One of the most common throw away lines I hear when speaking with athletes is ‘I need to work on my swim’. This is usually followed on by a comment around needing stroke correction or technique improvement.
My first thought and question is always ‘how long have you been swimming and how regularly do you swim?’ The answers vary however more often than not people answer their own question as to why there has been a lack of improvement. They simply aren’t in the water enough. In the age of instant gratification it seems many of us forget that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that in order to improve your swimming (or anything in life) we need to practice regularly and diligently.
Whether coaching someone purely for swimming or as part of their triathlon training, being at the pool or in the water with them to watch them swim is an essential part to help me give them the ‘right’ work for them as an individual. People seem to always assume that by simply fixing their technique that this will equate to an increase in swim speed. This is true in some cases however having worked with more and more athletes it’s not uncommon that I see people have quite a good stroke and really there is not much technique work required. Rather than changing something technique related it becomes how do we improve and this is where strength is often overlooked when it comes to swimming.
Gaining strength through a sound swim stroke is what makes people swim faster. I see a lot of people with good technique that are simply not strong enough to pull themselves through the water. Think of it from a cycling point of view, no amount of technique work is going to help you push bigger gears if you don’t push bigger gears in training.
Last year leading into Hawaii I chose to go down the path a lots of hard swim sets in order to get in good form for the race. Without going into details of sets these were very intense swim sessions, lots of over speed work (faster than race pace). Even after swimming for over 20 years I find swimming to be the most draining on the body and takes more out of me after a hard session than a hard ride or run session and longer to recover. I put this down to swimming being a ‘whole body’ sport where arms, legs and core are all very active especially at high intensity. This led me to trial a different tact this year where I dialed down the intensity and added in a lot more strength work (in the water not in the gym) to allow me to better recover for ride and runs sessions. The result? I found that by doing more strength work I wasn’t as spent for my other sessions and able to better perform riding and running being less tired. The time different between Kona ‘14’ and Kona ‘15’ in the water (based off similar conditions in the water) was 4 seconds with 57min 44sec 2014 and 57min 39sec in 2015.
It only seems logical to have the best result in the most efficient way especially when we are talking triathlon with multiple disciplines. It really needs to be viewed and programmed as 1 sport rather than training for 3 different sports. By having a very similar swim and getting this by two very different training methods, it really opened my eyes up to the fact that many athletes can be in fact training a lot smarter by doing only what they need when they need to rather than the ‘harder is better’ mentality.
So is it that you need to work on your technique or that you aren’t strong enough to maintain your technique and maximise your stroke? Chances are it’s both. One thing you can be sure of is that being in the water consistently and working on what you need individually as an athlete is going to be your best chance of improving your swim leg.
If you have any questions or you’re interested in one on one swimming/filming or triathlon coaching please contact me on 0401 614 656 or email firstname.lastname@example.org