Author Archives: Mallory Mead

Learning the Importance of a Strong Kick

When I made the move from college swimming to open water swimming and started training for my English Channel swim, I all but gave up on kick sets.  I was focused on getting as much distance in as I could. I only had time for 7-8km per day to prepare for a 21 mile swim! I had no time to devote to kick sets when I knew I had to prepare my shoulders for a brutal beating.

This lack of training combined with a suggestion that kicking could expedite heat loss (the theory behind this being that heat is lost from the extremities much more quickly than from the core, and kicking brings blood and thus heat to the legs) made me eager to leave kicking behind. So I began to swim dragging my legs. The English Channel was essentially my longest pull set ever. I wasn’t able to lift my arms for three days.

Since my English Channel swim I have given up on this theory.  Looking back, my lack of kick affected my rotation which most likely was a large contributing factor to my extreme shoulder pain.  I also couldn’t help but wonder how much faster I would have been if I had kicked!  I have since abandoned the no-kick experiment and have decided that no matter what additional heat loss may result, kicking is worth it.

Right now I am in “off season” which to me means “pool season.” I am focusing more and more on developing my kick, not only to improve my overall technique but also because an efficient sprint kick can be useful in shorter events such as the 5k and the 10k for maneuvering the pack. Wearing my Z2 training fins or Zoomers while kicking are a great way to improve my ankle flexibility, work on a fast paced kick, and cover more distance in a shorter period of time……without making kicking too easy or leisurely as is common with traditional fins.  Because of the soft construction and a design that results in more propulsion, swimming with the Z2s allows me to focus on improving my overall technique. I am able to get a good body roll and position, while still isolating my kick. Finally, once I am back into heavy marathon-distance training the Z2’s will come in handy to use while swimming, so that I may get a kick workout in without sacrificing any yardage or upper-body work, all while taking a load off of my shoulders!

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Training for Cold Water Swims – 9 Tips You Need to Know

One of the most talked-about considerations for an open water swim is water temperature, more specifically, cold water temperatures. While many swimmers and triathletes chose to wear wetsuits to protect themselves from the cold, many elite swim races and channel swims specifically prohibit the use of wetsuits. Indeed, many times the distinction of swimming in “skins” is a badge of honor.

There are a few key principles of cold water swimming that you must understand.  First, water draws heat from our bodies faster than air…much faster. This is why a water temperature in the mid 60s can result in hypothermia while an air temperature of the mid 60s is quite comfortable. Secondly, the human body can be trained to physiologically respond to cold water temperature. Research has shown that the best cold water swimmers can raise their core body temperature by two or three degrees, just by thinking about it! This is especially helpful to combat the 2-3 degree drop in body temperature that occurs immediately upon submersion in very cold water. These same swimmers are able to draw the blood in from their extremities (where heat escapes quickly due to a low amount of insulating body fat) toward their core where it protects the vital organs. Lastly, the best way to train your body to physiologically react to cold water exposure is repeated exposure.

Here are 9 tips on training for cold water swims:

1)      Imitate the pros and raise your body temperature before getting in: My favorite trick is to pile on the clothing, drink coffee, and blast the heat in my car on the drive up until I’m uncomfortably hot.

2)      Minimize the initial shock: Enter the water at zero entry so that you slowly wade in. Acclimate your feet first, then legs and core before putting your face in the water. Immersing your face will be the hardest part; most people will find themselves gasping for air at this point. Swimming with your head up out of the water until the gasping stops will keep you from taking in water. If you are entering from a dock, use the ladder to lower yourself into the water.

3)      Keep moving: Once you are in the water, don’t stop unless you have to, and keep the stops as short as possible.  As you swim, your body produces heat as a by-product, so use this to your advantage and be prepared to swim at a very fast pace.

4)      Acclimate down: The Fall season is a perfect time to start cold water acclimation training, because the water temperature starts off warm and cools down gradually, allowing your body to ease into cold water swimming. Be careful in the spring, when you don’t have this same opportunity.

5)      Dress appropriately: If you plan on using a wetsuit in your races, this is the time to break them in! If not, wearing two caps is allowed for most races. The cap on top should be a brightly colored latex cap for visibility reasons. The cap on bottom can be a latex, silicone, or thermal cap. If you experience uncomfortable numbness in your feet, most wetsuit manufacturers carry wetsuit booties (although these would not be legal for non-wetsuit divisions).

6)      Gradually increase exposure: Have your initial cold water workouts be only a few minutes, and gradually increase to longer periods.  The colder the water, the shorter the swims. Always carry a thermometer so you can make informed decisions.

7)      Train out of the water: Taking cold showers, wearing light clothing in cooler weather, and taking ice baths are a few methods used by cold water swimmers to raise their cold water tolerance. For the ice baths, try sitting in the bath for 10-15 minute intervals with calisthenics to warm up in between. Always have someone supervise these ice baths.

8)      Stay safe: Before you go out for a swim, inform someone that you are going out and when you expect to be back. Wear a watch to stick to that schedule. Always swim with someone else and/or with a boat escort. Have your boat escort carry a mobile phone. Stay close to shore in case a quick exit is required. Most importantly, you and everyone around you should constantly be monitoring for signs of hypothermia. Violent shivering (and following, the ABSENCE of shivering) slurred speech, numbness, and compromised brain function are all signs that you should get out and warm up. Do not hesitate to abort a swim if you or those around you feel uneasy or prudent.

9)      Be prepared for what happens afterward: Get dry and into warm clothes as quickly as possible. Bring a thermos full of hot liquid to drink after your swim. It is normal to experience severe shivering within a few minutes of stopping. Try to warm up gradually; a warm shower is preferable to a hot shower. Dry your hair with a blow dryer or turn the heater up in your car. Do not attempt to operate a motor vehicle until you have warmed up enough to regain normal brain function and stop shaking.

Cold water swimming adds a whole new dimension of difficulty to open water swims. Miserable for some, rewarding for others, and a necessity for many. The key to being successful is training and preparation, and it’s definitely not something to be taken lightly! Learn the difference between being cold and being hypothermic, and always keep safety at the forefront of your mind.

Happy (Cold) Swimming!

- Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN


Preparing for Your First Open Water Swim

Competing in an open water swim for the first time, either as a stand-alone race or as a portion of a triathlon, can be an intimidating prospect.  Here are some general tips to get you started.

1)      Brush Up Your Technique: The absolute first thing you should do is get your technique in order. Take lessons with a respected coach or join a Master’s Swim Team.  Many swimming “newbies” have trouble with their kick as a result of poor ankle flexibility, so I recommend swimming with a pair of Z2 Zoomers.  For those who are planning on an ocean swim or wearing a wetsuit, the addition of fins also simulates the effect that additional buoyancy has on your stroke.

2)      Hit the Pool For Interval Training: One of the most common mistakes for first-time open water swimmers is that they practice by doing long uninterrupted swims in the open water or the pool. On the contrary, interval and speed work is just as important as ever! Instead of doing a straight 1,500m (1 mile), try breaking it up into 200s, 100s, and 50s. Quality sets (high intensity with long rest) will improve your threshold speed and make you faster even during long races. Sets of repeats on a short rest improve your endurance and make you work a little harder than straight swims.

3)      Get Some Open Water Practice: Attend clinics and group swims, but always do so with safety in mind. Swim parallel to the shore in swim areas attended to by a lifeguard.  If you have one race in particular in mind, try to find a “practice” race you can do beforehand. The open water is a completely different scenario than the pool, and the best way to learn is to do! Practice sighting and swimming straight. Wear the swimsuit or wetsuit you plan on wearing during your race, and take note of the fit and any areas that are prone to chaffing.  Vaseline or an anti-chaffing product can reduce chaffing, but DO NOT use Vaseline if you are wearing a wetsuit!

4)      Work On Your Backstroke: Anxiety in open water is very common, even for experienced open water swimmers.  If you begin to feel anxious, roll over on your back and swim easy backstroke until you feel better.  This gives you an opportunity to catch your breath!

5)      Research: Talk to experienced open water swimmers.  Usually they are more than happy to share with you what they’ve learned over the years through trial and error.  Read books, blogs, and discussion boards on the topic. Whenever possible check out the venue in advance, even if it is just the morning of!  Find out what kind of a start and finish it will be.  For beach starts and finishes, inspect the ocean or lake floor for pitch, rocks, seaweed, etc.  Swim out to the buoys and take note of how many there are and landmarks to aid in navigation.

6)      Prepare Yourself for Bodily Contact, and Know Your Limits: Depending on the race and the number of registrants,  starts can be an all-out dogfight coming out of the gate.  If this is something you are prepared for, go for it!  If you are slower or more prone to anxiety, just hang tight in the back until things calm down.  Be prepared for the challenges presented by “pack swimming” both unintentional and intentional.  Small preparations such as putting your goggles on under your cap, adhering them with duct tape, or greasing up your ankles can go a long way in fending off competitor contact.

The more prepared you are going into your first open water swim, the more likely you are to have a pleasant experience.  Here’s to swimming the way nature intended it!

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Utilizing Different Energy Levels

I previously wrote about energy levels in this post. Here is one example of how I incorporated the different energy levels into a recent workout. Distances and times can be modified, such as doing sets of only 5×100 during the endurance set. It is important to note that this practice was done on one of my most challenging days: I would allow for 24-48 hours of either complete rest or Recovery/Basic level training afterward.

Warm Up:

1,000 Mixed Drills/Easy/Build


Endurance Set:

The main goal of these 100s is to make the interval. The intensity will automatically increase as the intervals get faster, even if the pace does not. The interval for the last set should be at best possible interval for 10, the second set should be best interval +5, and the third set should be best interval + 10.

10×100 @ 1:20 (Basic)

100 Easy (Recovery)

10×100 @ 1:15 (Basic/Threshold)

100 Easy (Recovery)

10×100 @ 1:10 (Threshold)

100 Easy (Recovery)


Recovery Set:

As the title of this set suggests, the main purpose of this set is to allow your body to recover from the threshold work. The interval should allow for 10-15 seconds rest.

10×200 Pull @ 2:40 (Basic)

Odds- Breathing 3,5,7,9



Overload Set:

The interval should allow for 20-30 seconds of rest for the fast swims. The large amount of rest should allow the athlete to focus on being within 2-4 seconds of his or her best 50 time for the fast ones.

20×50 @ 1:00 (Recovery/Overload)


Evens-100% Effort


Warm Down:

300 Easy (Recovery)

Total: 7,600 Yards

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Training at Different Energy Levels for Maximum Endurance

Over-training and a resulting injury or illness is something most of us will experience at some point in our swimming careers.  Even if you do not find yourself ill or injured, you may find yourself unusually fatigued and performing at a lower level than you are usually capable of.  So how can one prevent this from happening?  By planning workouts to work different energy levels, you can maximize the benefits to your endurance while avoiding over-training.  In short, train smarter, not harder.


Energy levels are something that many of you may be at least mildly familiar with.  There are a lot of terms thrown around and they can become very confusing, but here is a basic outline of energy levels as adapted from Ernest W. Maglischo’s book, Swimming Fastest.

En-1: Basic

Basic endurance training involves swimming at a slow and steady pace for long distances.  At this level, the body uses more fat than glycogen for energy, and the athlete can perform for long periods without damaging muscle tissue. This is the energy level for active recovery. There are many ways to determine whether or not an athlete is performing in En-1, including perceived exertion (60-70% effort) and heart rate (30-60 beats below maximum).


En-2: Threshold

Threshold endurance training involves swimming at a speed that overloads the aerobic metabolism, but does not lead to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles.  En-2 is the optimum level for building endurance, as it develops the capacity of both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers and VO2 Max.  However, En-2 relies more heavily on muscle glycogen for energy, which requires 24-36 hours to replace.  Threshold pace is equivalent to a perceived effort of 75-80% and a heart rate of 10-20 beats below maximum.


En-3: Overload:

Overload Endurance training involves swimming at maximal speeds, allowing the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles.  En-3 is best for training fast-twitch muscles and improves the body’s ability to remove lactic acid from the muscle.  En-3 level training causes muscle damage and should only be done 1-2 times per week, with plenty of allowance for recovery in between.  Overload pace results in a perceived effort of 90-100% and maximum heart rate levels.


Knowing the three levels and understanding the importance of using En-1, EN-2 and EN-3 during training puts a whole new perspective on the traditional “no pain, no gain” philosophy.  Use your AquaPulse to monitor your heart rate and stay in the designated energy level. Keep your competitive spirit in check to insure you don’t find yourself exhausted or injured due to over-training.


-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Targeting Your Core for Open Water Performance

The idea that a strong core-body is essential to swimming is fairly common knowledge. Having strong core muscles aids swimmers in stabilizing their stroke, keeps the body in a hydrodynamic position, and achieves optimal body rotation.

In open water races, it can become glaringly apparent when a swimmer does not have a strong enough core. Waves, chop, and sighting all interrupt a swimmer’s ideal body position and require additional effort and strength to correct. Even seasoned open water swimmers can end up with substantial lower back fatigue after an open water training session that required minimal sighting for navigational purposes.

In short, the abdominal muscles must be strong in order to correct body position. And the lower back muscles must be strong in order for a swimmer to sight.

An ideal set for strengthening these two groups of muscles combines Head-Up Swimming (or Tarzan drill) and Streamline Dolphin Kick on your back. As a bonus, you’ll get your kick set in as well!

10x50s @ 1:15

25 Head-Up Swimming (targets lower back muscles)

25 Streamline Dolphin Kick on Back (targets front abdominals)


  • While these drills can be performed without equipment, the addition of Z2 Zoomers will make the set a little easier and allow you to obtain perfect form, even for a swimming newbie.
  • For those who find an entire 25 of Head-Up Swimming daunting, a swimmer can instead sight and pick the head up every 3rd stroke. Try to swim as horizontally as possible and keep your legs from sinking!
  • For those who would like to practice feeding, a water bottle can be placed at the end of the lane so that the swimmer can practice quick feeds (2-3 Seconds) at the turn.

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Using the Tempo Trainer to Increase your Stroke Rate

Maintaining a high stroke rate is an important part of any open water swim. During my Catalina crossing in August 2010 I raised my stroke rate from 68-72 strokes per minute to 75-77 as the swim progressed. Since then I have received a Tempo Trainer and started to use it for the purpose of further increasing my average stroke rate.

This summer I worked to increase my tempo the old fashioned way: by moving my arms as fast as I could and hoping that it was faster than before. It was nearly impossible to get a real idea of my stroke rate in a pool, since the longest count I can get in a 50 meter pool was 30 seconds and that is still a bit inaccurate. It was easier to get counts in open water, but that was dependent on whether my swim group had a kayak escort or not, and ultimately it is tough to continue to push the pace for long periods of time without mentally spacing out a bit (and thus slowing down).

Enter the Tempo Trainer. Using this chart as a reference, I have begun to use the tempo trainer during my daily pool workout so that I can ease into increasing my average. (Tip: to figure stroke rates that are not converted on the chart, use the formula 60/Setting=Stroke Rate). I have even set aside one practice a week to devote to tempo training; I call it Tempo Tuesday!  There are a few ways that I have been using the tempo trainer.


1)             Pull Sets – Since pull repeats tend to be longer than swim repeats, they present a good opportunity to work on holding a high tempo. However, you will need to back off a bit from your goal stroke rate to accommodate the effect that pull equipment has on tempo and to prevent injury.

2)             Descending Stroke Rates - For example, in a set of 10x100s with a current average tempo of 70/spm (setting of .86) and a goal of 74/spm (Setting of .81) you could do 1 @ .88, 1@ .87, 1@.86, 1@.85, 1@.84, 1@.83, 1@.82, and 3 @ .81.

3)             Swim Tether Repeats – Grab yourself a Stationary Cords Hip Belt, attach it to the block, and get working on your tempo without having to be interrupted by turns.  Try swimming 5-10 Minute repeats at descending stroke rates.

Ultimately it takes a lot of practice to increase your stroke rate without losing your efficiency, so repetition is key.  When you consider that the open water swimming elites are holding stroke rates in the upper 80s, it’s definitely something worth trying!

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Straight Arm Recovery in Open Water Swimming

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool, and what that means in terms of technique. In addition to playing around with increasing my stroke rate (the theory being that constant propulsion is preferable to glide when taking into consideration currents, waves, and chop), I have been researching the straight arm recovery (SAR) technique, a technique used by greats such as Janet Evans and Shelley Taylor-Smith.  While the straight arm recovery technique is very controversial, I think it’s worth taking a look at.

Some would argue that Janet Evans was good in spite of her technique, not because of her technique.  This seemed reasonable to me until I read that Shelley Taylor-Smith went from a more traditional stroke to SAR mid-career (she calls herself a “swinger”) and credits it with saving her shoulders. As  I begun to dig deeper I learned that among the touted benefits of SAR is a faster turnover (of which I am already sold upon the benefits), less strain on shoulders, and a more powerful follow-through and “push” of the water.

I spoke with Kris Houchens, coach of Indy Swim Fit in Indianapolis, Indiana, about SAR and her thoughts were a mixed bag, echoing the controversial nature of the topic.  She pointed out that SAR required excellent body roll and a swimmer must fight the tendency to swim with a straight arm under the body as well.  She also cited height and body type as a factor in the varying degrees of success with SAR in her experience.

I then asked her, assuming that a swimmer can overcome these obstacles and swim SAR correctly, if there was merit in pursuing SAR for open water as a way to reach over waves and chop. Kris agreed that when correctly used, SAR could be used effectively. This made sense to me, so I have been swimming SAR for a little over a week now as a test.

The transition has been fairly smooth and Kris was certainly right about proper body roll being a concern.  It is the hardest part!  My Swimmer’s Snorkel has been extremely helpful by allowing me to really focus on my rotation during drills and moderate swimming without the aid of breathing side to side.  It really is remarkable when I realize how much I rely on breathing to do the work my core should be doing!

I’m looking forward to seeing how more practice with SAR will affect my swimming.  Even if it turns out to be a failed experiment, I believe that experimentation and evaluation is the only way that anyone ever gets better!

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana