04 August 2020

Zara Dampney shares her swimming fitness success

October 9, 2014

Like all elite athletes Zara Dampney, one of the UK’s leading Beach Volleyball players, is constantly looking for new ways to gain a competitive edge, so when offered the chance to try a six-week swimming programme she jumped at the chance. Little did she know that in just 12 sessions she would achieve such impressive results. Zara explains;


I trained really very hard for London 2012 and that included interval training, running and very sport-specific training on sand. But the longer you train, the harder it is to find something that makes a big difference because your muscles get so used to what you are asking them to do.

Doing the same training can get boring too, which means you don’t work-out so well, so it’s important to mix things up a bit.

Getting older also means I have to look closely at what I do, sometimes impact sports can be damaging and like anyone else I really want to try and avoid injury. By making a change and adding a new aspect to my training, I was able to accelerate improvement, which has been really fantastic.

The process started with Karen Pickering giving me an assessment to see what level I was at – that was pretty intimidating!  I would say I was pretty average, but of course Karen was lovely and very kind!

Karen then devised a programme that involved two sessions a week for six weeks tailored specifically for me. So just 12 sessions, which is really not that much.


Each session I swam around 1500 metres (60 lengths of a 25m pool). The session included various exercises, like legs only and using paddles on my hands to add to the resistance. I also did things like breathing only every 7th stroke, which was really tough. But it mixed it all up and made the session go much quicker because it was so interesting.

The whole session lasted around 45 minutes, a relatively short effort for me, so I was amazed at how much my fitness improved during this time. By the end of the six weeks I had moved up a whole level on my VO2 max test and my strength and power improved significantly too.

I’ve really got the bug now, I never dreaded the sessions and found it really therapeutic. It was good for my body and mind, by around length ten I could literally feel all my aches and pains go and I really relaxed into it – I am definitely going to carry on swimming now and especially as I get older.

My aim now is Rio 2016, but that will take a lot of effort and first we have to qualify through the continental cup. Unfortunately our region (Europe) is very strong so it won’t be easy, so any opportunity to find that edge is really important.

The Women’s Sports Magazine

Zara wears swimsuits by Speedo. Above top: Black Solid Rippleback swimsuit £21. Above below: Coral Pinnacle Kickback swimsuit £54.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Select a sport

Find out how to get started, training plans and expert advice.