Until recently, I was an average swimmer. There certainly was nothing special about my times. I would comfortably swim in the middle lane at masters and usually come out the water towards the back of the pack at races. I say until recently, because over the past three weeks, I have shaved off 1 whole minute from my 1k TT. That is 6s per 100m.
It may not sound like a lot but in such a short time that is a considerable jump. To do this, I did not have to dedicate my life to the pool nor cut back my other workouts and focus on swimming. I simply continued to swim 3-4 times a week at about 3500-4000m a swim.
So what changed? I attribute such a drastic increase in speed to three things:
- Focusing on key body position points: I wrote a few weeks ago about the three swim focal points: head position, hand placement, and high elbow position. By focusing on these three points, I became a much more efficient swimmer and was finally using my energy and strength to push me forward rather than to the side. In the first and second week, I dedicated each workout to just one of these. By the beginning of week 3, I was able to string each focal point together and visualize each part as I stroked.
- Nailing the flip turns: Many triathletes disregard flip turns as pointless, but they are essential to becoming a faster swimmer. By doing a proper flip turn, you essential get free speed. If you do an open turn, you break your rhythm every lap, and thus you waste time trying to find your stroke again. To improve my flip turns, I do not have to dedicate large chunks of time though. I first watched several videos on youtube before each practice and visualized myself performing one. Then during the warm-ups and cooldowns of each practice I focused entirely on doing a perfect flip turn. By then end of this training block, I had practiced enough to get the flow down almost perfectly. They are not Olympic level by any means but are enough to ensure a continuous effort and smooth stroke.
- Sprints: Efficiency and drill work is important but to become a fast swimmer you need to swim fast. My coach and I worked in sprints lasting from 25-200m into each workout, usually at the end of the main set, so that I could get the feeling of a faster cadence even with tired arms. I had to be careful with these though to not let my stroke break down. If it did, I shortened the sprint length. Even if you are a beginner, you should include some sprints, but make them short and try to maintain good form throughout. Each week gradually increase the length at which you can hold that perfect form at a high speed.
If you are working through a plateau or want to take some time off your TT pace, experiment with these three tips especially number 1 and let us know how it goes.
Coach Chris and Kev