Like in all fitness routines, plateaus are quite common in swimming if not more so. You swim for weeks and weeks and think you are improving, but after you do a TT, you find that you have only shaved off a few seconds. Or after every sprint, you feel like you have given your all and are completely wiped only to see marginal gains (if not slower times) on the clock. Plateaus are frustrating to say the very least. It would seem that all your work and effort are for nothing. But instead of throwing in the towel and giving up completely, you can use plateaus as a way to improve.
The reason for plateaus are two fold and highly dependent upon where you are in your swim journey. If you are just a beginner then, plateaus are usually a sign of issues with your form, which would explain why your times are not getting better. If your form is off, then no matter how much muscle you put into your stroke you are only going to improve so much; most of that added energy you are applying will be used to push you left and right rather than forward. The biggest issues with form which lead to plateaus or lack of progress are:
- Body position such as sinking hips and legs, lack of rotation,
- Pull mechanics like crossing over, straight arm pull, breaking wrist
- Breathing like holding your breath, lifting your head, breathing at the wrong time
To break through this plateau and start making serious gains again, you need to fix the above problems by going back to the basics. Simple drills like deadman’s float, 6/3/6, high elbow, fingertip drag and catchup should fix the above issues. After your form is remedied that extra effort you put into each kick and pull will propel you forward more efficiently and more powerfully, leading to faster times.
But what if your form is already good? In this case, you need to change up your training. Like in any sport, if you are not improving then something needs to change. Usually this means adding intensity to your program. Many athletes that I see have really good form but all they are doing is swimming in zone 2 or lower. Long and slow will only take you so far until the stress is not enough to cause a reaction. In this case take a step back and focus on short sprints of 25-200m at a very high intensity.
It could also be that you are not swimming enough in which case try increasing your distance and/or include another swim per week. Other, more advanced ways to break through plateaus and improve is including power sets with a weight rack (if your pool has one and allows you to use it), paddles, Vasa Swim Erg workouts (my favorite), drag suits, bands around your ankles, and swim parachutes. I wills say those that these are for use when and only when your form is at a good state; if you are still struggling with the basics, these will not help much at all and make you at risk of injury.
Plateaus are certainly frustrating but with some analysis and hard work, you will get to the next level guaranteed.
Coach Chris and Kev