How to Swim Fast

I thought I would follow up on my previous post with a bit of specificity in regards to what can be done at the pool to become a better swimmer.  When I look back to my beginning days in the pool, 25 yards was a challenge and I would simply swim back and forth.  I wasn’t sure what the pace clock was, nor how to use it. I had no clue about lane etiquette and thought I had to look pretty to swim fast.

Fast forward a few years . . .  because of the people I have chosen to listen to, I’ve learned a few things and thought I would share.

First, because we are training for open water swimming in a mass start situation, we do not have to look pretty to go fast.  The most important step in learning to swim is finding a position in the water that gives us good balance. (If you are reading this, you most likely have that.)  Although good technique is part of the equation, there also comes a time when we just need to swim hard.

In my opinion, we tend to complicate our swim training, and if we simply break it down into 3 parts we will be ahead of the curve.

  1. Learn Balance-most do this
  2. Build Fitness-some do this
  3. Learn How to Race in Open Water-I am amazed at how few spend the time to learn open water racing skills

Notice no mention of a single workout or main set.  In general, we overvalue the workouts that people like myself provide.  The main limiter 90% of the field (your competition) has when it comes to swimming is a simple lack of swim fitness and race execution!  So, to flip that around, we can get ahead of those we compete against by simply swimming more and understanding open water swim skills.  In other words, specific sets and fancy swim schools are not limiting us!  However, that is what I see my competition doing to get good.  This is one of the reasons a former fat guy like myself can come out of the water ahead of those I’m racing–I only care about the 3 things above.

By the time what we specifically do in the pool matters and Popov-like technique matters, we will not care anymore.  To clarify this point, we should ask ourselves if we would care about our specific sets and how we looked if we came out of the water in the top 2-5%?

That is the irony….It is only at that point that extreme specificity and microscopic technique matter!  At that point, we are competing against squad swimmers (people swimming since they were 6), and folks swimming 25k a week.Realize that if we are coming out in the bottom two-thirds of the field, we are likely competing against people who swim 6-7k per week and folks who spend endless hours thinking about making their stroke perfect.  The fastest way past these people is to do twice as much work!  Why over think it?  Swim 12-15k and we will beat them.I will admit there are outliers….folks who swim 15-20k and simply don’t get faster–don’t feel bad for them….with that kind of work ethic they are fast on the bike and run, and still beat 95% of the field.So, with that established, we’ll be talking about the above steps over the next few posts.

1-Find Balance.  This is where programs like Total Immersion and video analysis can have some value.  There are plenty of drills within that book that can help us find our balance; get it and learn them.  Video analysis is another aspect that can help with this.

Some tips for finding balance:

  • Relax.  A lot of folks panic in the water without even realizing it.  They are stiff and uncomfortable; by simply relaxing they are able to focus on balancing in the water.
  • “Press Your Buoy”. This is a Total Immersion term.  Our lungs are full of air, and this is one reason why we float.  By pressing our chest into the water, we can manipulate our upper and lower body position.

Here is a drill to help find balance in the water:—learn-to-swim-freestyle—step-1.html

Once we have a descent feel for balance, which should take a focused individual 3 weeks or so, it is time to start swimming to build fitness.

Next week we will discuss some basic workouts to help build that motor, and in the following post we will talk about how to put it all together in the open water.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that getting to T1 with the front of the pack is any different than most things in life–you must outwork those in front of you.

Swim hard.

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