There are countless drills, swim toys and sessions that can help improve your efficiency. However, choosing the ones that will give you the most speed gains can be tricky.
To help you stay focused on the end-goal keep in mind these two factors that will help you swim fast:
- Stroke Rate – how many strokes you do per minute
- Stroke Length – how far you travel for each stroke
As a gauge, most age-group triathlon swimmers have stroke rates of around 50 to 60 strokes per minute. If you can improve your stroke rate (without shortening your stroke length), you will swim faster.
Your stroke rate is primarily governed by your swim fitness – the fitter you are, the quicker and more powerfully you can move your arms through the water.
Swim regularly and progressively, just like you would train for running or cycling. This will help you to become fitter, enabling you to increase your stroke rate.
You can measure your stroke rate by swimming for 15 secs or 30 secs at goal race pace, count your strokes and ask a friend to time you. Multiply the respective figures by four (15-sec test) or two (30-sec test) to determine your spm. Do this several times, resting between to eliminate fatigue, and take the average.
Alternatively, you can invest in a swim tool that measures your stroke rate for you. Many of the Garmin, Polar and Suunto multisport watches do this for you, as does the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro.
Your stroke length is mostly down to your technique – the better your technique, the more efficiently you can grab hold of the water and use it to lever yourself forwards.
Having a poolside coach to help improve your technique is really beneficial. If you can't utilise a coach, then there are other ways to learn. There are many videos to help you learn how to optimise your technique. It can also be beneficial to have someone video you in the pool so you can analyse your stroke.
And as a by-product of swimming regularly, you’ll also improve your “feel for the water”. In other words, you’ll learn to feel whether or not you’re moving well through the water, and how to correct it yourself.
Where to Start
To make the fastest gains, it’s important to identify which sessions will give you the most benefit. Do you need to focus firstly on technique or is your technique good enough to work on your fitness? Often it will be a blend of the two that will bring you the best results.
To help you become more efficient in the water, we incorporate sets of drills. Refer to this article and select the drills that are most relevant to your needs to improve your technique. Developing your stroke with a proper technique now will pay dividends later.
Join a Masters or Tri Club for group sessions
Coached group sessions offer many benefits. You’ll experience higher motivation to swim further and faster because of the people around you, the structure of the workout and the coach’s encouragement. You’ll also get technique pointers that enable you to improve your stroke gradually. You will also enjoy the social interaction, which will keep you coming back for more.
You can switch out a scheduled workout that has a similar purpose for your group session.
Time spent getting to the pool and changing before and after your session often adds up to equal, or more, than the time spent in the pool. Here are 3 tips to help:
1. Dedicated swim bag
To reduce the time you waste on packing your kit, make sure you have a separate bag always packed for swimming. It should include things like goggles, hat, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, deodorant, spare goggles, floats, swim toys, coins for a locker, gym pass, dry swimwear, spare swimwear and a towel. Don’t use this bag or the contents for other sports.
2. Fuel to Optimise the Benefits of Session
If you swim in the mornings, it’s important to have a little breakfast beforehand to make sure you have enough energy to swim properly. Post-workout eat within the first 30 minutes, as this is the window of optimal recovery. To save time, you could opt for recovery bars and fruit.
3. Print your workout
And take it poolside in a plastic sleeve, this will help you get right on with the prescribed session. You don't have to worry about remembering the details, and you will be able to swim, safe in the knowledge you are doing the right thing.
Have a clear picture in your mind of your perfect stroke and identify a couple of key areas for improvement (once these are corrected, you can move to the next). Cues can act as reminders as you swim. For instance:
- Maintain a stable head position.
- Keep your legs parallel to the water surface.
- Finish the push phase of every stroke.
Swimming takes perseverance and patience, with these you will be rewarded.
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