It's no secret that swimming is my slowest leg and it's something that I try to improve each and everyday. For someone with my original ability and swimming background(virtually none), it's modestly impressive I'd say, that I managed to improve my swim pace by 15 seconds per 100m, that's 5 minutes over 1.2 miles in 4 years.
I always want to share what I learned with the world so I have organized tips in order of difficulty. So as things go down, it becomes exponentially harder to grasp and understand. And you should also be getting faster and faster as you go down the list. Take it one step at a time!
1. Don't spend too much time trying to swim with perfect technique. I spent about 1 year swimming alone because I thought technique trumps everything else. In swimming that's not the case. Technique is important but you can only have good technique if you have the strength and fitness to hold it. Gaining fitness through bad technique is not breaking the law. So it's okay. All of us swim badly at least 30%+ of the time when we get tired anyways. Our technique holds together for maybe 25yards, then maybe 50yards, then eventually 400 yards. With some rest, you can do 400 yards great again. And the continuous improvement will get you to where you want.
2. Swim with other swimmers (slightly faster than you) at least 75% of the time. Swimming by yourself is hard even for fishes. That's why they swim in schools. (HA!) Seriously, swimming can be very lonely and a bit daunting at times (10x400s anybody?) So share your pain with others and pain will become joy.
A. I've come to the conclusion that swimming with people lowers the perceived level of exertion and also peer pressure keeps you honest and working hard. Whenever I swim with a group, leading a lane, or following a lead swimmer (even swimming 5 seconds behind someone will give you drafting effects), I always swim 2-3 seconds per 100yard faster than alone.
B. It's also helpful to watch other people swim and learn their technique. Visualization is key for athletic movements.
C. Good options are local master swim groups with swimmers of all speeds.
3. Kicking should be the least of your worries. Not to say that you don't need to kick. But I've been to programs that make me kick a quarter of a 60 minute session. That's way too much. Majority of your propulsion comes from your pull. You only have so much time to swim, make most of it by actually swimming.
4. Head position: stare straight down with your neck straight. There's many theories, but through my observation with top swimmers in Olympics as well as triathlon, they all stare straight down with their neck straight and taut. Keeping your head down enables you to have a good body position where your hip is allowed to rise a bit as opposed to sink a bit.
5. Consistency is Key. Swim at least 3 times a week, every week, all year. Athletes that didn't grow up swimming lose the feel of the water or their swimming shape really fast. it's important that you keep a consistent amount of swimming going every week, all year long if you're committed to becoming a better swimmer. I swam 4-5 times a week for 2 years.
6. Try using a tempo trainer, to control cadence of your stroke. The best open water swimming technique is a constant pulling motion with no dead spots, no gliding. As your right hand is finished with its pull, you should begin your catch for your left hand. Start with 60 strokes per minute. Then increase it incrementally. Really great swimmers swim at 80-100 strokes per minute. So aim for 60+.
7. Trying swimming with a band around your ankle, No Buoys. Ankle band ties your ankles together so you can't kick. Therefore you have to swim really fast in order to stay afloat. It is analogous to swimming uphill, where any little deficiency in your stroke is amplified. When I first started I couldn't swim past 5 yards. Now I can swim 50 yards-100 yards with it. The really good swimmers can do 3000 yards. @_@.
Start with 4x25 yards with 45 seconds rest. Keep your head down, press on your chest, and taut body. And pull with high cadence and hope you make it to the other side. Overtime you will get stronger.
8. Pull your body forward, not pull water back. Mentally, you shouldn't think of your hands and arms as propellers of boat that's forcing water back. Your forearm is an anchor that holds the water, and once you engage the water, you want to pull your body forward instead of push water back.
What's the difference? For me, this thought process enabled me to keep my body stiff and strong which helps move my body forward. They always talk about how bike frames should be stiff because bending of the frame while pedaling results in loss of power. Similar theme here where your body is the frame while swimming, and you want to keep that as stiff as possible so all the power is used to move you forward instead of deforming your body.
9. Tubing, using Resistance Bands. Halo makes great rubber resistance bands for swim training. There are no exercise machine or free body weight exercise that emulates the motion and muscle movement of the swim pull. The only thing that comes close is pulling with resistant bands. Here's a video of how to properly use bands, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sr570KZvyBQ
1. Straight Wrist.
2. Point forearm down toward floor
3. Keeping that high elbow high.
If your deltoids are burning then you're doing it right!
Start with 7x1min on, 1 min rest. or 5x90 seconds on, 90 seconds rest.
Halo Bands purchase link
10. Having the correct pulling mechanics. This one is the hardest one to nail. There are two main components, which is the high elbow that's covered in previous (9th) point. This one is tough to achieve but with practice and persistence you will be able to keep your elbow high and engage your lats, muscles on your back, and your chest, instead of your shoulder muscle which is much weaker compared to the three mentioned. Having a knowledgeable swim coach to watch you and give you advice is the best way to go.
The second component is often hotly debated but this is what has worked best for me in the last couple of years of trying many different things. The pulling motion is not the classic s motion that people talk about. It's also not a straight pull back. It's somewhere in between. In general the path of your hand should lie within a space 3-4 inches inline with your shoulder. There is only slight inward motion as you begin you pull. Your hand pitches slightly inward. As your pull progresses past your upper abdomen and chest, the hand pitch changes and point slightly outward. Somehow this enabled me to grab the most amount of water and my stroke rate is dropped by 2 strokes per length.
That's it for now. Again to reiterate, this has been the 10 most helpful things to me in the past couple of years and it may be helpful to some of you and it may not. I'm always open to new ideas and discussion so if you have any input or feedback please comment and we can have an open conversation!
Likewise, if you have questions, please contact me through the contact page, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope you found this article helpful
P.S. There will be a more detailed, and illustrated (video perhaps) in the future. So stay tuned!