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The explanation for it's origination: Training sets for the Channel by Micheal Oram

Question - "explain why this set is considered a benchmark for EC swimming" -Niek

Answer - only the swimmers that use the set will be able to give you the reasons, there is a lot of them so hopefully they will give you their answers via the chat site.

Below is the explanation for it's origination.

The benchmark test is something I (Michael Oram)  have put together to help swimmers that have asked me how they can assess themselves and what sort of training program they can use for English Channel swim training, or many of the other open water swimming that pushes their limits. It is only considered to be a benchmark for English Channel swimming by a swimmer who wants to add it to their training program or use my suggestions to help prepare themselves for such a swim. It is for the individual to decide if such a swim exercise is for them. It is a guideline that a swimmer can adapt or totally re-write to suit there personal training, it is also an indication of what they need to do and how to do it if they want to write their own program.  It should be considered as a small part of the TBC method of preparing for swims and pushing the limits of life. As I often say --

"Know your limitations before you exceed them - as you will have to exceed them to reach your goal".

"You can lie to everyone else but you must be honest with yourself".

& "Nothing great is easy".

Basically it is a program that shows how to put together an assessment system to replace the "Dreams" with "reality" -

It exposes the true concept of the effort and abilities required to go "outside your box" and hopefully understand what you are trying / wanting to achieve.

It gives you a means of accessing your training progress by repeating a known training set that can be recorded, timed and allows self analysis.

I have lived my life continually pushing my limits and discovering new limits while having to repeatedly try to understand my reasons.  

I have also often had to give myself a good talking to regarding my expectations, hopefully this system will short cut the learning curve and give some direction.

With the benchmark program I have tried to give swimmers that have asked for guidance a quick and easy way of getting in touch with reality.

What they do with that reality is entirely up to them.

The program is an ongoing exercise that can give answers to quite a few of the question I am asked.

It is simply constructed and based on about an hour of hard training in the pool, or multiple of the hour depending on the time available and the ability to continue.

The distance is set to the hourly swim rate in the middle range of a channel swim timing for a 12 to 14 hour. It is designed to give an idea of the crossing time that can be achieved with various swim rates using about 1.62 nautical miles - 3240 yards - 3050 metres in 60 minutes as a "benchmark". Used in conjunction with the other information on English Channel distances it will hopefully imprint on the swimmer what happens when how and why and how essential discipline is during the actual swim.

One of my many quotes is -

"Swimmers live on adrenaline and dreams - pilots work on reality and safety". Without guidance to the reality a swimmer will find it hard to understand the parameters they are entering in to.

The next question is possibly --

What qualifications do I have to offer my advice -- None officially -- unofficially I have a lot of experience with the rich pattern of life, a bit of street cred, and a lot of learning from my mistakes. I have been involved in channel swimming piloting for over 30 years with something like 700+ channel escort crossings under my belt -- I have been involved in swimming, both pool and open water, for 55 years.

I have  taken an active role for many years in giving my opinion to swimmers that have asked me for help with the background work to their training. The "benchmark" training set and all the other suggestions I have put into print are just my personal suggestions.

Many years ago - when I was a youngster - I was a competition pool swimmer and enjoyed the club life and gala activities of competitive swimming. I wanted however to swim in open water as I spent a lot of time in the sea, mostly at Deal (just along the coast from Dover), rivers and lakes. My club trainer and coach did not however enjoy the same train of thought and said I had to choose the swimming I wanted to do as in his opinion they did not go together especially at the high competition level as they had conflicting swim techniques. Being a stubborn (and at the time hot headed) youngster I disagreed and started sorting out my own training programs to enable me to enjoy both. That was the origin of my TBC (Total Body Confusion) training.

Personally: I answer questions when asked and give out my opinion for people to evaluate and act on as they choose. Direction is the one thing in life that I have discovered is needed, if for no other reason than to promote change. The "benchmark test" is just a direction for you to look at, access and use or discard as you wish.

I hope this has answered the question?


Michael Oram

added 01-01-2014:

For some reason my suggested "benchmark test" seems to have stirred up a lot of comment and touched on a few raw nerves this time around, and I have had a lot of feedback questions reference it. I'm not sure why as it has been around for quite a few years now chat site and English Channel wise.

Firstly it is only an example of a "benchmark" training swim, anybody can put together their own program, distance and time if they prefer.

Secondly - managing one hour in a good time in the warm water of the pool is no indication to how you will fair over longer distances in open water. The Channel is around 19 nautical miles across. That's 38,000 yards & 35,200 metres. --- Or around 12 to 15 benchmark swims --- and there are wind, waves and escort boats when you are in the sea. The word "Benchmark" refers to a reference point that you can use to compare your swimming by, with the hope that you will get a better understanding of working with the clock and an understanding of "reality".

For those that have asked specifically:

The backstroke is in the swim set as a stretching exercise. 

Including Bilateral breathing is a good addition and every Channel swimmer should be able to do - but up to you if you add it.

My training includes both bilateral breathing, (my choice is either 3 & 3 or 6 & 6 to each side along with a non breath in the change over (hope I have explained that well enough).

and -

substituting multiple lengths using the roll strokes (one arm freestyle one arm backstroke), roll swimming a length clockwise then a length anticlockwise. It does the same thing reference the stretching and I found it also helps swimmers with motion sickness. (it does however require perseverance to get used to it and swim in a straight line).

I have mentioned these variations to show you can do whatever you want just as long as it isn't an easy swim. It is up to you what you choose to put in your personal "benchmark" swim to fill the lengths up. Keep whatever you choose the same throughout your training and record the results so that you can compare and get a picture of your progress. You can include any other sets you want / have time for. The internet is full an extreme examples of pushing the limits for personal satisfaction.

Just try and keep to the distance/ hour ratio so that you are working on around multiples of hour swims so that you can work out a realistic time for completing your target swim. The distance of about 1.62 nautical miles in 60 minutes was just chosen for the middle ground of Channel swimming from which you can assess you abilities. 

Remember to - enjoy - pat yourself on the back - and reward yourself for good behaviour - and take time off. This is your sport and you don't want it to become a chore. Positive thoughts and actions is what the target is. Physical effort is only part of this swim the mental attitude is what will get you there. Speed is only a priority in the pool swimmers world.

Michael O