As an athlete in his mid-50s who’s still pushing boundaries, I believe peak performance comes from extensive cross-training regiments.
Before my 80-mile Lake Michigan swim, I was never stronger nor more flexible, and my training was unorthodox. I have discovered that cross training is essential for the over-40 athlete. Shoulders cannot handle the repetition of the younger athlete swimming thousands of yards a day. Instead, I swam 2-3 days on weekdays for 2 hours straight, working on effortless technique, what I call my “forever stroke.” I also run 1-2 times per week averaging 6-10 miles for aerobic conditioning. I work out on my Vasa Trainer swimming machine.
Paddle boarding upstream is the best cross training exercise and develops powerful back and abdominal muscles. I will often paddle upstream from Hominy Creek to the Biltmore Estate.
Another essential part of training is Yoga, which I practice 3-5 times a week at Asheville Community Yoga. Stretching and core stability provide the platform from which to pull harder in swimming or paddle sports or run harder and longer.
This is a core driven body rotation with long front quadrant extension and stretch followed by a powerful catch and thoracic/abdominal contraction. The stretch in front is very important in ultra long distances, as it is like a little yoga move built into each stroke, preventing cramping and muscle fatigue while allowing the full advantage of muscle elasticity and rubber-band-like recoil.
To maximize balance, keep the weight forward in a catch up stroke fashion. To decrease stress on my neck, I allow my head to follow my core rotation, essentially eliminating neck rotation. When my forearms get tight I focus on the middle quadrant to unload my forearms. I also vary the depth of my “catch” to avoid forearm tightness. I use a very low amplitude relaxed ankle driven 6 beat kick. When I get chilled in cold open water, I find picking up the kick a touch will warm the water layer in my Farmer John style wet suit.
I can swim at a 1:25 pace in a 25 yd pool with open turns and 1:20 pace with flip turns. I try and avoid flip turns when training ultra long distance because it throws off the calm breathing I am trying to perfect. When pulling a paddle board my speed drops to about a 1:45 pace/100 yds.
Once a week I try and do a very long swim in a lake. Sometimes I will swim 8-10 miles on Lake Fontana on Saturday, camp on an island and swim back on Sunday.