I love to swim. I’ve been swimming since I was 6 years old and I still swim at least 5 days a week. I come up with my own workouts and swim by myself or with friends who share the same training philosophy as me. I swim much faster now than I swam when I was on a swim team in high-school and in college (over 20 years ago). How is it possible? I trained then just as hard if not harder as I train now, but I just couldn’t improve that much. The answer is technique. In swimming technique is everything. It seems like everyone understands this but only few actually work on improving it, especially triathletes.
Every triathlete or swimmer should ask him or herself how much time do I spend working on my technique? I am sure the answer in most cases would be close to 0. As a contrast, Fred Bousquet, one of the fastest swimmers in the world, spends 75 min a day on technique work. Think about it, 75 min a day doing nothing but drills!
I’ve swum with triathletes before and here is a typical workout that a lot of triathletes do: warmup 300-400, then may be a couple of 50s of kick, drill, swim and then one or more excruciatingly boring sets like 10×200 or 10×400 or even worse 4×1000. Workouts like these will never make anyone swim faster, they might actually make you swim slower and they will definitely wear you out mentally. Sure, your endurance will probably increase and you’ll be able to swim longer BUT you will still swim at same slow speed. If swimming longer, not faster, is your goal, then it’s fine. But if you want to be able to swim faster, here are a couple of things that will help you.
1. Every time you swim work on your technique. Dedicate the first 30 min of every workout to warmup and drills. All drills must be done at a slow pace – don’t rush. Learn about drills as much as you can. There is no one magic drill that will make you faster. You have to think about drills as a progression. Break down the stroke into simple parts and work on each of them, breathing being the most advanced. It will be hard in the beginning because chances are, you don’t have a good balance in the water but if you stick with it, it will get easier. Don’t expect fast results. Wear your snorkel and fins in the beginning. Once you get better, you can take them off. It takes a long time to retrain your neurological pathways. Give yourself at least a year to see results.
2. Throw away your buoy. Triathletes love to swim with buoy because buoy gives you a false sense of buoyancy, it elevates you in the water and it makes you think you swim fast. Get a bend and wrap it around your ankles when you do pull sets. You’ll quickly realize how much harder it is to pull without the buoy. Pulling with bend around your ankles will force you to develop good catch and it will make you stronger.
3. Throw away your paddles. You don’t need paddles, especially the big ones that triathletes like to use. They make your arm turnaround slower and you lose the feel of the water. If you really must wear paddles, get the small ones, not the size of a kick board that I’ve seen some triathletes wear.
4. Swim at the pace you would like to swim in your race – race pace. This is another concept that most people seem to understand but few do anything about it. Figure out your pace per 100 and then swim as much as you can at that pace. For example, if your goal pace is 1:20 per 100 then your 50 pace is 0:40 and your 25 is 0:20. Instead of swimming boring 20 x 100, break the distance and swim it at pace. Here’s one possible set:
4 rounds of broken 100 as:
round 1: 4 x 25
round 2: 25-50-25
round 3: 2 x 50
round 4: 50 + 2 x 25
all 25s on 0:20
all 50s on 0:40
Have enough rest between the rounds to be able to swim the next round at the same pace. If you can’t maintain the pace, increase the interval. If you feel like your technique is falling apart while you are trying to make the interval, slow down and increase the interval. You don’t want to develop bad habits, you probably have enough of them already.
5. Kick, kick and kick. This is probably the opposite of what you’ve been hearing from other triathletes. Most triathletes have this idea that they don’t need to kick hard or kick at all because they need to “save” legs for the bike and the run. It makes no sense. If you don’t kick in swimming, your legs start to sink and they will create a lot of drag. To overcome this drag you’ll have to work harder with your arms and as a result waste more energy. What good do fresh legs give you if you finish the swim half dead? If you work on your kick (and technique) you will become a much more efficient swimmer with stronger legs. What’s wrong with having strong legs? They can only help you on the bike and the run. If you get more efficient in the water because of kicking then you’ll finish the swim with much more energy left and your bike and run times will be faster.
Obviously, there’s much more to swimming than these 5 items, but if you consistently work on these 5 steps, next season your competition will be left behind. Happy training!