This is a huge topic however I will try to cover it using what I call the four keystones of swimming. When learning to swim or changing your technique significantly it is important to break down different parts of the stroke and only focus on these constituent parts rather than the whole stroke – why? Simply there is so much going on in every stroke that it is nearly impossible to think about all of them together without imploding!
This is the most common of all the issues athletes new to swimming face, particularly those from a cycling and running background that traditionally have heavy glutes and quads and consequently use their lower body like a drag net, good for fishing but not so much on the swimming fast front. Athletes need to push their hips up to the surface. The way to do this is to push your head deeper into the water creating the feeling of swimming downhill and secondly activating the core muscles to push the hips upwards. A way to test if you’re getting this right is to do pull with no pull buoy. If you’re legs sink, you are not in the right position.
Swimming fast is not about how quickly you can move your hands through the water but about how much water you can get hold of and push backwards. In order to do this you have to ensure your ‘paddle’ – hand up to your elbow is facing backwards after hand entry. The simplest way to check that you are doing this right is to make sure on hand entry that your wrist is lower than your elbow which is lower than your shoulder, this done you are in the position to push the water backwards and propel yourself forwards. Remember that water is malleable and that catching hold of it is tricky. If you thrash at the water from the catch your arm will just slip through the water. You need to accelerate through the stroke. Think of it like swinging a golf club or a tennis racket – brute force does not work!
Linear Movement: Recovery, Catch and Pull Through, Rotation and Breathing
Any movement that is not linear is a waste of energy. It’s simple physics. You need to be driving the water backwards in a linear direction which is going to push you forward in the straightest line possible. This applies equally to the recovery as if you swing your arms around the side you’ll inevitably end up snaking down the lane and wasting energy. This is a problem that applies to a lot of male athletes who tend to have more muscular bulk around the shoulders.
Rotation is essential to a stroke to allow all the muscles in the upper body to be used effectively but also to allow the athlete to recover in a linear fashion. To attempt to recover in a straight line without rotation is nearly impossible particularly as mentioned for those with muscle bulk in the shoulders. The answer is to rotate which facilitates this movement. However the athlete must be careful that they rotate through the length of the body because if they don’t they start to generate a ‘corkscrew’ effect which is inefficient and again results in them swimming further than they have to. This can be aided or exacerbated by breathing.
Weak swimmers tend to over-rotate their head when breathing. Now one thing is certain, your head is attached to your body! Wherever your head goes the body will follow – consequently you want to minimise head movement when breathing – if you find yourself able to see what’s behind you when swimming then you should expect to find your upper body swimming almost sideways! Using a clock ray method, you should look to breath at the 11 and 1 o’ clock.
There is a strong barrier I find myself continually breaking down. Athletes from a running, cycling or cross-training background believe themselves to be fit and therefore think that with the correct technique everything will be fine. This is not the case. The average triathlete does around 1 stroke per metre. Ask yourself when the last time you did 750 reps per arm in 25min in a gym. If the same were applied to running for example and an athlete had perfect technique but hardly ever ran they could not expect to be fit. The situation is vastly multiplied with swimming as at least with running and cycling an athlete is using the muscles in the body that are specifically designed to propel us forward. I’ll leave you with some maths. The ratio in terms of distance for comparison between swimming and running is 1:4 therefore 100m in the pool is similar to 400m on the track. An Olympic 200m swimmer would expect to average 80km per week in the pool – this converts to 240km of running. If swimming is your weakest discipline consider this and reset your parameters around what a proper swimming session should entail.
Fuel Your Swim
Like other endurance disciplines, carbohydrate depletion and dehydration will have a negative effect upon swimming performance. However, unlike other endurance based sports, it is impossible to replace these nutrients whilst swimming, yes you can stop and replenish but this could be problematic, especially on your open water swims, this further highlight’s the importance of starting fully fuelled and hydrated.
Swimmers are renowned for being early rises to get a swim done early, perhaps before work. With the overnight fast and the tiredness of an early morning, try a 30 minutes before your session. With 25g of carbs and 100mg of caffeine per 70g gel, Maxifuel Viper Boost Gel is a great supplement to support your swimming.
What about hydration?
Less obvious to swimmers but sweat rates can be as high as runners, replacing both fluid and electrolytes is crucial. Drinking an isotonic drink like Maxifuel’s Viper Active is a great choice to help replace fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrate. As discussed drinking during swimming maybe difficult so you could drink on your way to your swim and ensure that you replenish after your session.
by Will Usher Senior Coach, TFN Coaching