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Tips to Faster Swimming for Triathletes

I often get asked, “How many days per week should I swim if I want to get faster?” There are a number of factors that determine the answer to that question. These include things such as: your level of experience, current fitness level, and your technique. Fast swimming is driven predominately by technique- roughly 80% of your speed is how efficient you are! Schedule a stroke analysis to correct imbalances and inefficiencies in your stroke before spending significant time in the water engraining bad habits. Additionally, this is key for injury prevention. You will be gaining “free speed” by practicing proper technique.

Once you’ve got the proper form and technique down, I usually recommend 2-3 days per week for beginners, and for more seasoned athletes, 3-5 days per week.

Incorporating these tips into your swimming program will help you progress towards your goals!

Quality Sessions

Swim workouts should be structured. Getting into the pool and swimming countless laps with limited stimulation or no change in energy systems will negatively impact performance. I personally have my athletes do an 800 and a 100 ALL OUT in order to establish individual paces for their workout goals. In addition, quality sessions should include “send off intervals,” which are established by a time trial. The send off is the interval or time on which you begin each repeat of the set. For instance, if your set is 6x50 yards on 1:00, the send off is 1:00. If you swim a 50y in 50-seconds, you will have 10 -seconds of rest before you leave again for the next repeat. Joining a club or a master’s team is another way to get in quality sessions. Swimming with individuals slightly faster than you that will help push you to that next level!

Drills/Kicking/Band

Improvement comes with practice. This usually involves drill work and the use of training equipment that aid in stroke development, power, strength, and speed. My favorite drill is one arm swimming. It allows a swimmer to focus on one side of the body: body roll, reach, the pull phase, hip rotation, and the finish of the stroke. Yes, triathletes need to develop a strong kick- there is no such thing as “saving the legs for the bike and run”. By developing your kick you will have less leg fatigue and better balance and propulsion in the water. If you’re a seasoned swimmer you’re familiar with the “band”. The band/TheraBand goes around your ankles. It limits kicking while keeping your lower extremities together. By using a band, one can quickly learn how to engage the prime core muscles, balance in water, and swim with a powerful and smooth stroke. When learning how to swim with a band I always recommend using a buoy for buoyancy while getting comfortable with this technique. First the buoy can be placed in between the legs above the knees, next at ankles before advancing to swimming with the band alone.

Targeting different energy systems

To swim faster one must challenge different energy systems! Even long distance endurance swimmers need anaerobic sets where they’re pushing their bodies to the max. Doing so helps with power, efficiency, turn over, and body position. Swimming programs should include a variety of different stimuli.

  1. Short, fast and powerful- anaerobic
  2. Long, lengthening, and steady- aerobic
  3. Tempo- Comfortably hard
  4. Threshold- labored breathing, fast, powerful sets with ample recovery
  5. Technique and hypoxic work (breath control)

In the next blog I will share some of my favorite workouts!

Dry land/Strength Training

There are a variety of ways, outside of the water, to work on improving your swimming. Strength training the prime muscles can assist with power and fatigue resistance (Lats, shoulder girdle, core, and glutes should be targeted). Stretch cords can also be used to single out different phases of the stroke for form correction and development. Mobility and stretching is also extremely important for fast swimming. Having a normal range of motion in your shoulders, neck, hips and ankles with allow for a proper streamline position and an enhanced glide through the water with every stroke. If you currently swim or plan to start make sure to ask your physical therapist at Specialized Physical Therapy how you can increase your range of motion in these particular areas.

I hope you find these tips useful and you focus on getting fasters in the water!

Morgan Chaffin, USMS swim and triathlon coach

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