Sunday, January 24, 2010


Swim coaches and swimmers who compete are always looking for speed. We would be willing to guess that even those who swim mainly for fitness would like to improve their speed in the water, if for no other reason than it feels fun to be smooth and efficient.

We were lucky enough to attend the last part of the Cal vs. Arizona Women's and Men's dual meet last Saturday in Berkeley. These two teams feature many of the finest and fastest NCAA swimmers in the country. Watching competitive swimmers at that level is a real eye opener.

We came away from the meet with two observations about speed. The first came from watching the swimmers. The quickness they demonstrated in the turns was very impressive. They all changed directions with what can only be described as "blazing speed."

The 500 swimmers, the flyers, the imers, and the relay swimmers - you name it and they were blasting the entry and exit of their turns. It occurred to us as we watched this that turning speed is similar to kicking prowess in that it doesn't take much pure genetic talent to excel. It does require discipline and will power; and those two characteristics are free for the taking. All you need to do is decide you want to get faster, focus on the entry and exit and the quickness of those moves and bingo! You are faster. Pretty simple and yet when you attempt this for a set or two you will quickly realize that it can be very demanding on you, both physically and mentally.

The second observation came from a discussion with one of the coaches. He said he likes swimmers to think about and then find the body position that creates the least amount of drag and resistance in the water. We coaches often lump this type of discussion into the category of "streamlining" and while that is fine there really is more going on here than meets the eye.

Every single time one part of your body moves in an unstable environment - such as water - there is another movement, usually in contradiction to the first movement. If you want to go forward in the pool you will want to have all your energy used to do just that - go forward. You want to avoid having your energy compensate to overcome unnecessary drag and resistance. That's one reason swimming with a snorkel is so helpful: your body doesn't move out of line with the turning of your head to catch a breath. You can swim freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly with a snorkel. While doing so pay attention to how streamlined your body feels in the water. Then swim a couple of 25's without the snorkel and see if you can feel any difference in your body position. Then put the snorkel back on. If you keep repeating this on and off drill you will find your awareness about your body position increases. With this increased awareness you can begin to make small but very significant changes in how you move through the water. And you will get faster!

So, two ideas about how to get more speed and neither of them require anything more than your willingness to apply some basic gumption! No extra talent required! Nice!

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