This morning I swam in massive seas at Puerto Del Carmen in Lanzarote. There has been some volcanic eruption going on under the sea near here, which is apparently, resulting in lots of jellyfish in to the area often closing the beaches. Later in the swim I found myself in a large cloud of jellyfish and got a quite nasty sting. It wasn’t all bad, it helped me decide what this months column should be on.
My background is in swimming and I am a swimming coach yet it perplexes me how difficult it is for Triathletes to improve their swimming. I don’t have the solution but I do have some thoughts that I would like to share.
There is the elephant in the room. I’ve not come across a good swimmer that hasn’t swum lots yet this is the one area of triathlon where it appears people are looking for the secret. Surely there must be some quick and easy way, a short cut to getting good? Unfortunately I don’t think there is. If there were wouldn’t all the competitive swimmers be following this method? With cycling it’s often said that miles in the legs count. With swimming it is the same, KMs in the arms, with a much bigger dose of technique. I don’t believe it’s a matter of getting technique first and then training hard, they need to be done in conjunction. When I coach younger swimmers in the skill development squads I see all sorts of problems but it’s time in the pool with constant feedback that allows them to make the changes.
So in no particular order…
Tip 1 – Swim Lots
There is no substitute for practise. Swim as much as you can. Have a block where you swim like a swimmer. I’ve just had a couple of months swim focus and am now swimming the best I have as a triathlete.
Tip 2 – Swim with others
Company for your sessions will help you push yourself and complete the session. It helps as well to engage the other swimmers. For instance when doing stroke count ask the other swimmers what their stroke count is. This can introduce some light competition that helps you focus. Similarly if you’re leading the lane during a set be aware of what times the other swimmers are doing and encourage them or complement them if they do a good time. If you’re not leading you can time those that start behind you and you can ask those ahead what times they’re making.
Tip 3 – Swim with a coach poolside
Clearly this isn’t possible for everyone but it is so difficult to execute drills correctly without regular feedback that having a coach poolside as much as possible helps enormously. Aim do to as much of your swimming as you can with a coach poolside.
Tip 4 – Engage the coach before each session
Let the coach know you’re keen for feedback, let him know your swim results. Swim coaches are used to coaching competitive swimmers where they get regular feedback on performances. Coaching triathletes can feel like coaching in a void so let them know how your swim times go in races and whether you’re improving.
Tip 5 – Start each length with something in mind to focus on
It’s important to think when you’re swimming and not let your mind wander. So have a fall back thing to focus on which you will do if you can’t think of anything else.
Tip 6 – Always include some hard swimming
When swimming on your own don’t just go in and do technique. Without someone poolside it’s the worst time to be solely focussing on technique. Instead think about what you’re doing whilst your swimming (you always should, see point 5). Do a few drills during the warmup. Have a decent main set, work hard and think about what you’re doing throughout.
Tip7 – Streamline off every turn
OK, for open water swimming turns aren’t important but feel for the water is. Streamlining off the turns will help your awareness of what helps you move through the water with less resistance. Have some targets – for instance managing 5 metres before your first stroke.
Tip 8 – Learn all the strokes
This will help make you sessions more interesting and will help with your feel for the water.
Tip 9 – Finger loop only on hand paddles
Remove the loops that go around your wrist leaving only a single loop over your middle finger. If your paddles aren’t like this get some (or make some). Paddles like this force you to finish off the stroke correctly since if you don’t your paddles can be pulled off. Aim to feel the puddle of water you push at your feet.
Just to be different I’ve left it at nine tips. Hope they help.