Answering Questions About Channel Swimming

July 22, 2016

swim the channel swimming questions answers
Did you watch the documentary film on BBC4 this week – “Swim The Channel”? It was a touching, very honest look into a world most people know very little about.

I know a fair bit about this random topic – I swam the English Channel solo in 2004 and again in 2008, and have also been part of a relay team that swam there and back. I also swam around Jersey in 2007.

This blog has a decent amount of posts, pages, and FAQs about Channel swimming. So I’m not surprised to see that lots of people have found their way here this week, from Googling various Channel swim-related search terms.

Here follows the laziest blog post ever a timely and responsive blog post 😉 , using exact search terms people have Googled… and answering them.

“what fat do they use on people swimming the channel”

As far as I know, it’s still Vaseline or similar. That’s what Barrie (the guy you saw “greasing people up” on the BBC4 film) used on me last time his be-gloved hand smeared its way around my armpits. I recall (all too vividly) the one day in training that we all tried something different. It wasn’t good. We emerged from our 6+ hour training swims that day red raw and chafed to smithereens. Back to Vaseline, please!

“cover body on goose fat for swimming”

I’m not sure what the three people who typed this into Google meant. Let’s have a guess….why do/do Channel swimmers cover their entire body with goose fat for swimming?

They don’t. I believe they did, once, many many decades ago. They certainly used lanolin (“sheep grease”). If you have a picture in your mind of a Channel swimmer coated head to toe in a thick white layer, that’s probably where you’ve got the idea of “goose fat” from. It’s kind of a Channel myth which won’t die.

Nobody uses goose fat, goose grease, or indeed lanolin any more. It stinks, it’s heavy, it gets cold and breaks off in chunks, and it covers everything it comes into contact with (including your goggles, and your pilot boat when you get in).

“why do swimmers wear goose fat”

See above. They don’t. Goose fat is for excellent roast potatoes, not for swimmers.

“why do swimmers grease up”

To prevent chafing. Think about it: hours and hours (9 if you’re fast, and lucky, 24+ if you’re not) of swimming in salt water. Your costume will chafe you. Your own skin will chafe you. Chaps, your stubble will scratch your shoulders as you turn your head repeatedly to breathe. Even if you shave before leaving for Dover marina, by the time you finish your swim it may be starting to grow back (if you are uber-manly).

A Channel swimmer might maintain a stroke rate of 60 spm during the swim. The average swim time is probably 15 hours. That’s 50,000+ turns of the arms. 50,000 times the armpit skin will rub against itself. 50,000 times your thighs might rub together. “Grease” (Vaseline) goes some way to easing the chafing.

It’s not to keep warm.

“channel swimmers why grease duck fat”

See above. No. This myth is strong in this one!

“why 6 hour swim Channel swim”

I think the four people who Googled this are referring to the 6-hour qualifying swim which was mentioned in the BBC4 film. To be eligible to swim the Channel, you need to do various things (including a medical) – one of which is complete a 6-hour swim in water of relevant temperature. This is part of the paperwork. If you haven’t done your qualifying training swim, you won’t be able to start your swim.

Ideally, that’s the very least you’d do. Be realistic – your Channel swim is likely to take 12+ hours. If you’ve only ever done one 6-hour swim, you have no idea how your body and mind cope from 6:01 until…whenever you finish. I swam in late July, and I did 7 hours (Saturday) and 6 hours (Sunday) several times. If your swim is later in the season, you should be doing 7+7 or 7+6 as often as possible. It sucks, but not as much as aborting your swim at 7 hours because you haven’t prepared properly.

Think of your 6-hour qualifying swim as a milestone in training, not the end goal.

“swim channel in dark why”

Channel swims set off according to tide times. So – unless you’re very fast, or swimming on the longest day of the year – you will probably swim through darkness for some portion of your swim. Both mine started at around 2am (just a coincidence). So I started in pitch dark, and swam through the dawn. It was beautiful, one of my most cherished memories, and something I can’t really put into words. Other swimmers might “land” (finish) their swims in the dark. Just one of those things!

“why do cross channel swimmers not wear wetsuits”

They can do. You are allowed to swim the Channel in a wetsuit. But it won’t “count” as an official Channel swim, and you will not be listed in the record books or the lists of successful Channel swimmers. Why? It’s just the way it is. The rules of real Channel swims state you can wear a swim suit, hat, goggles, ear plugs, and a lightstick for night swimming. That’s it. It’s a bit like asking “why can marathon runners not use roller skates?” They could. They’d still cover the 26.2 miles. But they wouldn’t be in the list of people who ran it.

There are various challenges that involve swimming across the English Channel, wearing a wetsuit. Arch to Arc is one such challenge. Clearly if you do that, you would have “swum the Channel” as part of “completing the Arch to Arc”. But you wouldn’t be able to say you were a “proper” Channel swimmer.

I hope that doesn’t sound elitist. It’s just the rules of a very old (and purist) sport.

Hope that was useful or at least interesting! Do you have any questions about Channel swimming?

I have another Channel swimming blog post planned after watching the BBC4 Swim The Channel film this week. I’ll get to it!

Answering Questions About Channel Swimming is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


“Oceans Seven” Adam Walker on ocean swimming technique

January 11, 2016

Those of you who’ve known me (or the blog) for long enough will know about my other life.

Back in the day, I used to be a swimmer. Specifically, a Channel swimmer. I’ve swum the Channel twice and done other long open-water solo swims. (You can read more about all that here).

But Adam Walker‘s sea swimming accomplishments are something else. Adam was the first British person to complete “Oceans Seven”, thought to be the toughest seven sea swims in the world:

– English Channel 2008 (finished 11 hours 35 mins)
– Two-way Gibraltar Straits 2010 (finished 9 hours 39 mins – he broke the British Record one way and was the first Brit to swim back)
– Molokai Straits in Hawaii 2012 (17 hours 2 mins)
– Catalina Channel in USA 2012 (12 hours 15 mins)
– Tsugaru Channel in Japan 2013 (15 hours 31 mins) (the first British person to complete this swim)
– Cook Straits in New Zealand 2014 (8 hours 36 mins)
– North Channel Ireland to Scotland 2014 (10 hours 45 mins)
AdamW-0265-2t_sm
So when Adam asked if he could grab a guest-blog spot on TFW, I had no hesitation. If I still have any open-water swimming readers, Adam’s story and stroke technique advice will be golden for you. And for the rest of you? Be inspired by his story, and consider reading his book “Man Vs Ocean” by Adam Walker (published by John Blake Publishing and available at Amazon here – Man Vs Ocean, Adam Walker, Amazon).
Man V Ocean Book Jacket

Over to Adam for some serious technique talk.

On 6 Aug 2014 I became the first British person to swim the hardest seven ocean swims in the world, known as the Oceans Seven.

My swim stroke was the conventional style of a high head and winding my arms, entering long and flat.

I trained with this style for 18 months, resulting in a ruptured bicep tendon whilst swimming the English Channel. Having completed the swim I had to have two operations. The surgeon told me that the bicep tendon had attached itself to the supraspinatus, and they were unable to separate them. He advised me to give up swimming as the arm rotations would irritate it and cause more injury. He said “If you do another long swim you will have serious long term problems!”

Giving up was not an option for me. I love the sport so much. So I began studying the front crawl stroke and how to take pressure off the shoulder, limiting irritation, and becoming more efficient.

At this stage I wasn’t concerned with speed, I just wanted to find a way to prolong my swimming career. Here’s what I learned.

Head position

After many months of practice and video analysis I established that having a still head looking downwards is critical in the stroke: if it’s not still, you could zigzag.

If you immerse your head then your legs will come up if you are on your side. It’s better to work with the water than lift your head up (which takes energy), not beneficial when the head is the heaviest part of the body.

Core movement

I thought about other sports such as golf, cricket, bowling, tennis and cross country skiing – they all use core stomach muscles to instigate the initial phase. Therefore it didn’t make sense for me not to use rotation as part of the swim stroke.

Rotating using the core only, allowing the hips to push the arms forward instead of throwing them overhead had a number of big benefits:

– Using fewer muscles
– Less impact when entering the water
– Reduced pressure on the shoulders
– Stronger propulsion in the stroke
– More length out of the stroke

If I drive the arm/hand into the water, I am using my chest as well to do this, using more muscles than necessary. Using the core helped keep my hand and arms as wide as my hips. If your chest dominates, more often than not they will drive into the centre line, particularly when you breathe.

You will then have to push them out again in order to pull back which takes time and is an added unnecessary movement. By driving them into the centre you have the potential to pinch tendons and cause friction which will eventually tether and cause significant damage (something unfortunately I know a lot about!)

Early arm entry

I was taught to enter my hand into the water as far out in front as possible to gain a good pull. However, if your hand enters the water early with a bent elbow and then extends under water this creates less resistance and will take pressure off your shoulders.

If you think about diving off a block in a race, they only allow you to go 15 metres under water. Why? Because you are faster under water than you are on top of the water. Therefore the sooner you get your hand and arm into the water the better.

Recovery arm

I discovered that by holding the front recovery arm in place until the stroking arm is just about to enter the water, I gained constant momentum. This aids with stability, which is necessary if you get knocked by a competitor or if a wave is about to hit you. This happened to me in the English Channel with my old stroke and I was flipped onto my back.

Pulling

Pulling to your hip only is your ‘power section’ – beyond that it turns into a tricep movement with your power significantly reduced and delaying the time needed to get your hand back in for the catch.

Leg kick

My leg kick is just enough to keep me afloat, nothing too vigorous. 70% of energy is used up in your legs and you don’t get that benefit back. The kick is a sideways kick as you are swimming hip to hip (never flat).

By carrying out a simple two-beat kick I’m not wasting excess energy and am limiting the calories burnt. This is also important in colder temperatures.

My suggestion is to swim the majority of a triathlon with a two-beat kick, then kick a little more in the final 50m or so to get blood flow into the legs in readiness for transition. The limited leg kick will serve you in good stead when you get onto the bike as they have had limited use. On my 17 hour Hawaii swim, when I climbed out of the water, my legs were so fresh they didn’t feel as if they had be used.

How my new stroke technique has saved my career

This stroke, which my clients are calling ‘The Ocean Walker’ technique, has not only saved my swimming career but meant I was the fastest man on a 21-mile two-way swim in Windermere, and completed all seven channels including fastest British crossing of Gibraltar Straits one-way, and became the first British person to do a two-way crossing.

I’ve had three operations in total on my left shoulder, I can’t sleep on that side and I can’t hold over 10 kilos of weight with a straight arm, yet with the ‘Ocean Walker’ stroke I can swim 17 hours and am 1:15 mins faster over 1,500 metres and 5secs faster per 100 metres.

And my stroke rate has gone down from an average of 72 SPM to 52 SPM, showing that holding form in the stroke is generating more speed. I am saving 1200 strokes per hour! I am not pulling any harder than I did previously, actually if anything I am pulling with less power, showing the importance of body position and efficiency.

What I have realised is the key to swimming efficiently is to make the water work with you. By being relaxed, getting body position right and reducing resistance you will go faster.

The best athletes in the world are normally the ones who make it look effortless, use timing to their advantage and are efficient in what they do. Just look at Roger Federer or Usain Bolt!.

(It’s me, Nic, back again…. 😉 )

Thank you Adam, what an incredible amount of information. For more information on the ‘Ocean Walker’ stroke and Adam’s swim camps and 1-1 coaching, go to Ocean Walker.

Want to read more about Adam’s amazing swims? He’s on a “blog tour” and here’s where you’ll find him:
Man vs Ocean blog tour banner

“Oceans Seven” Adam Walker on ocean swimming technique is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


My Olympics: day six, 100m freestyle (swimming)

August 2, 2012

In this blog series, I take inspiration from one of the day’s Olympic events. Today: the 100m freestyle (swimming).

Sorry about yesterday by the way. I did actually do football, but only with my dog, and he’s not much good with the camera.

As I said in this morning’s Conditioning Chronicles post, I do have a swimming background. Most certainly not a sprinting one, though, and not even really a competitive one. Yes, I have swum in swimming clubs but mainly for the structured training. I was always in either the bottom (slowest) lane apart from one year where I reached the heady heights of second lane in. Open-water solo swims were my thing, slow and steady winning that particular race (if the tide and weather were kind).

Today I tackled the 100m freestyle. This evening, eight of the world’s fastest female freestyle swimmers took to the pool at the Aquatics Centre to blast out two lengths – 100m – to see who would take home the Gold. Our lady Fran Halsall, who qualified in 53.77, came 6th. The winner, Ranomi Kromowidjojo took Gold (the first non-American nation to take a Gold in the pool this Olympics!) in a time of 53:00 – a new Olympic record.

Somewhere in Berkshire, the 9th member of this illustrious crew was limbering up for her own 100m final. It was qualifier, quarter final, semi final and final all rolled into one, cos I wasn’t going to do it again! I wondered if the short course (25m) pool would seriously hamper my blistering pace. I wondered whether I’d be able to manage one tumble turn. I decided against diving in.

The World Record is 52.07
The Olympic Record is 53:00
My time? 1:32:00 🙂

Kromowidjojo, love, your Gold medal is safe. Enjoy it.

How have the London 2012 Olympic Games inspired you today?

My Olympics: day six, 100m freestyle (swimming) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness

August 2, 2012

With 6 weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.


Today’s installment of the Conditioning Chronicles needs a bit of background.

I used to be a swimmer. I wasn’t much of a speed-demon in the pool but I could grit it out through hell and high water – and did, swimming the English Channel twice (and the length of Windermere once, and round the Channel island of Jersey) with all the long, long training such swims demand.

So, when I approached my good friend Ellie Barnes of Barnes Fitness with the familiar plea of “get me lean!” (the battle-cry of every Conditioning Chronicle), I did so with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach (nothing to do with my fibre supplements). Because I knew that Ellie would either put me on a turbo trainer, make me sprint round a track or – worst of all – pop me in a pool.

Ellie is a Personal Trainer at Reading-based Barnes Fitness, and a very accomplished athlete in her own right. In fact, she has been selected to represent Great Britain as an age-grouper at this year’s World triathlon championships in New Zealand. You can support her here, and I urge you to do so if you can.


I met Ellie at a local pool (outdoors – lovely!) and I’m not joking when I say I was really apprehensive. It was a fear and dread which ran much deeper than “this is going to hurt” or “I’m not sure I can even do this sport”. In fact quite the opposite – I know I can do it, and I know because I’ve done so, so much of it. Hours and hours of training in the cold sea (I’m talking 7 hours on Saturdays and then 6 hours on Sundays) does build up a kind of trepidation on a cellular level. It wasn’t just my brain which was nervous. It was my body. Don’t get me wrong, I love swimming and will always adore it. We just have a tempestuous history and needed a bit of time apart. We haven’t spoken for a while and it was going to be… awkward.

I also had no idea if I could even swim any more. I haven’t done it in ages. I sometimes have anxiety dreams where I’m swimming through glue, or can’t lift my hands out of the water for the recovery phase of the stroke.

Hopefully by now you have some idea of the frame of mind I was in before today’s conditioning session! 😉

Ellie is a great coach and a good friend and put me at ease in no time. We did some mobility work before I lowered myself into the water and set off on a 200m freestyle warm up. My arms worked! My hands didn’t get stuck in the water! I was actually moving. This was OK. I could even tumbleturn still (well, sometimes).

After that I did:
– 100m for time (more on that later)
– 1x200m (this was meant to be 4x200m but I wasn’t feeling the love and asked if we could do shorter intervals instead) – 3:38. We did this using paddles and fins (flippers) to work on power.
– 4x50m – 44s, 47s, 50s (oops), 47s
– a kick set (100m with fins/flippers, 50m without)
– 100m backstroke cool down (ahhhh)

For the amazing, earth-shattering, flabbergasting total of… 1150m. Haha!

Here’s me during the 200m with fins and paddles

And me barely moving during the bit of kickset where I wasn’t wearing fins! This was truly agony (I did a very heavy squat session yesterday).

Ellie said:

“When you asked me to help you with a conditioning session, I wondered whether you’d feel more comfortable with longer intervals of 3-4 minutes (aerobic) or shorter bursts which would call on your anaerobic energy system. I think we can see from today’s set that you find anaerobic efforts easier, hence cutting the planned 4×200 short and turning it into 50m repeats instead. This isn’t really surprising since your weights work is probably quite explosive and, even though you might do a lot of volume and several sets, you’ll be taking a recovery after every set. So you don’t often ask your body to work at a relatively high level for 4+ minutes.”

This is definitely true – even my longest weights set might only be 20 reps (even when I sometimes do a very high rep squat set of 40 reps, it certainly doesn’t take me 3 or 4 minutes to complete the set) so most of my “intervals” or work periods are short, with a recovery. Even when I head out for long cardio, on my road bike for instance, there are still long periods of recovery between efforts like hill climbs.

I was interested in the effects of a short swim session on “pump” so did a bit of posing (I have no shame, bodybuilding has seen to that!), here we go:



Verdict: tough during the intervals but I recovered quickly. Will be interested to see effect on metabolism (hunger?) later today…

Thank you, Ellie at Barnes Fitness! 🙂

The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Byline in The Washington Post (and “Swim: Why We Love The Water” giveaway)

June 27, 2012

I don’t just train. I do a bit of work, too 😉 I work as a freelance writer, doing both editorial work (features in consumer magazines, mostly, but some trade/industry publications, too) and commercial work as a copywriter (content for B2B clients, B2C clients and agencies).

I don’t often blog about work (I probably should do so more often), in fact there are only a handful of work-related posts on this blog:

Where you could have found my byline back in May 2010
How to engage with fitness journalists and bloggers
How I became a freelance writer (and other FAQs)
More bylines
My favourite commissions (at that point!)
A few fitness copywriting examples
– And a few more here.
The importance of quality content for fitness professionals

You can also check out some of my clients on my Pinterest board “my lovely clients” (cos they are all lovely – one of the benefits of being freelance is that you don’t have to work with the non-lovely ones).

On the whole, I am excited by everything I write. Every new commission still gives me a thrill, even after eight years. However, this one’s a bit special and I’d really like to shout about it. Indulge me, please. I promise we’ll be back to photos of my weightlifting belt and reviews of protein powders soon 😉

In March, I was contacted by someone who purported to be a commissioning Editor at The Washington Post. Yeah right, I thought. Ha ha! But… it’s not quite 1st April. So maybe this isn’t an April Fool. Sure enough, it was real. The Washington Post had been looking for a book reviewer for the book “Swim: Why We Love The Water” and had found me. (For those of you who have only known me, or this blog, since I took up bodybuilding, you need to know that I come from a swimming background and have swum the English Channel twice). The Editor had read a few of my articles, blog posts and online features about swimming and decided to approach me.

I was very excited. I mean, come on. The Washington Post?

The review came out and is still online here.

Would you like to win a copy of Lynn Sherr’s book, “Swim: Why We Love The Water”? Because you can. I have a spare copy here (not the review copy with my bits of paper stuck all over it).

To win, please:
1) “Like” “Swim: Why We Love The Water” Facebook page
2) Tweet a link to this blog post, including my Twitter name (@thefitwriter) and Lynn’s (@LynnSherr) and include the hashtag #SWIM in your Tweet
3) Come and leave a comment on this blog post to let me know you’ve done those two things… and then tell me your most memorable swimming experience. I’d love to hear about it, no matter where or when it was. Pool, sea, lake or lido… tell me 🙂

Byline in The Washington Post (and “Swim: Why We Love The Water” giveaway) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


thefitwriter on BBC Radio 4

August 17, 2011

Hi all! Just a very quick one – remember when I was interviewed by the BBC about triathlon, whilst coaching open-water swimming down at Dorney?

The interview finally aired last night as part of BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight show. You can listen again here I believe. (Tuesday 16th August) I think it’s towards the end of the programme – I haven’t had a chance to listen yet myself!

Here’s the relevant section of the show http://www.webfilehost.com/?mode=viewupload&id=9997435

thefitwriter on BBC Radio 4 is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Surprising similarities: Channel swimming and bodybuilding

May 29, 2011

Those of you reading who’ve known me for a few years *hi Mum!* already know that my sporting background isn’t in bodybuilding (my current challenge). New readers might be surprised to hear that I’m probably best-known for a very different type of sport: I’m a Channel swimmer. I’ve swum the English Channel twice (as a solo swim), once (as a relay swim, both there and back) and I’ve done similar swims like around the Channel Island of Jersey (USA readers: the Channel Islands are between us and France. They’re nice. Go and visit some time!)

So, when I decided to give bodybuilding/figure/physique* competition a go, I felt as if I’d taken a sudden and rather odd turn off my normal sporty track. Channel swimming had always been the big one for me, and I was also passionate about triathlon (and its component sports, swimming, road biking and running). (*back when I made the decision, I didn’t know which category I’d end up in).

Bodybuilding felt completely alien, brand-new and so far outside my comfort zone that I could just about see my comfort zone on the horizon if I looked behind me through binoculars.

However, here I am several months later and it’s dawned on me that Channel swimming and bodybuilding aren’t so different after all. Externally, yes, they’re worlds apart. But what goes on inside isn’t so different.

I’m not sure how many people out there have both swum the Channel and competed in bodybuilding but, if there are any reading, I’d love to hear your take on this in the comments.

Common themes in Channel swimming and bodybuilding

Get used to wearing swimwear
This is the theme which got me thinking about all the others. When I was training for my swims, it wasn’t unusual to spend 8… 10… 12 hours a day in a swimsuit. I thought nothing of it, it was just my kit, my uniform. OK, so the “swimsuit” I wear for bodybuilding is a little different (I’m not sure the velvet would cope for long in salt water!), but it definitely helps that I have no problem wandering around in swimwear. As a nice aside, I always used to choose to wear a two-piece swimsuit for Channel swim training (quicker to get off and therefore quicker to get warm clothes on). But they were a little bit bigger than my competition bikini!

Tweak your body fat

To swim the Channel, I had to get fat(ter). I consciously had to pack on bodyfat – and keep it there throughout all the training, in order to keep me a bit warmer. We don’t use wetsuits, so I had to grow my own under my skin.

To compete in bodybuilding, I’m having to lose bodyfat. There’s no point building all these muscles if I step on stage with them all covered up. That would be a bit like building a kit car, taking it to a show but forgetting to take the dust-sheet off.

Body temperature
This goes hand-in-hand with purposefully changing your bodyfat levels, but get used to changes in body temperature. In Channel swimming, I got so hot so easily. I gave up wearing shoes unless I had to, lived my life in shorts and t-shirts, and slept without a sheet. Partly because of the extra body fat and partly because I spent so long swimming in cold water that my body adapted and acclimatised.

During bodybuilding prep, I’m often chilly and it doesn’t take much for me to be sitting on the sofa dressed in hoodie, jeans and slippers with a rug around my shoulders. LOL!

Accept that external influences are bigger than you

In Channel swimming, you can be the fastest, strongest swimmer who’s trained better than anyone else. But if the weather’s against you, or you get sea sick and can’t hold your feeds down, you’re out. You have to accept that this thing is bigger than you. Bring your best and try your hardest, but there is always a chance you won’t make it, no matter how hard you try. That’s not defeatest. It’s realistic.

In bodybuilding, people are telling me to take the same kind of mental approach. Train hard, be as good as you can be and bring your best on the day. That’s all you can do. Then accept that external factors over which you have no control – the other competitors, the judges’ opinions, the subjectivity of judging – will play a large part in how you place on the day.

Consistency is key
Both Channel swimming and bodybuilding demand and reward consistency and compliance. In Channel swimming, you must swim regularly in cold water, or your mind and body won’t build up the physical and mental stamina they need to get you across. In bodybuilding, you must be compliant 24/7, particularly in the latter stages of prep: training, nutrition, sleep (ha!), rest, stretching, posing… there’s a lot to do and you have to be consistent. Every little decision counts. Each one can take you towards or away from your goal.

No cheating: it’s all up to you
Neither Channel swimming nor bodybuilding give you anywhere to hide. You can’t style it out. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready, and no-one can help. It is all down to you. That can be a pro or a con, depending on who you are how you take it. It totally works for me: I like relying on myself. I know what I can do (I also know what I can’t do!) and I like to get on with it. When you’re out there in the middle of the English Channel in the dark, you’re the only one who can keep your arms turning and your mind focused on how the sand will feel beneath your feet when you get to the other side. In bodybuilding, you’re the only one who can decide whether or not it’s worth eating that bit of cake, or whether it will matter if you put your weights down a kg because you’re tired.

Of course, you have people who care about you and support you in both sports: in swimming, your boat crew, the boat skipper, your personal crew, and the people back on land who are thinking of you. In bodybuilding, you probably have a coach and if you’re lucky a partner, family and friends who support you. But when it comes to the crunch, you’re the only one who can decide whether to push on or give up.

Public interest
My husband told me to put this one in: he says both sports mean you need to get used to the fact that members of the public will stare at you, come up to you and ask about training, or ask random questions, either during training or just generally. I suppose this is true but I hadn’t really thought of it!

Misconceptions
I guess both Channel swimming and bodybuilding are unusual sports, odd even. Certainly niche. That’s probably why I come across a lot of misconceptions with both past-times. Misconceptions which naturally lead to…

The top three questions…
Channel swimming:
“Do you cover yourself in goose fat?”
“How far is it?”
“Do you swim it all in one go?”

Bodybuilding:
“Will you dehydrate yourself/not drink any water in the week before your show?”
“Aren’t you worried that you’ll get all bulky/look like a man/muscle will turn to fat after you stop?”
“So you have to cut all the fat out of your diet, right, because you need to lose bodyfat?”

(And, as a bonus, my least favourite “Why do you want to do that to yourself?!” <— this from a close friend…!)

Your grocery budget will skyrocket

True story: I found a receipt the other day from a supermarket shop I did one Saturday with two Channel swimming buddies. This was just for the 48hours we were spending down in Kent. It included a big packet of dried pasta, doughnuts, bread rolls, cheese, deli meat, chocolate, milkshakes, bananas… etc. It really made me laugh, because it so instantly transported me back to that Summer, when we’d swim from 9am-4pm and then have 4:05pm-8am in which to refuel, get ready for the next day’s swim and try to pack on a little more body fat. Of course, we could have made better choices and probably should have done, but it’s damn hard to meet a Channel swimmer’s calories needs in vegetables. So we indulged at weekends. And that amount of food costs!

Now of course my diet is markedly different, but I’m still eating a lot, and the amount I spend on vegetables, egg whites and other protein sources is noticeable! (Not to mention the supplements!)

You need a mentor
I know I just said that, in both sports, it’s all down to you, but of course you can’t go it alone. You need a support system, a team, a system of accountability, expert guidance. In both sports I’ve been fortunate enough to find the perfect coach and mentor. The legend that is Freda Streeter for Channel swimming, and my coach Kat for bodybuilding. There are many, many others who have helped along the way of course (in both sports). Too many to list!

You have to like your own company
Self-explanatory!

The exhaustion

Both Channel swim training and bodybuilding training leave me exhausted right down to the marrow of my bones. I guess it’s tiredness on a metabolic level. I only realised that a lot of people don’t know what I mean, when I tried to explain it to a non-sporty friend and she genuinely could not understand what I meant.

Running and road biking never made me feel this way, even training for marathons and long sportive rides. They made me very tired, but in an achy, sleepy way. Swimming in cold water, and lifting very heavy weights, both shatter me. I might not even be sore or achy, but I am drained of energy, to the extent that even the idea of leaning down and picking something up off the floor seems too much of a challenge. I can often be found standing in one spot, staring down at a bit of mud the dog’s brought into the house. I am OK. I’m just wondering whether I can be bothered leaning down, focusing on it, picking it up and straightening back up again. Then of course I’d have to walk out of my way to the bin. It’s all a bit much, you understand? 😉

Have you done sports which seemed totally different but, actually, had similarities? What were they? Aaaand which would you rather do, swim the English Channel or enter a bodybuilding competition?

Surprising similarities: Channel swimming and bodybuilding is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


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