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3 Offseason Tips for a Faster Swim

2016/7/21 10:46:03

If you're like the vast majority of triathletes, swimming is where you struggle the most.

Let's face it, humans are land animals. Swimming proficiently doesn't come easy, but rest assured there is hope.

The offseason is an excellent time of the year to improve upon your weakness in the water and start swimming faster.

More: 4 Tips for an Effective Offseason

Instead of ignoring your swim skills (or lack thereof), it's time to face them head on. Follow these three steps to help you reach your next swim PR.

1. Get a Swim Coach (or a friend)

Swimming is technique intensive. Learning proper form and or revisiting your "swim technique" will go a long way.

If your legs are dragging behind you or your breathing isn't in sync you'll pay the price by moving slower and feeling completely out of breath.

More: How to Streamline Your Stroke

Do yourself a huge favor and find an experienced swim coach. Better yet, find a coach who is experienced in working with triathletes and has worked with others with a similar ability to you. 

Your swim coach will be able to evaluate your stroke and should offer specific drills and suggestions to improve.

You should plan to see your swim coach two or three times over a few weeks so you have time to practice in between. This way you'll be able to progress further and continue to build upon what you covered in your first session. 

More: 4 Steps to a Smooth 1.5K Swim

Many swim coaches will offer video analysis if you ask. Whether it's done underwater or solely from the pool deck, there is nothing more valuable than seeing yourself on tape. Athletes are often improve their skills more quickly and become more aware of flaws in their technique they might not have noticed before.

If hiring a swim coach is not in your cards, consider asking a friend or training partner to tape you. You can do this by using a smart phone or a similar device. Finding drills online to improve your shortcomings is easy with a simple Google search. 

Tip: You may want to consider finding a swim coach who is not necessarily a life-time swimmer or Olympic gold medalist. Sometimes athletes find it easier to relate to and learn from someone who once struggled in a similar manner.

More: The Art of Graceful Swimming

2. Swim with a Purpose

Jumping in the pool and swimming endlessly for an hour is a waste of time. If there's no purpose to your workout or swim routine then how do you expect to improve? 

Each time you swim, it's important to always begin with a warm up and end with a cool down. This is nonnegotiable. Your warm up and cool down are also good times to drill and work on technique.

More: Swimming Workout for Triathletes

The next part of your workout is commonly referred to as the main set. This will vary based upon the purpose of the particular workout and the phase in your training cycle. Generally, you'll have easy, moderate/tempo and hard/interval days. Each serves a different purpose, but collectively all of them will put you on the fast track to your next swim PR. 

Below is an example for each type of swim.

Easy swim:

  • Warm-up: 10 sets of 50 yards [25 swim, 25 drill] (10-second rest after each 50)
  • Main set: Swim easy 300/400/500/600 (20-second rest after each) focus on perfect form
  • Cooldown: 4 sets of  75 [1 & 3 drill, 2 & 4 swim] (10-second rest after each)

Total: 2,600

Forcing yourself to swim slow, will help promote good form and proper technique. Maintain focus during these set and don't let your mind wander.

Tip: "Easy" should be at least 10 seconds slower than your "race pace."

Tempo swim

  • Warm-up: 2x [200 swim, 100 drill, 100 kick] (10-second rest after each)
  • Main set: 2 sets of [100 / 200 / 300] Swim at race pace (20-second rest after each)
  • Cooldown: 4x100 [50 drill, 50 swim] (10-second rest after each 100)

Total: 2,400

Tip: "Race pace" can be determined by doing a 500-yard or 1,000-yard time trial and taking your average 100-yard pace.  You should swim as hard as you can for the duration of the TT effort.  It's a good idea to do a swim TT every five to seven weeks in order to adjust your target pace as you progress.

More: A Drill for Each Stroke

Hard set

  • Warm-up: 200-yard swim, 2x[50 drill (:15), 50 kick (:15), 50 drill (:15)], 200 swim
  • Main set: 3 sets of 100 yards (*rest), 6x50 (rest), 12x25 (rest)
  • Cooldown: 8 sets of 50 yards [25 drill, 25 EZ] (10-second rest after each 50)

Total: 2,000

Tip: Hard means hard. This should be noticeably faster than "race pace." Your rest time should be equal to the amount of time it takes to complete the distance you are swimming. (i.e. if you swim 50 yards in 45 seconds, rest for 45 seconds following those 50 yards)

3. Frequency is Key

Technique can be improved and proper workouts are easy to design, but unless you're getting in the water regularly, you will not improve. It's impossible to get better at anything if you don't practice. 

More: Swimming Drills: The Key to Efficiency

If you're looking to better your swimming ability, one or two times a week won't cut it. Three times a week is sufficient, but you'll really start to see gains when you're in the water four or five times each week. 

It's not necessarily important to swim for 75 minutes to 90 minutes each time. Although more time and yardage in the pool will certainly lead to results.

It's important that swimming doesn't become a dreaded chore. If you only have 20 or 30 minutes, that's fine, but 45 minutes to 60 minutes is perfect. 

And really, any time is better than nothing. If you have a little extra time, go for longer, but don't overdo it either.  As long as you are getting in the water frequently and you don't go several days between each swim, you will be on the right track.  It's all about muscle memory, repetition and comfort in the water. 

More: The Benefits of Water Workouts

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