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You can always be faster

tips for advanced swimmers to take your swimming from good to great

strong swimmer
Swim it to win it.

In our advanced swimmer's guide to developing your mental approach to swimming we looked at the mental side of swimming. How you think about your strongest discipline can often hold you back over the duration of the entire triathlon event. As a triathlete with a strong swimming background, you often feel the need to smash the swim leg to show others that you are the strongest, when in reality this won't do anything for your bike and run disciplines. Using effective drafting techniques to lower your physical exertion and still swim at the same speed can have a massive impact on your entire race.

But what about the ways in which you can actually get faster with your swimming? What if you are a pure swimmer and need to be as fast as possible from point A to point B, whether that be in the pool or open water? Is your mindset at a place that says "I just need to continue to do lots of hard work in the pool and that will make me faster over time?" Or are you open to considering some of the following technique pointers that may help you become even faster than you already are? Hopefully it's the latter.

Here at Swim Smooth our message to advanced swimmers is "You can always be faster!".

1. Pace Awareness. When we discuss pace awareness with top swimmers they tend to roll their eyeballs. Many think they have a good judgement of pace in the pool but often when we test this and study their pacing we find it to be a definite weak point with lots of room for improvement.

The best way to test this ability is with a time trial over 400 to 1500m and have a coach or friend collect your splits at the 25, 50, 100 and then every subsequent 100m marker.

strong swimmer
Anyone can fly off the front in the first 100m but they'll pay later.

It is extremely common to swim way too fast in the first 200m of such a swim. Because your heart rate and perceived exertion are delayed responses to the real intensity of effort, they take several minutes to catch up with the real intensity.

If you've set too fast a pace, faster than your "threshold pace" over that distance (even if its only a few seconds too quick), it is already too late and you have dug yourself a very difficult hole to get out of.

Suffering early in a swim race can crush you psychologically if you start to feel yourself slipping backwards.

For your test 400-1500m timetrial, take your average pace per 100m and compare it to your first 100m. If you are more than 2-3 seconds faster over the first 100m, we would suggest that pace awareness is something you need to work on for future improvement.

How can you do this effectively? The Mark II version of the Wetronome Pacing Unit has a function to set expanded time intervals between the beeps. So, let's say you want to hold a pace of 1:20 per 100m to give you a time of 20:00 for 1500m. You would set the Wetronome to beep at you every 20 seconds (25m) or 40 seconds (50m) and make sure you don't stray in front of this beep in the opening stages of the swim.

Getting your pace right is quite tricky at first but by using the Wetronome over an extended period of time and over a variety of different distances and speeds, you will begin to fine-tune your innate ability to pace yourself. In a FINA based pool event you won't be able to use the Wetronome to help pace you, nor would it be of any use in the open water without set distance markers. However, if you use it regularly in training you'll learn the skill of pacing technique and your race times will be much faster as a result.

Note: Once you have developed good pacing technique you'll start to notice how rare they are. In many races the whole field starts too fast and then fades through the swim. Take advantage of this fact, swim at the right pace from the start and come through strong in the middle and end when everyone else is dying. You'll finish faster and if it's a triathlon you'll be fresher for the bike, too.

2. Stroke Rate Development. Another angle on pacing which offers potential for improvement in your stroke technique is Stroke Rate Development. As you know, stroke rate is a measure of how many strokes you take per minute (SPM). At Swim Smooth we count each hand entry into the water as a stroke, though you will hear others referencing a stroke to be a complete stroke cycle (i.e. left arm + right arm).

strong swimmer
Plan a controlled swim leg and you'll be even faster.

We find counting each stroke to be more valuable as it helps identify asymmetrical (meaning lop-sided) stroke technique.

Check your stroke rate through a long steady paced swim (e.g. 1500m) to check it is consistent and not dropping. Also, use video footage of your stroke to help identify if you have any dead spots or hitches in your technique. Increasing stroke rate a touch in a controlled manner is a great way to help remove these pauses. Find out more about using stroke rate control to remove dead spots in your technique.

Dead-spots often come about as the result of trying to over-reach at the front of your stroke to make it as long as possible. In this case, the wrist and elbow often drop momentarily causing you to push water away from you, like applying some brakes.

strong swimmer
Over reaching often causes the wrists to drop - "putting on the brakes".

Equally, if you start a race at too fast a stroke rate, the excessive fatigue in the latter stages will cause your form to become sloppy and your elbows may end up dropping even further. This will increase your drag and hurt your catch technique.

To fix these problems use the Wetronome to control your stroke rate to suit your individual stroke. This is another great way to perfect your race pacing.

3. Leg Kick Timing. Have you ever experimented with the timing of your leg-kick with respect to your arm-stroke? If not, why not? Do you know whether you kick predominantly in a 2, 4 or 6-beat pattern over a range of set distances? If you have never considered this aspect of your stroke as being important, you need to read on!

strong swimmer
Can you improve your leg kick timing?

Sprinters use a hugely powerful 6 or even 8-beat leg kick to generate propulsion (though it still only accounts for 10 to 15% of their entire propulsion). Distance swimmers will often appear 'lazy' with their kick at 2 or 4 beats per stroke cycle.

Observe Mr Smooth's kick cycle in our presentation. Could you develop a more efficient stroke for distance swimming by toning down your leg kick a touch and focusing less on the propulsion you gain from it? What if you focused instead on the rhythm and lower exertion that a correctly timed 2-beat kick technique can offer you?

Dare to be different. Dare to experiment with this aspect of your stroke. At the very least it will show you how effective or ineffective your catch and pull through is. Just learning how your natural kick timing works can be useful and interesting.

Making improvements to your kick timing may not be a quick process, so be patient with it -- fortune favours the brave!

Check out our sister technique article for advanced swimmers - Mindset Tips For Advanced Swimmers.

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Return to the Advanced Swimmers Homepage for more hints and technique tips.

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Swim Smooth Links

learn about bilateral breathing here.
more open water swimming from Swim Smooth.
improve your feel for the water to swim faster.
develop an efficient swimming technique
an amazing swimming DVD to improve your swimming.
do you need a ironman or olympic triathlon swimming training plan?
learn about bilateral breathing here.
more open water swimming from Swim Smooth.
improve your feel for the water to swim faster.
develop an efficient swimming technique
an amazing swimming DVD to improve your swimming.
do you need a ironman or olympic triathlon swimming training plan?