Recently I worked with a few individuals who are age group triathletes on figuring out how to make them faster in the water. I started having many thoughts on why these swimmers were not getting faster despite years of training. I see many articles, advertisements and read many forum posts on how to get swimwers faster and so much of it is technique and mechanics based. Yes, technique is a very important component of swimming. Most of the top swimmers are only 8% efficient in the water, which means that over 90% of what they are doing is just to overcome the drag of the water. So how the swimmer enters the water and glides through it is essential. But, there is another bigger component to swim training. It is the type of workouts the athlete is doing.
When I spoke to the swimmers that I was analyzing they told me their training methods. I had never worked with these swimmers in the past and they were all self coaching. Let’s look at the bright side first. They were all relatively good swimmers. By that I mean that their strokes were not horrible and actually a couple of them had nice strokes. The mechanics were not perfect but who’s are? What they were not doing were interval workouts, periodic testing and workouts with a swim squad.
The interval workouts are vital for any endurance athlete. But there are different workouts for Sprint and Olympic distance focused athletes and those doing Ironman racing. This is why at the Masters squad I coach I have two to three different workouts on the board to satisfy the needs of the various athletes we have. In the competitive part of the season the short course triathletes are doing more over threshold and race simulation work than the long course athletes who are doing more sub threshold sets. There are about as many different types of workouts as crayons in my little girls Crayola box but it is up to the coach to know which colors to use at what time. This is critical in swim coaching. Different athletes in different parts of the year should be doing specific sets of intervals. My recent clients had not been.
None of the clients I had saw had done any stroke count or threshold pace testing. With stroke count testing you can gain a number for the athlete to improve on to make them more efficient in the water by reducing the number of strokes they take and thus improving their hip rotation. For most triathletes who are doing longer swim racing this is crucial. Economy in the water is vital and stroke count testing is a big part of this. Threshold testing is another way for an athlete to set up training paces in the water but then building the workouts for these training paces is crucial for the coach. The other good part about threshold testing every 6-10 weeks is that the athlete can see what kind of improvement they are making in the water. Testing is not easy and the swimmer will have a better test with a coach supervising. Most athletes focus better and push harder when a coach is present. There is also more motiviation. Which brings me to training with a good swim squad.
Training with a squad will undoubtedly push the swimmer more than training alone. Week in and week out of this type of training will yield faster times (proven by the periodic swim test of course). Another great part of training with others is that the swimmer can watch and learn from others. As swimmers learn by seeing, by hearing and by doing when they are observing others good parts and bad parts they will help teach themselves to be better. Training with others is also just more fun.
So I encourage you to integrate all of the aforementioned in your swim traiing to see great results. Swim hard, swim smart!