Project #SwimReboot Week 3: Take a chill pill to get faster

Posted Chris Articles, Training, Vasa Swim

(Continued from Part 2 of the #SwimReboot series)

This past week in project #swimreboot was a tough one. It was tough not because of the training was heavier or higher volume. But because of all of the other stress in life that come up in addition to training. I am sure everyone at some point has experienced this.

Over the weekend, I had to travel for work. So I could not get to the pool, the Vasa SwimErg, or on my bike. With the time commitments of the trip, running was also questionable without digging myself into a deeper stress hole and cutting out sleep.

Fortunately, though I knew about this trip ahead of time. So my coaches, Eric Neilson and Lesley Paterson, front loaded my training and put a serious bout of training stress before I left, allowing my body to recover over the trip.

Pro Tip. If you have a trip coming up that will make training difficult, plan to train a bit harder in the week leading up to the trip. This will make the trip less stressful as well as an ideal time to recover.

Since I would be out of the water and off the swim bench (i.e. the Vasa SwimErg) for several days in a row, we made sure that I got on the SwimErg each day before the trip. These workouts were not epic in length, but they definitely got the work in.

Chris_High elbow catch

As we are still in the “base phase” of this reboot, we are focusing on endurance and resistance. My workouts include the use of the damper door to add resistance while making sure that I follow through on my form and keep a high elbow. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the damper door, check out the SwimErg online. You will see a door that you can open and close at the base of the unit. This adds resistance similar to a rowing ergometer.)

These workouts were simple. So I could easily hop on the SwimErg before my bike rides in the morning or after work. So they did not cause me much stress. And, as an added bonus, kept my form fresh.

Coach Eric has told me that in order to get my swimming back I really need to be consistent in my training so that I never lose my “feel for the water.”

While the trip did not help me in this, adding these extra workouts was better than nothing. In general, something–even 10-15 minutes on the SwimErg or 500 m in the pool–is better than nothing. And since the SwimErg is right there in my training cave and the pool is right next to my lab, I have no excuse not to do get a workout in when I can.

I found that having several SwimErg sessions in a row helped me significantly. I never lost that feel for the catch and pull like I typically do after a few days off. This feel for my form directly carried over into the water in my weekly pool session. The only problem was actually getting to the pool.

For some reason, I was anxious about getting that pool set in. It could be that I was afraid of not swimming quickly, or hitting my splits, or the imaginary judgments of the swimmers around me, or the lifeguards snickering at my poor form.

On top of this, I worried about having enough time before the trip and fitting in the work I needed to do before I left. As ridiculous as these cognitive distortions sound, they were causing me serious angst. The more I worried and fretted the more I began to back out of the workout. Then it hit me:

All I had to do was show up.

The splits, the thoughts of everyone else around me, what my Garmin said, the cold water did not matter. As long as I showed up, I was making progress bit by bit. So I should relax, let go of those fears, and  just do.

This relaxed mindset also carries over into swimming itself.  You need to relax in the water to get faster. Just like in tensing up before a workout will slow you down in getting the workout in, tensing up in the water will slow you down.    

Physically, swimming fast is a different type of speed than you experience in biking or running. Just because you are trying harder does not mean you are moving faster. You could be ready to puke on the pool deck (hopefully not in the pool) and you could have swum 10s slower than you did in your warm up!


Because trying harder does not mean you are moving more efficiently.  In fact, it can mean the exact opposite and you actually get slower. Typically, when beginner swimmers (or like me those who have been out of the water for a long time and therefore are back to being a beginner) try to go fast, they:

  • Tense up their upper body.
  • Start turning over their arms faster.
  • Breathe harder and breathe more frequently to one side.

Now in cycling, if you did this, your power would rise and you would go faster. But do you know what happens in swimming? Chances are this:

  • Your stroke shortens  and exits the water before you get full extension.
  • You do not rotate to get full distance on your catch and might even begin to cross over.
  • You lose your “body connection” meaning that your upper and lower body no longer move as one, smooth unit but rather your legs do one thing and your upper body does another.
  • Your head begins to bobble and sway as you breathe harder.
  • Your breath becomes shallower.
  • You swim slower for more energy, which is a loss – loss.

So what are the first steps to getting faster?

Relax. Put the power and effort where it should go, like in quickly pulling with a high elbow, rather than focusing just on a high turnover.  

You can actually see this occurring on the SwimErg in my previous video that I posted last week. As I tensed up throughout the workout, my cadence stayed the same but my power dropped because I was not following through on my stroke and not extending.

Lower power+same cadence=slower.  

Now that I am back from my trip without any more trips to come, I can get back to work. All I have to do is show up and relax. Stay tuned for Part 4 of the #SwimReboot series next week…and please share with anyone you think could benefit from this!

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