How to actually get faster at swimming can get terribly complicated when you look at all the factors involved. The list includes – but is not limited to – body position, strength of a multitude of muscles, coordination of those muscles, flexibility to use those muscles, training regimen, health, nutrition, sleep, staying injury free, dealing with injuries (all athletes have them), race planning, execution on race day, finding a coach who can help, finding a coach who will listen, being mentally tough, being emotionally sound…you get the idea. It all can seem overwhelming at times.
But is it really that complicated?
We give you the tale of two swimmers who have very different events. Each of these women is after the same thing – excellence. Each of these women has different challenges. In our minds however, by looking at the challenge – the goal – it seems rather basic. At the very least the main factor(s) for each is straightforward.
Sasza is a collegiate sprinter. Tyler is a professional Triathlete. Sasza has a spinal disc challenge. Tyler is a world class cyclist and runner. They are very different as is each person. They are very similar in that their quest is a high level one. Sasza has been 50.5 in the 100 yard free and wants to go 49.5. Tyler has won several international events and wants to win this year’s Ironman in Hawaii on October 9th.
At the risk of oversimplifying Sasza needs to be at her best for less than 50 seconds while Tyler needs to swim 2.4 miles in the ocean without using very much energy so she can ride 112 miles on her bike and then run a marathon (26.2 miles).
So how do we assess what each swimmer needs? We look at the task, find the critical elements relative to where each swimmer is today and then develop a training regimen that addresses those needs. Pretty simple from where we sit☺.
Sasza takes about 16 strokes per lap so figuring the dive lap at 12 or so she needs to be able to go full bore for 60 strokes on a total body energy basis but only 30 for each arm. She also needs an incredibly strong core to support her back. Her start will be critical as well as her turn speed and push off strength from the three walls.
Tyler needs completely different things. Her main skill to work on is body position. The less resistance she offers the water the faster and easier she will swim 2.4 miles. She needs to raise her head pretty regularly to keep her sight lines but do it in such a way as to minimize the impact on body position. Her core is very strong yet she needs to connect it to her feet to keep her lower body in line with her hips and torso.
Both women need sound biomechanics so their strokes are efficient. Sasza needs a higher tempo for a much shorter duration than does Tyler. So if you were the coach for each of these women how would you design their training?
At the risk of oversimplifying we offer this snapshot. Sasza needs lots of easy laps with perfect body position and stroke technique – she needs myelin wraps. She also needs a ton of dry land including Pilates. She needs as much high intensity speed work in the pool as she can tolerate. She needs a ton of leg strength work plus as much explosive work with her legs as her back can handle. She doesn’t need any real aerobic work.
Tyler also needs a ton of core work to be able to maintain body position for 2.4 miles. She needs stroke work as well – she needs myelin wraps. Dropped elbows will be a major deficiency for her. She needs very little speed work compared to Sasza. She needs more of the speed play or fartlek type of training plus lots of smooth “steady as she goes” swimming to groove her stroke.
Tyler needs to be efficient and still be able to race for hours after her swim. Sasza has to figure out how to empty her tank precisely at the 49 second mark. Anything left over has been wasted.
This is why swimming is so intriguing to us. The racing options are as varied as the swimmers themselves. We encourage you to boil down your goals to the basics, saving the more complex issues for the rocket scientists.
It could even be as basic as setting your alarm so you actually get to the pool! See you there soon!