Friday, January 16, 2015

Swimming 101

Who's ready to swim?
Swimming really fast is really simple.  Start at the age of 6 and stick with it for anywhere from 10 to 30 years and you're set.  Learn from your coaches and peers, largely ignore your parents (despite their best intentions), and accept the fact that 5am is a normal time to start a workout.  I'm not saying everyone is destined to be an Olympian, but with a good amount of dedication you can be pretty damn successful.  There is no real substitute for years of staring at the black line, but that does not mean that learning to swim well is impossible without it.  For those of you who haven't reeked of chlorine for the past few decades, here are my top 3 tips to getting the most out of your swim:

1.  Get Comfortable in the Water
This is the biggest problem I see with swimmers who start later in life or triathletes who come from a bike/run background.  They look (and probably feel) like they will drown at any minute as they thrash around and chase the almighty yardage target.  While we start young kids with simple balance drills and games to create comfort in the water, for some reason adults are unwilling to take the time. Ego and modesty usually get in the way as new swimmers forgo tight suits and games for baggy suits and 'real' training.  My suggestion:  float, scull, dive for pennies, practice front and back flips, blow bubbles, and have fun in the water. If you can't do this, then you'll never be able to swim at your potential.  Learn to move water and move in the water before even thinking about the finer aspects of perfect freestyle.

2.  Be Consistent
Swimming almost every day is another sure-fire way to improve.  Not everyone has that luxury, but frequency does matter.  Join a Masters team (Peluso Open Water in RVA) and be held accountable for your attendance.  Make a point to touch and feel the water as much as possible.  You don't even have to do a structured workout, but developing and maintaining 'feel' for the water is something you will hear top swimmers talk a lot about.  Thirty minutes are better than nothing.  Use a quick drill session as a warm up/cool down from a bike/run/strength workout to increase your frequency.  Keep your BlueSeventy wetsuit in your car and stop by the river/lake on your way home from work.   There are plenty of excuses to keep you out of the water, but find a way to make it happen.  Even using stretch cords as dryland alternatives works if you really are in a time crunch.

3.  Get T.U.F.
Technique and efficiency are huge in swimming.  You can find hundreds of articles on the web about which drill is best and how to improve.  If you're reading this, you may be looking for a few 'secret' drills that will make you swim like a fish... The reality is, most of the time athletes who focus on technique exclusively or yardage exclusively tend to be stagnant in their development.  The reason is in both cases they are not able to carry over proper technique into swimming when fatigue sets in.  What separates great swimmers from the rest is their ability to maintain their Technique Under Fatigue.  Swimmers who forgo technique in favor of yardage tend to develop overuse injuries and poor stroke mechanics.  Swimmers who only do drills look pretty for roughly 100m (or less!) before they fall apart.  Finding the balance between the two takes a bit of experimentation as every swimmer is different.  Developing the strength, endurance, and knowledge to get TUF takes time and plenty of points #1 and #2.  Once you are able to put it all together, you'll be swimming fast in no time.  

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