/month swim totals.
Monthly Plan (medium blue tabs)
When I'm at the point of starting to break down my training for a block as shown in the image above, chances are I'm also over on the corresponding Monthly Plan tab, workout out what each week in that 4-week block will look like in detail. When will I get my swims in, how many workouts will I do, what time of day will I do my pilates or stretching? There's a template provided in the workbook, I simply make a new copy for each 4-week training block I need to plan. I change the start date at the top in yellow highlight, and the dates in the rest of the template automatically populate for the month. Remove the yellow highlighting, and change the font from red colour to black. Once blocks are over and done with, I hide the tabs to keep the workbook clean, I never delete anything, it's really good to keep a record of past training to look back on.
At the top right corner of the monthly plan, I have a number of activities and colour coding, you can change these up to suit your own planning needs. To start things off, I look at where I'm at in my yearly planning, and my training to date, and I set some goals in the "Training Block Objectives" section. These could be skills, distance targets, motivation. Just write them down, make them real. Again, remove the yellow highlighting and change the font colour from red to black.
Next, I copy the activities and colour-coding and copy them into each day of the week, based on when I plan to get things done. My 4-week blocks are organize by build, long, speed and then rest. But to be frank, these are just concepts, and most of us don't have a ton of control over how much lane swimming we can do, and we're at the mercy of what our swim coach wants to focus on for club swims. But I do my best to plan this way, and in the end sometimes the variance comes out in my cross-training more than just my swimming, for example during speed week I might do short fast intervals on the rower if I can't get in any sprinting in a pool. All good.
Each time a swim is entered, I type in the target/estimated distance I'll be doing in the cell to the left of the time, these all add up to the total shown in the "Swim actual" section, in blue font. If you want your "Swim goal" to populate with your training targets, just go into the formula next to the "Swim goal" text and change the cell number to the corresponding line from the Yearly Plan. If I need to cancel an activity, I change the colour-coding to white, the font to red, and strikeout the font. It helps me follow how compliant I've been. I print this tab to keep out on my desk, so that I see it from day to day, and I go back into the workbook frequently to update things.
In the example below, you can see that I missed my lunchtime workouts on Tuesday and couldn't reschedule them, so they are now crossed out and in red font. Not a big deal in the bigger picture, but at least I can look back and get a realistic picture of what I missed. You'll also notice on that on Thursday evening I've pencilled in a swim without any colour-coding...I'm not sure I'll be going, but I like to have a little reminder that it's there if I want to go.
Wondering why my "Swim actual" is higher than my "Swim goal"? I over-plan a bit, because chances are with my work life that I'll need to miss at least one swim. I prefer to beef things up, so that I know I'll still hit my targets.
I have a number of other tabs in the workbook, and I keep adding things as I need to. I like the idea of keep all my planning thoughts in one place, it helps me stay organized.