I preach endlessly about practicing drills and improving your technique – I know, I know, I’m like a broken record.
I understand though that there are days when you want to switch off your brain and just go for a swim. Maybe you’re tired after a day at the office, or you don’t feel well. OK, OK I’ll let you off this once. No drills today!
What are other quick and easy ways you can improve on the swim?
1. Core strength. Don’t even get in the pool! Do some yoga or pilates. Do abs and back exercises. Do body weight exercises. A strong core will help every part of the stroke, from maintaing streamlined body position to being able to drive yourself through the water.
2. Practice the other strokes. Triathletes tend to stick to freestyle only since it is race-specific. The other strokes are not irrelevant however. I prefer a holistic approach and the other strokes provide benefits, one of which is saving your shoulders from the wear and tear of a single stroke. Breaststroke and backstroke may also be useful in a race. I like to do a few breaststroke strokes at the end of the swim to wake up the legs. Do them in the warm up and cool down. If nothing else the variety will keep you interested and break up a long workout.
3. Breathing – or do not breathe! I also bang on my “breathe easy” drum a lot, but for this tip the idea is NOT to breathe. This will strengthen your lungs and increase workout intensity. Reduce the number of times you breathe per length on longer aerobic swims (breathe every 3 strokes, every 5, every 7) . Build it into fast 100m’s (do not breathe on last length). Remember to keep your form nice and relaxed.
Implement these tips and you will see the results across your triathlon.
Goal: Working on stroke count and maintaining an efficient stroke during harder efforts
6 x 200s Odds: Max Distance Per Stroke – focus on good technique Evens: Moderate effort
Warm up: 200m: 50m drill, 50m swim
4 x (3 x 25m) Four different drills.
2x25m Drill + 1x25m swim, count strokes
Main set: 6 x 200m @ 20 secs rest
1) Maintain a consistent stroke count
2) Moderate effort, descend 50’s 1-4, while maintaining stroke count
Cool down: 200m: 50m non-freestyle, 50m kick
Many beginner to intermediate swimmers struggle with maintaining body position in the water. Is your experience something like this:
As you swim down the pool your legs gradually sink towards the bottom, which makes it harder to swim and tires you out, which causes your legs to drop some more, and then you have to lift your head up and out of the water to breathe, which causes your legs to sink even more, etc.
Sucks, eh?! No matter how hard you work if your legs are dragging behind you each length is going to be a slow, hard, painful slog.
It doesn’t have to be that hard though! The ideal state is floating near the surface of the water, your body in a straight line parallel to the pool floor for maximum efficiency. If you can swim like that you will slice through the water with ease.
If you don’t master this technique, no matter how hard you work, your swim will always be a chore.
Here’s a few tips to improve your body position:
1. It’s all in the hips! Keep them in line with your upper body and engage your core to stop your legs from dragging. Work on your core to make this easier.
2. Remember your physics teacher. Lean on your chest and armpits as you swim. This will keep you top heavy and stop the legs from dragging. For every reaction there is an opposite reaction, remember? Lift your head up and your legs will drop.
3. Practice drills. Side kicking will help with a straight body position and efficient breathing.
4. Don’t work harder to avoid sinking. The goal is efficient and easy swimming. Don’t kick harder to keep your legs up, this will only burn you out and leave you struggling on the bike & run. Relax your legs and let them float behind you. Your kick should be light, regular and relaxed. Go easy on yourself!
5. Breathe! As soon as you hold your breath, your body tenses up and makes it harder to keep that long, straight body position. Breathe in AND out regularly. Work on your head position when breathing. don’t lift it up to breathe – this will cause your legs to drop.
Put a lot of effort into body position. You will see more results in a shorter period of time, than putting the miles in.
To some, counting strokes while swimming is akin to counting sheep – dull and will put you to sleep. Swimming is already boring enough as it is, right?
However, for those of you who are looking to improve your swimming for triathlon, improving your stroke efficiency will result in big gains.
What would you rather do: 100m in 1:10 while taking 80 strokes or 60 strokes? You’d take the lower stroke count, right? The same result with 25% less effort.
For a given speed, reducing the number of strokes will make life easier for you. Count your strokes, and work on reducing the number of strokes you take per length, per 50m, per 100m.
The goal is to maintain smooth technique with a steady stroke count.
Work on getting the most out of each stroke and watch that number plummet. We all love competing, right?!
How to improve your stroke count
Focus on these different aspects over the course of a few weeks, and watch the benefits each generates.
The simple act of counting your strokes will lead to immediate improvements. Like anything, the simple act of focusing on something will result in gains.
Get more out of each stroke – work on developing a stronger pull by really driving your hand through the water. Focus on propelling yourself further with a strong underwater pull. Notice yourself getting more distance per stroke. Later, gym workouts will further improve your strength.
When your hand enters the water, drive your hand forward, reach towards the wall and glide. Use your hip rotation to get added reach at the front of the stroke. Be careful not to overextend your shoulder when reaching and don’t lose your momentum by gliding for too long.
Make sure you finish your underwater pull at the thigh. Get the most out of each stroke by keeping it long at the front and back. Thumb-thigh drill will help you work on a full extension at the end of the pull.
You can also reduce your stroke count in the pool by pushing hard off the walls. There is some debate as to whether or not triathletes should do this however as there are no walls in open water.
Before you start working on these drills, be sure to count your strokes and establish your benchmark stroke count so you can track your improvements.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of improving your stroke efficiency. While you may only reduce your stroke count by two strokes per length, if your starting point was twenty strokes, that is a 10% improvement – significant!
Let me know how you get on. Who can record the biggest reduction in stroke count?