Training to be an Olympic Swimmer

The transition from beginner to an Olympian is an extremely challenging emotionally with many highs and lows. 

At the age of 8 I joined my local swimming club, in Hartlepool and I never thought I would become a full time athlete, an Olympian or even a 200m Butterfly swimmer! I did take part in other activities, such as diving and gymnastics, but swimming soon took over when training started to increase and competitions were going well. 

During my career I swam at 5 different programmes with a variety coaches. I went from swimming at my local club, to Stockton 20miles from my home, to Florida University, back to the UK in Swansea and finished in Bath, with a mission to achieve my sporting goals.

My training consisted of 10 swim sessions each week, which were 2 hours long and I completed around 50,000m–60,000m per week in the pool to be in good condition for my event. Also, 8 hours of strength & conditioning, injury prevention and metabolic training. Not much time for anything else after refuelling, fuelling and resting! 

As I was developing into an elite swimmer, the head coach of British Swimming took a group of talented swimmers on some extremely challenging training camps with some really tough sets; one I will always remember was 2000m of best stroke, so for me 2000m straight Butterfly in a 50m pool. This coach really pushed us to our limit, I felt it made us stronger through our journey to beating the best in the World.  

I felt it made us stronger through our journey to beating the best in the World.

The training year was broken down in to cycles with the aim of peaking at the target competitions. Aerobic fitness was trained dominantly at the beginning of the season with an aerobic block lasting around 12 weeks including a 3 week build. Anaerobic fitness was trained for around 8 weeks and closer to the competitions, which included all the intense fast swimming and lactate sets. My events were around 57seconds for the 100m Butterfly and 2mins 6 seconds for the 200m Butterfly. The powerful anaerobic system starts to fatigue at around 45seconds and the aerobic system takes over, therefor both were important for me to be in good condition to race well. 

Example of Aerobic test set results

The results show aerobic fitness levels increased over an 8month period to a point where maximum aerobic gains were made. Heart rate was measured after each 200m front crawl of a 4x200m set. These were good results after a lot of training and confidence, with a big energy system could be taken into the anaerobic work. 

During my career I had 6 different coaches and at the top they always had a positive mind-set and huge amount of experience to be able to deliver a range of challenges. They were extremely supportive at the big competitions and wanted the swimmers to swim well just as much as we did, nothing better than a team effort paying off with a good, happy result! 

By Jemma Lowe 2 x Olympian and World Record holder