Triathlon Magazine Canada

Do This and Don’t Do That for a Faster Swim


While the list could be considerab­ly longer, this month I thought I would share five things to do (and not to) to be a faster triathlon swimmer:

DO swim more.

The single biggest correlatio­n between speed and a training variable is volume. The best way to increase volume is to increase frequency. Swimming five times a week for one hour is better than swimming three times a week for an hour and forty minutes

DON’T worry about the other strokes.

Mastering the breast stoke will make you a better free styler. Mastering any movement in water will make you a better free styler. But the returns on the efforts diminish to the point of obscurity. You still have to bike, run, work, have a social life, eat and rest. Don’t waste time on the medley. Having said that – tossing in a little back stroke as part of your warm-up, recovery, and cooldown protocol is never a bad idea.

DO swim with a coached group.

Seasoned swimmers will find it easier to maintain fitness in the pool than newer swimmers, but even the most experience­d often find it challengin­g to gain fitness on their own. Nothing beats chasing and being chased. And having a knowledgea­ble coach stalking the decks with a keen eye will make finding those seconds so much easier.

DON’T ignore your kick, especially if you’re a beginner.

If your name is Katie Zaferes and you can swim around nine minutes for 750 m in open water, chances are you probably don’t need to focus too much on high intensity kick sets, but, as you move further away from that fantasy and closer to your own reality, you need to increase your efforts to develop a strong kick. It is estimated that your kick provides about seven per cent more propulsion to your freestyle stroke. That’s a small number, you’re saying – why should I work on my kick? Because you have to get out of the water and bike and run. The stronger your kick, the less fatigue you will feel in your legs when you finish the swim in a race. Also, if you’re a newer swimmer, there’s an excellent chance your hips sink in the water. A strong kick will make all the difference to your body position and, while that kick may not directly increase your speed, lifting your hips up will.

DO utilize underwater video assistance.

Most people are visual learners. What we think we’re doing in the water is often not what we’re actually doing in the water. Once you see that dropped elbow or sinking hips, making the necessary changes are easier. A phone in a waterproof case is a low-budget way to video your stroke.

DON’T worry about drills (except band only).

As I wrote in my last column (TMC, March & April 2021), fitness wins every time. Work on your focused perfect stroke (FPS).

DO learn how to master a set.

Don’t be afraid to repeat sets with some frequency. Boring training makes good athletes, and variety is only a spice for the weak minded. Beating a set isn’t just about fitness – it’s also about smarts.

DON’T be afraid to suffer.

If you want to swim faster, swim faster. Improve your cadence (a tempo trainer is a good way to do this). Fight for every second, and stop looking for big, magical gains. If you averaged 1:38 while doing your 100 m efforts on 1:55, go for 1:37s or try to hold those 1:38s on 1:50.

DO drag stuff.

If it makes you feel better, call it a drill, but dragging a parachute, bucket, towel or sponge is an excellent way to gain strength and highlight the dead spots in your stroke. It’s like driving with the breaks on in your car – as soon as you let up on the gas, you slow right down. Figure out how to fill those gaps – and don’t be afraid to add some paddles to add some strength work.

DON’T lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Swimming is a technical sport and certainly the most technical of the three sports we’re involved in. There’s a laundry list of things to think about: the extension, entrance, high elbow, aggressive catch, core connection, rotation, breathing, etc. But sometimes I see swimmers getting so caught up in all these details that they forget the simple truth that we’re not trying to pull our arms through the water, we’re trying to pull our bodies through the water as quickly and efficientl­y as possible. Have a “flat boat” and “strong propeller” – then let it flow.

Clint Lien is the head coach of Victoria’s Mercury Rising Triathlon (mercuryris­ingtriathl­ and asst. coach for the Canadian National Academy Triathlon Team.

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