April 3, 2014

The Biggest Challenge in Getting Swim Fit (Hint: It’s NOT what you think)

When it comes to swimming, I have found that the greatest hurdle for me isn’t that I don’t have a strong background in it (which I don’t), but it’s finding the time to fit it into my already time-challenged life.

You know the drill… drive to the pool, walk from the parking lot into the locker room, change into your swim suit, warm-up (optional but advised), actually do the swim workout, shower and change, drive to the next destination, maybe grab some food en route, and then get on with the rest of your day. 

All this unproductive time limits how often you can get into the water and, more importantly, your ability to become a better swimmer.

So if you find yourself feeling a bit stressed about how often you’re getting into the water each week and a move closer to a pool is not in the cards then here are a few suggestions to help build your swim fitness.   

5 Tips to Swim Better Without Adding Hours

1. Add a more distance.  Build your volume gradually by progressively increasing your swim distance each week.  For example,  if you normally swim 2000 meters/swim then increase your distance to 2100 meters/swim in week one, 2200 meters/swim in week two, 2300 meters/swim in week three and so on. 

2. Mix up your intensity.  Regularly change up your main set by doing short, faster intervals in one session set (8-16×50, 6-12×75) and then the next time do a longer sets (4-8×150, 3-5×300).  Also, mix it up within each swim repetition.  Example:  10×50 where every 50 is (25 easy/25 fast) or 3×300 where each 300 is (25 easy/25 race-pace, 50 easy/50 race-pace, 75 easy/75 race-pace).

3. Perfect practice matters most.  There’s no such thing as getting too efficient in the water so always build body position (kick on side) and power/stroke (catch-up, single arm, fist) drills into your warm up & cool down during each swim.  The more efficient you are the less energy you’ll use, which will serve you well later in the race.  Drills are a great way to add that extra 100-200 to each swim.

4. Get it on film.  Observing how you move through the water can be a real education.  Have someone video you from the front, side, and back while swimming.  Then compare your video to a top swimmer on Youtube.com and focus on areas to improve.  Look for things like where your hand enters the water, whether you’re swimming flat (minimal hip rotate), whether you’re doing a scissor kick, etc.

5. Swim like a fish.   Use a set of short fins like Zoomers when you’re doing drills to give you a little extra propulsion, when you’re doing short fast sets like 8-20×25, and when you’re doing kicking sets  (except for the breast stroke because the fins will put too much stress on your knees).

3 Dry Land Training Tips When You’re Time-Strapped

1. Build strength with stretch cords.  Make it a goal to get in at least four short stretch cord sessions a week.  Be sure to breakdown the stroke: the frontend catch, full stroke, and backend push through (triceps push back) and log some repetitions, such as 25 frontend catch/50 full stroke/25 push back finish.  Also, focus on perfect form so you get the extra benefit of honing your technique while you’re building swim specific strength.  For an extra bonus, stand on pillows or a Bosu to build core stability while you’re at it.

2. Lengthen tight muscles.  Tight ankles, shoulders, and hips limit your ability to get longer and smoother in the water.  When you’re doing your daily stretch routine pay special attention to these key areas to achieve greater range of motion and, ultimately, longer distance per stroke.

3. Visualize a smooth swim.  Your imagination is a very powerful training tool and far too often it’s way under-utilized.  If you spend a few minutes several times a week visualizing yourself being smooth and relaxed while swimming it will help you get the most out of your time at the pool. 

It takes great technique and high frequency/volume to develop true swim specific fitness.  If you just can’t seem to get to the pool as often as you like, these tactics should help you more quickly build your confidence in the water leading up to your next race.

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

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