Level Up Your Swim

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There is a big divide between coaches.

In one camp, you have the more old school coaches who think volume is the key to success.

In essence, if you throw some meters at a swimmer, the swimmer will naturally adapt to the volume.

Their body and form will naturally adapt to extra volume. They will figure out the most efficient stroke to get it done. Drills are not as important as getting in the miles.

In the other camp, are the “drill instructors.” This camp sees drills like catchup, fist, Tarzan, 6/3/6, kicking, fingertip drag etc. as the basis of any program.

Extra volume will not help and only work against the swimmer because it will ingrain bad form. Instead, swimmers should focus on perfecting their form as much as possible.

So what camp is Tri Swim Coach in?

We are in both.

Having helped thousands (yes, thousands) of athletes become faster, confident, and more efficient swimmers, we have noticed a trend in swimmers’ progression based on their average times. What works for one end of the spectrum certainly will not work for the other end.


Form work is not going to make an already very good swimmer faster. Nor will 1000 m repeats make a beginner good.

However, what we have noticed  is that swimmers tend to naturally cluster into groups and these groups typically (KEY word there) share similar issues with similar remedies.

The below table is what we have seen as the common progression of athletes and what they need to focus on:

Average Threshold Pace (per 100m or yard)
Typical Potential Issues
What’s typically going on?
What you need to do to progress
>2:00 Balance in the water, mistimed breathing, dropping elbow, swim fitness, crossing over, confidence, feel for the water (and you in the water) Chances are your form and psychology is your biggest limiter here. To advance, you need to fix your form so that you can add on volume with good habits. You need to build the neuro pathways too! Get your swim analyzed so that you can figure out what exactly is going on get a list of prescribed drills

Get into the water 3-4 times a week with each workout focusing on your prescribed drills. Include a few 25m and 50m sets, but with perfect form and effortlessness emphasized.

2 1:45-2:00 Mistimed breathing, dropping elbow, core engagement, not swimming consistently, not getting into the water enough, not swimming enough At this stage, you most likely have relatively good form compared to stage 1 and better fitness but you still need to continue to hone your form. You are most likely more comfortable in the water and have a better feel for the water. But still have smaller issues that are slowing you down. You need to fix these to make you more efficient. Get your swim reanalyzed so that you can figure out what exactly is going on get a list of prescribed drills.

Get into the water 3-4 times a week with longer workouts. Each main set should be a mixture of form and swimming with an emphasis of carrying over the perfect form fell into your normal swimming

3 1:30-1:45 Dropping elbow, core engagement, mistimed breathing, not swimming consistently, not getting into the water enough, not swimming enough Now you are starting to see speed gains and your form is most likely looking really good. However, there are a few things that need to be tweaked. Figure these out with a video analysis and begin to focus on them in the warm up to develop that feel. Then carry that over into your main sets which should be higher in volume and intensity. Continue to work on form but more as a conscious effort in your normal swimming rather than drills, which can be used as part of the warm up.

Volume and frequency is more important here to take you to level 4..

4 1:20-30 Not swimming consistently, not getting into the water enough, not swimming enough Now it is time to start adding in more volume. To get faster at this level, you do need to swim more. 3 swims a week might not be enough to break to the next level.  Form work is there to prevent regression and help warm up. But main sets should be a good mixture of speed, force, and endurance depending on your training schedule. Build volume and get into the pool more.

Warm up with drills and keep a conscious effort to hold your form together during the main sets.

5 <1:20 Fitness You are pretty much at the pointy end of the stick (at least for triathletes) so it’s time to put in the kms. Focusing purely on form will not do much. You need to mix in a variety of speeds and distances to help you progress further. Put drills in the warm up and focus on building volume and swim fitness with a mixture of speed workouts, longer sets, and strength.

Get into the water more frequently and keep at it. Doing dry land work and supplemental work with a power rack, power tower, or Vasa SwimErg will also help.

Once again, this is what we typically see.

This is not to say that a 1:30/100m swimmer does not have issues with their form. Chances are that they do. But these (most likely) minor form issues are not holding them back as much as a 2:00/100m swimmer.

Regardless of your current level, you need to have a clear plan and structure on how to get faster. Doing laps until you fatigue will only take you so far.

What level are you? What are you going to do to level up?

Let us know and let us know how we can help!