To become good at fast freestyle swimming as a triathlete, you need to train slightly differently than traditional pool swimming. In normal pool swimming, once you touch the finish block, you are done. Training focuses on doing whatever you can to get to the finish fastest ( even if that burns up all your energy reserves). In triathlon, you still have to bike and run.
This is a HUGE difference in how we should approach training. Triathletes need to prioritize efficiency in the water, to complete the distance without using up all our energy supplies and gasping for breath at the end.
In addition, most of us cannot get to the pool twice a day for 2 hours. We also have to fit in bike sessions, run sessions, weight sessions, yoga.. oh yes- and family, work and a social life!
Fast Freestyle Swimming: Perfect Practice
Luckily for the most efficient use of our time, less is more. Rather than smashing out as many miles as possible at any cost, focus on “learning how to swim” rather than simply doing miles.
Excess miles of poor technique will pre-dispose you to injury and reinforce bad habits (which will make you slower in the long run). Vince Lombardi said it best: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
Going too fast before you have mastered good form often results in imperfect practice and sloppy form. Learn how to correctly swim slowly. Think about swim sessions as “practice and learning” rather than a “workout”. Forget the clock for a while. Focus on one aspect of your swim stroke, watch other swimmers ( ie good ones!) and try to mimic their form.
Watch this swimmer (from Total Immersion). Watch this until the end. It is fascinating. Pick out one aspect that jumps out at you and work on that. Then pick another one. Watch awesome swimmers and try to emulate that.
These are my top 3 insights:
- Very little splashing. This swimmer looks totally different to most people you see in the pool who thrash up and down and do not get anywhere fast. Try to do this each time as a drill. Try to move without splash.
- Very little kick. This is quite incredible. Obviously in a race, most people kick more than this. But again as a triathlete, you are aiming to be the most efficient possible. If you can finish the swim without being totally worn out, this is a huge bonus. I am not saying this is the ideal kick for a race but I am saying to try this as a drill in the pool. It will help improve your body position, stroke control, breathing control and head position.
- Great distance per stroke. He takes very few strokes to get to the other end. It is super important to count your strokes each session and try to increase your distance per stroke to become more efficient. Notice his long glide period. Swimmers who are faster than you- get more distance per stroke, they do not take more strokes than you.
Fast Freestyle Swimming: Feel The Water
Even though it sounds a bit “woo-woo”, I urge you to try to “feel the water”. I admit, the first time a coach told me this, I did scoff to myself. I did not “get it” and was just obsessed with getting in as many miles as possible. I could not see how fast freestyle swimming would result from slowing down a bit. One day, maybe 6 weeks later- I finally understood. I really could “feel” the water. I had a sense of pulling my body over my hand, rather than simply pulling my arm back. It was incredible. And it made me a lot faster instantly.
Note that this improvement did not come from muscle growth or improved cardiovascular fitness but through learning, through slowing down, through understanding and increased awareness in the water.
The penny dropped.
Since then I have enjoyed deconstructing the swim, rather than simply blasting through the laps to “get it over with” as quickly as possible. My swim times have got faster and faster as a result.
Fast Freestyle Swimming: Get Video Feedback
Body awareness is very difficult in the water. Sometimes you think you are doing something correctly. It is only when you watch yourself back on video (preferably in slow motion) that you discover you like a dying seal rather than a Michael Phelps lookalike.
Some coaches have underwater cameras set up from time to time in the pool to examine your stroke underwater which is very valuable. If you do not have access to this, it does not matter. At the very least have a friend video you on a smart phone once a month to check out what you look like compare to other swimmers you know are good or videos you find of good swimmers.
Compare and observe what flaws you might be able to work on next time. If you join an online swim program you will be able to email your videos of yourself swimming to the coach for feedback. This is great because not only are you getting an expert to help you which can fast track your progress very quickly, you are also getting accountability as you know you will have to improve for next time.
Practice visualisation. Visualise the perfect stroke before each training session and train your neural pathways what to do before you try to go and physically do it. You can always do it perfectly in your mind at any time even you have not yet mastered it in reality.
Visualize yourself with nice high elbows on the pull through, breathing easily, kicking effortlessly, gliding past other swimmers in the open water.
But again I urge you to have yourself videoed. It is astounding what you will see. Most people have never seen themselves swim. I had a coach telling me for months that I was crossing the midline on hand entry. I listened, I practised. I thought I had fixed it. He kept telling me I was still crossing the midline. I tried harder to fix it and was sure I had. Finally he showed me a video- and I was amazed- that it was true! I was still crossing the midline- despite being aware of it and actively trying to correct it and thinking I had done so- I was not even close!
Anyway with video evidence and more practice I eventually did correct this and became faster as a result. Slowing down and understanding exactly where I was going wrong gave me far greater results than blasting up and down the pool trying to thrash out as many miles as possible with poor technique.
If you have never had any coaching try Tri Swim Coach.
The quickest way to fast freestyle swimming is to slow down and understand what you could work on first for maximum results. Notice how little effort the chap in the video was putting in to swim well and fast. As triathletes we have limited time to swim with so much else to fit in. Make sure you are using your time wisely. Slow down, feel the water, understand your drills, get video feedback. Once your technique is sound, THEN start ramping up some harder efforts, sprints, resistance work and longer sets.
Remember to spend time understanding how to swim, rather than by swimming poorly very often :)
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