by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for elite swimmers by clicking here.
We all strive to be a little bit faster and a little bit more awesomer in the water.
The most obvious answer is to log more time in the pool. But training more is rarely an option for those of us that are already doing a full schedule of weekly practices in addition to school, work, and the full-time job that is consuming a swimmer’s diet.
So how can we swim faster in the water without having to spend more time in the pool?
In short, the simplest way to swim faster is to simply do it better.
Here are a few ways that you can improve your swimming, regardless of what your favorite stroke or preferred distance is in the pool:
1. Internalize how you want to swim by watching the greats.
It’s no accident that certain programs are able to punch out quality swimmers year after year. Coaching plays a huge role, but another, more difficult to quantify factor that plays a role is the fact that success breeds success.
Younger swimmers coming up see what is capable from the athletes that are in their own club, and as such expectations are higher than if they had no examples before them. They don’t have to blaze a path, there is already one there waiting for them.
I know what you might be thinking:
I don’t swim for Bolles or Cal. How can I expect to experience that sensation of a “rising tide raises all ships” when it’s just me and my pal Bernardo who swims a 1:40 50 yard breaststroke?
YouTube has not only infiltrated and taken over our free time with cat videos and bad lip reading shorts, but have also democratized the viewing of fast, world-class swimming.
You can watch Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin hammer out a blazing 50 yard freestyle, while also watching Michael Phelps loping freestyle. You can watch Missy Franklin work on her backstroke or watch Katie Ledecky break the world record in the 400m freestyle last summer in Irvine.
The next time you are headed to practice load up your tablet/smart phone/imbedded data chip in your noggin’ with a couple videos of swimmers who you’d like to emulate.
Outside of giving you a mental framework to latch onto to improve your stroke and technique in the water, watching videos of the greats also helps to give you a little adrenaline shot of motivation.
2. Swim faster by writing out your workouts
The idea of having to write out your workouts might seem laborious to some. Heck, after a full day of school and training I can see how the last thing you’d want to do is put pen to paper to write out the workout that was.
But keeping a log is an undeniable way to swim smarter.
It’s a powerful way and easy way to keep yourself accountable. It provides an outlet to reflect on the work you are doing, and more specifically, detailing the stuff that is working in your favor, bringing you the progress you seek, while also shining a light on the areas that are acting against your interests.
Keeping a log book/performance journal/super secret diary is an awesome way to ruminate on what you did, while also providing a forum to jot out ideas for your next workout, and goals for the future.
SEE ALSO: 8 Reasons to Keep a Swim Log
3. Don’t stress about not having the best facilities. You don’t need them.
Let me ask you…
How often have you fallen for the “perfect conditions” myth?
You might know it as the time you didn’t give it your all on the main set because you weren’t “feelin’ it.” Or the time you skimped through the dry-land because you didn’t get a full night’s rest. Or used training in a third-rate facility as a crutch not to expect more from yourself.
Here is something you might not have considered…
The best conditions have a way of softening us. When we train in the best facilities, in what is essentially “babied” conditions, it’s hard to stay motivated. That fire and hunger doesn’t burn quite as brightly in the lap of luxury.
Adopt a Spartan mindset where you are ready and willing to give it a full effort no matter whether you are swimming in the best and worst conditions, and you will discover that no matter the circumstances in competition you will be ready to rock and roll.
4. Chunk and scale your progress.
If there is one tip for swimming you should remember it is this…
Fast swimming is supremely technical.
Swimmers get a first hand glimpse of this every day on the pool deck when they look across the lane lines and see newbie swimmers struggling to lift their heads out of the water to breath. Take a peek in the kiddie pool at the ongoing lessons for a reminder of how second-nature your technical prowess has become in the water.
Want to to improve?
Break down your ideal swim piece by piece and hammer at them one at a time. Whether it is a technical element you know needs improvement, tightening up your turns, developing a more powerful catch, whatever they are, write them out and attack them one at a time.
Trying to improve 14.5 areas of your swimming with one swing might appeal to most, but it works for very few. (If you are one of those swimmers that can make sweeping change overnight, I envy you.)
Similarly, the moment you understand your sustainable rate of improvement you will be able to steer clear of the dreaded sense of burnout.
Let’s say you want to desperately improve your underwater dolphin kick. You promise yourself that you will do an extra 15 minutes of vertical kicking and bonus kick work after every practice. But after a few days you get burned out and fall off.
Start over, but start smaller and repeat until necessary up till you find the rate of work you can maintain.
5. To progress quickly, dance along the cliff of struggle and mastery.
Being good at something is fantastic. In fact, it is downright intoxicating.
It make us feel great to know that we have mastered something. But how quickly does this become not enough? Once the challenge is gone, what is there? You see this frequently with champions—once they have ascended the mountain it becomes a greater struggle to retain their position.
And so it is with progression. In order to continue to get better you must be at the intersection where your abilities come up just slightly short of what you want to achieve.
Set your sights too low, and there is no progress. Just a steady re-circling within your abilities and talents, and a marked arrest in improvement.
But when you live on the (albeit somewhat frustrated) edge of “I almost have it” you will be continually able to plow forwards and onwards.
6. If you can’t do it slowly, you aren’t going to be able to do it quickly.
In a time where there is a transition towards quality over quantity in the pool, Alexander Popov stands out as what seems to be a glaring exception to this trend. The legendary Russian sprinter had an iron grip on the sprint events for nearly a decade, dominating both the 50 and 100m freestyles at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
As with most high level sprinters, his coach Gennadi Touretski emphasized technique and efficiency above all else. For this reason Popov would often swim long unbroken reps in the pool. He would swim back and forth, at a seemingly effortless pace, for up to 5000m straight at a time.
This work wasn’t mindless swimming, however. It was during these long stretches that he honed his technique, looking for any small advantage he could find in making himself more efficient.
Does this mean you should start swimming an extra 5k of meters in the pool the next time you hop in the water?
Of course not.
But it should reinforce the idea that there shouldn’t be such a thing as a wasted meter. Even when warming up or warming down Popov would his swim his characteristically smooth, kayak-paced stroke.
Work done with perfect technique is never wasteful.
Assuming that you have chunked your way to a technique that you are happy with, and you are able to do it at slow to medium pace, only then is it time to ramp up the intensity.
All too often swimmers get the order reversed—they start out all intense, all go no quit, with little thought to technique—only needing to come back to their stroke when their swimming hits a wall because of technical or efficiency deficiencies.
7. Focused practice = focused results.
Let me ask you:
How many times have you watched a swimmer completely disintegrate once fatigued in a race?
At midway, or 2/3’s of the way through the race their stroke, streamline, and game plan went right out the window? Streamlining like they are holding a beach ball, gasping for every last ounce of oxygen, with any regard to technique streaming off their toes with the rest of the churned up water? Or picked their head up two meters from the finish, slowing them to a near dead stop?
These mistakes, habits—whatever you want to call them—are drilled into us long before we ever get up on the blocks.
The way we finish in practice is the way we finish in a competition. The way we “die” in practice is the way we fade in competition.
If you aren’t performing your stroke and extra-curriculars (starts, turns and takeovers) with deliberated effort than you are creating unfocused and sloppy habits that will show themselves when your body is gassed.
Think of it this way:
You perform your stroke thousands of times before you ever race. If you do it one, specific way, your body will know no different when it comes under fire during the heat of competition.
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