Take Your Tri Swim from Mid-Pack to Top 10%!
Would you like to improve your Front Crawl swim to take you to the top 10% at your local tri. Maybe you’d just like to knock a chunk of time off your 400m, 750m or 1500m swim time. Perhaps you have hit a plateau and no matter how hard you try you don’t seem to be getting any faster.
If you are training for a triathlon follow these tips and you’ll be setting yourself up for a great race! Here’s the TOP 5 TIPS to get you there fast!
The good news is that you can smash through any barriers that you might have experienced. And by the way don’t let your age be the excuse! Check out this guy!
I’m faster at 51 than I have ever been, I’ve just smashed through my imaginary “barrier” – 1:30 per 100m interval. That’s not to say that such times are exceptional, they are not especially fast (they are good enough for a top 10% swim time at a local sprint tri) but they represent a steady and consistent improvement that is open to any of you too – whatever level you are starting at.
So let’s crack on with the Top 5 Tips to improve your swim times.
1. Swim More!
The best way to improve your swim times is to get in the pool more often. In general it is better to increase the number of times per week that you swim rather than doing fewer, longer sessions.
Shorter, more focussed sessions will bring you best ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of ‘feel for the water’ and ensure that you keep the quality of your sessions high while upping the pool time.
However also gradually increasing the length of your sessions will allow you to swim more, get fitter and maintain the quality. 5 – 10% increase per week is a good way of doing this effectively.
2. Swim with others who are faster than you!
OK so this is a challenge! Getting in the water with people that you know are faster than you is tough, you need to be prepared for a few weeks of getting dropped and maybe having to miss the odd rep. But it will raise your standards. You’ll find that by toughing it out with the faster lane you’ll adapt to their pace, you’ll find ways of hanging in there whereas, if you stick with a slower group, you’ll be cruising.
For the last year or so I’ve been swimming with my son. He’s extremely fast and I love swimming with him! My aim has been to continue keeping up with him as he gets older and inevitably faster. There’s no doubt that some time soon he’s going to be leaving me chasing his bubbles, the pace lines are beginning to cross! Update – the lines have very much crossed!
However I’m determined to up my game, stay with his pace as long as a I can. Swimming with him has challenged me to work more on my fast-paced, shorter efforts rather than constantly working at threshold or ironman pace. This incentive has kept me pushing my limits and finding ways to keep improving.
At the same time I’m coaching and working with him on his technique which will result in him being faster than me. It’s Kev the Coach versus Kev the swimmer and I love it!
3. Do drills regularly.
Drills are a great way to bring a specific technique focus to your training. They are designed to highlight a particular aspect of your stroke and exaggerate it to encourage you to swim better when you revert to full stroke.
So for example see this demonstration of ‘fists’ drill, where you swim with clenched fists for 25m then revert to full stroke for the next 25m. The drill forces you to focus on ‘catching’ the water with your full forearm and tunes you in to how important the catch is. Typically swimmers will really notice how powerful their stroke feels on the 2nd 25m stretch.
Similarly this water polo drill highlights two aspects of good technique; the importance of an ‘early catch’ and the difference your head position makes.
By swimming with your head held out of the water for the first 12.5m then reverting to head down full stroke you quickly understand how hard it is to maintain momentum when not balanced in the water. The early catch needed to keep you moving will provide even more power when allied to a balanced and streamlined body position.
There are so many drills that you can do but here are a few of the key drills I use week in and week out to help my swimmers improve consistently.
Finger drag – relax your forearm on the ‘recovery’ part of the stroke and trail the tips of your fingers through the water in a straight line with your elbow leading the movement. 25m drill, 25m full stroke.
Fists – see the demonstration in the earlier video clip. 25m drill, 25m full stroke.
Single arm – keep one arm extended pointing straight down the pool. Then take 3 right arm pulls. 3 left and 3 full stroke. Repeat for 50m.
Doggy paddle – stretch out into a doggy paddle action keeping your hands under the water all the time. Keep fingers pointing down towards the bottom of the pool. Imagine pulling yourself along an underwater ladder. 12.5m drill, 12.5m full stroke x 2.
Water polo – see the demonstration in the earlier video above. Same distances as the doggy paddle drill.
6-1-6 and 6-3-6. Six kicks on your side with one hand extended followed by either one or three arm pulls focusing on good rotation. Then back into kicking on the side again. Repeat for 50m.
“Unco” – single arm drill with one hand by your side. Breathe to the non-pulling side and really focus on great rotation. If you are pulling with your right breathe every time you rotate to the left. Prepare to feel uncoordinated to start with – hence the name. But this drill will really help you to rotate well. 25m on each side followed immediately by 50m full stroke to practice the feeling of effective rotation.
You’ll find many of these drills explained really well in this Global Triathlon Network video.
4. Do intervals.
As with most sports the way to get faster at a given distance is to move at a fast pace over a shorter distance or combination of shorter distances with rest in between. This way the body learns the correct neuromuscular pathways and to strengthen the appropriate muscles to make this faster pace possible for the full distance. This is the tried and tested premise of interval training.
So with swimming let’s say we want to swim 1500m at 1:45 per 100m pace giving a race time of 26:15. Our current best pace for the distance is 1:50 pace giving a time of 27:30 requiring an improvement of 1:15 which would almost certainly be good enough to set you up for a top 10% finish overall at a massive race like the Windsor Triathlon and therefore at any other mass participation triathlon.
So where do we find that 1:15 improvement. Well by using all 5 of these top tips of course! And specifically by swimming at or faster than the intended race pace. So let’s break our 1500m down into 15 x 100m. Swim 100m at your goal pace. This is where the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro comes in handy as you can set it to beep every 26.25 seconds to keep you on track. Then take a short rest no more than 30 seconds (if you are using the beeper take one beep rest) and go again. Try to maintain the pace for the 15 intervals.
There are FOUR main variables that you can change to make the intervals different. Speed, distance, number of repeats and rest. So by altering any one of these you can make the session easier or more challenging. The aim is always to complete the full set with consistency. If you start off doing your first few efforts too hard then you’ll set yourself up to crash and burn as the session goes on.
Of course there are lots of interval sessions available online or you can easily construct your own. The key is to mix it up enough to ‘keep your body guessing’ without making it so varied that you never get to check in how you are progressing. It’s useful to have some key sessions that you come back to regularly to monitor progress.
5. Swim with a purpose!
Focus on great technique in long swims. Go into each session with a plan for what you want to do and get out of the session.
Don’t always pile the pressure on yourself. Remember the importance of easier and rest days. If you are following a training plan allow yourself sessions where you train at a lower intensity. Have an easier ‘joker session’ up your sleeve, that you can use if you are really not feeling great for any particular reason.
Use a finis tempo trainer to keep you from just plodding along aimlessly doing lap after lap. See my review of the tempo trainer here.
I fully believe that if you consistently try these 5 Top Tips you’ll find yourself improving and swimming faster and further than you ever have! Please subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with new articles and share if you think this might be of interest to your friends. I also have a YouTube channel with regular Triathlon based vlogs and reviews.
Good luck and please let me know how you get on!