SWIM FOR SUCCESS
Pro cyclist Richie Porte and Olympic swimmer Mark Foster reveal why time in the pool will shave minutes off your personal best
We talk to experts Richie Port and Mark Foster on how to maximise pool workouts.
We’ve said it time and again in these pages: swimming is often the Achillesʼ heel of triathletes, regularly eschewed in favour of cycling and running. However, a quick chat with pro cyclist, Richie Porte, uncovers why swimming formed a basis for his incredibly successful career in pro cycling.
“I was a swimmer originally, growing up in Australia,” says Porte. “That’s where it all started for me. But, you can probably tell why I’m not a swimmer any more!” he jokes. Porte refers to his size – he’s only 1.72m tall – comparatively miniature compared to most pro-level swimmers, which limits his reach in the water.
“So I took on triathlon as the next step, and found I got out of the water relatively quickly and really enjoyed the bike leg, because I had the engine from my swimming to do it. But then I’d find everyone would overtake me on the run, so I switched to the bike, and that’s where I am now.”
You might expect his single-minded approach to cycling to mirror other professional pedallers, but in fact Porte returns to his swimming roots regularly to benefit his cycling.
“In the off season especially, it’s nice to break up my routine with swimming. To be honest, it’s probably the sport I enjoy the most because you can jump in the pool with all this baggage and by the end of it, you get out with a clear mind,” he says, of the psychological benefits of water work.
“Physically, I’m fixed to a bike for five or six hours at a time in one position, so getting in the pool is a great way to free my body up and release tension. For me, there’s nothing better than getting on a kickboard and kicking the legs out,” he says. “It’s about active recovery, and in my opinion the pool's the best place to do that.”
Porte speaks from experience. Cyclists undergo similar time and energy taxes on their bodies as triathletes, and 2014 marked a watershed year for him. He’d had a promising early season, including second overall at the week-long Vuelta a Andalucia stage race, but then a serious chest infection derailed his plans, as he failed to take over from Britain’s Chris Froome at the Tour de France when Froome crashed out, finishing 23rd.
“At Team Sky, I was working with Tim Kerrison, who came from British Swimming, working with some of the best swimmers in the world, and he actually pushed me towards swimming. I can maintain stamina without stressing out my body. He and the team doctors told me to get back in the pool and it really helped me get over that illness.”
He’s now moved onto pastures new at the BMC team, but has continued to integrate his swimming into his cycling career. “I feel I’m at the optimum period of my career,” the 31-year-old says. “I’m still getting in and doing a few kilometres every now and then, because I really do feel the benefits."
Naturally, Porte uses his swimming to supplement his cycling, rather than using it as a fundamental component of overall performance in a given race. Now, in a collaboration with ex-world champion swimmer, Mark Foster, the pair claim swimming itself can help improve your cycling and running performance, too.
“You can jump in the pool with all this baggage and by the end of it, you get out with a clear mind”