NOT JUST FOR DIVING
DON’T OVER-THINK THE ART OF SWIMMING FAST. BREAK IT DOWN TO POSITION, PROPULSION AND MOTOR.
You can have the biggest motor in the fleet with the best propeller money can buy, but if you have poor position then you’ve got a slow boat. That means, when it comes to swimming fast, you have to work on your body position first.
Are you swimming uphill? Do you wiggle in the water like a cheap lure? It’s likely you’ll answer yes, to some degree, to one of those if you’re honest with yourself and self-aware. (Swimmers in the triathlon world who don’t need to work on their position are rarer than white whales.)
There are tools (toys) available that make the job of working on position easier. Fins, ankle straps and pull buoys are excellent, but the primary weapon in your arsenal should be the swim snorkel.
When you use the snorkel along with other toys (or tools), you’ve got a powerful combo that will address most of the issues that lead to poor position.
What does the snorkel do?
In essence, it removes the biggest variable responsible for your poor position – your head. When the head moves around it creates problems. In order to breathe, you have to move your head – unless you’re using a snorkel. With a snorkel you can relax your neck. Imagine your head is a soccer ball being pushed along. With your chin tucked, your hips will naturally rise up. Now you can focus on the tall, tight posture necessary for strong swimming. Imagine a carbon kayak versus a kid’s rubber dinghy.
Watch a dozen elite swimmers and you might see 12 different strokes, but you’ll also count 12 tight, tall swimmers who all have straight posture and firm cores. They look like carbon kayaks.
How to incorporate it into your swimming
After you’ve warmed up with some easy swimming, make your first set a fins-snorkel effort where the focus is on that firm, swimspecific core. Most triathletes have tired legs as a matter of course. Fins aren’t usually that comfortable as you start, but after a few hundred metres most will agree they feel good – even recuperative. The secret is not to kick too hard. Use the fins to promote a good body position – not propulsion. With the snorkel you should be able to achieve that flat tight position. Alternate between kicking and swimming.
Depending on your swim level, you may do as little as 400 m or as much as 800 to 1000 m (see suggested sets for detail).
Follow up that set with 200–300 m with a pull buoy, strap and snorkel. Make sure you use the ankle strap – too many swimmers aren’t able to resist using their legs to help move them along. Don’t swim this hard – focus on that tall, tight posture. Consider this as a chance to to prepare for your main set.
I generally don’t include fins or pull buoys in the main set, but there’s no problem with keeping that snorkel close at hand. If during your main set you feel your body position begin to sink, then grab the snorkel and rectify the situation.