Monday, January 27, 2014

Why am I swimming so fast?

I thought I would get off the beaten path of my nutrition blogging to discuss training in this blog.  I am confident that for some triathletes who struggle with their swim, this may be of extreme benefit.
It's no secret that I did not grow up a swimmer.  Heck, I didn't even "learn" how to swim "competitively" (and by that I mean putting my head in the water when swimming freestyle) until my sophomore year in college when I took lifeguard training.  Growing up a land sport athlete (soccer), I didn't know you were supposed to swim with your head and face in the water.  Well, not until my lifeguard training instructor asked me after the first class why I swam like I did.  My answer was simple and was actually a question back to her, "that's not what I am supposed to do?".  Ha!  Joke was on me because ever since then, I have been trying to make myself a swimmer, well in the sense of a triathlete who wants to minimize the amount of energy wasted so I could get on the bike without being completely exhausted.

I have been working on this for 20 years.  I've read all the books, talked to great swim coaches, had video analysis done.  It worked, a little but nothing that was really noticeable.  I remember last year when swimming under 1:30 pace for 100 yards was a success for me.  That just didn't cut it for the level of competitiveness that I wanted to achieve.

So, what did I do?  Nothing particular ground breaking and nothing that costs a ton of money.  What I would like to share with you is my process of swimming faster.  If you can take some of these tips and apply it to your training to become faster in the water, great!  That is my intention.

Tip 1: Be a student of the sport
As I mentioned earlier, I have read all the books. Have done my homework and all that jazz.  What I failed to do was spend time on my own in the pool trying to correlate my learning with the biomechanics of my body.  I got a swim snorkel, went slow and paid attention to my body moving through the water.  I had someone video me so I could analyze it and pick myself apart.  After doing that, I went back in the pool, by myself, and slowed everything down so I could manipulate my biomechanics.  Specifically, what I found was that I was reaching too far, too much extension and actually putting the brakes on because of this.  I changed my hand entry to about a 15-20 degree angle which allowed me to engage my catch sooner and ease the pressure on my shoulder.

Tip 2: Get stronger
I have spent the last 6 months aggressively building my swim specific strength. I do 5-10 minutes per day doing pre-hab shoulder exercises with tubing.  I pay particular attention to posterior chain exercises when lifting weights.  Yes, weights.  I lift heavy weights and do sandbag and plyometric training for my upper body.  The icing on the cake for me has been the introduction of rowing.  I row most weeks 3-6 times from 20-60 minutes.  Sometimes steady state.  Sometimes intervals.  It's a huge contributor to my swimming speed improvements.

Tip 3: Learn how to kick
Yeah, I was a competitive soccer player turned triathlete.  I have strong legs so I thought kicking would be easy.  Not so much.  I wasn't kicking properly.  Too much from my knees.  No engagement from my hips.  Too wide of a kick.  What I have done to help this is get a piece of easy resistance tubing and put it around my ankles while swimming.  When swimming alone (important: not in a group), I practice swimming with this tubing.  It is not the same as having a bike tube around your ankles.  This resistance tubing allows me to kick against it but I know I am kicking correctly when I feel my hips engaged.  It also prevents me from kicking too wide.  

These three things have been blessings for me in developing my swim.  I have gone from celebrating hitting just under 1:30 pace 100's to consistently being able to hold 1:20's in this short amount of time.  Will this work for you?  Yeah, I'm pretty sure it will.  Consistency is the key.  Don't rush it and don't try to swim fast before you implement these tips.  Patience will go a long way in developing your swim.  It did for this non-swimmer and I am confidence it will for you also!

Happy swimming.

Coach Bob


  1. Great tips, I thought today whilst swimming how I could take my swimming to a new level as I'm not from a swimming background either. Thanks for sharing Bob.

  2. By the way. What did you use and how wide was the tubing around your ankles?