The reason I even noticed her that day is because she wears this long sleeved shirt when she swims. For 2 years, I have been watching her swim. She swims several days a week and always swims while masters is going on.
The reason I bring her up is because in two years, I have never seen her do anything more than swim back and forth, lap after lap, no change in pace. I haven't seen her swim make any noticeable improvements in speed.
One day this week, I had a solo swim. I saw the woman with the long sleeved shirt again. I started thinking about the things that I have done to improve my swim. Swimming is tough because it's tough to learn how to improve by reading articles (for me).
Big pull? That didn't mean anything to me. I thought I was pulling big.
Overgliding? Gliding? We're supposed to glide, so why is it bad?
Kicking? Who needs it as a triathlete? We're saving our legs.
The list goes on an on.
I thought I'd write about some of the things I have done to improve my swim....in an athlete's language, not a coach's language or as someone who has a long history of swimming.
These are issues that helped me.
1.) Regular lessons/masters. Ask for help. Coaches can't read your mind. You have to take an active part in your development. If you want help, you have to ask for it.
2.) Remove the word "gliding" and "overgliding" from your vocabulary. When your arm is out of the water for recovery and ready to start the pull, as soon as your arm is fully extended in the water, start your pull. The glide is result of your pull. Think of it this way, when you run and your foot hits the ground, your other leg isn't stopped at the top, right? If you did that, you'd stop running. The same thing applies to swimming. AS SOON AS YOUR arm is extended, START YOUR PULL. Don't pause. Don't stop.
3.) Stand up. Put your arms straight above your head, completely stretched out, stretch as far as you can go.....That's called your "reach". You need to do that for every single stroke. (That's why body rotation is so important. You reach further when you have rotated to your side. But, don't worry so much about body rotation. It tends to happen naturally once you get the other pieces.)
Next, stay standing. Bring your arms down to a goal post position. Now back up to your reach. Now back down to goal post position. THAT'S WRONG BUT MANY PEOPLE SWIM THAT WAY. Instead of pulling, they bring their arms into a goal post position. I used to swim that way, so it's really easy for me to see in other people.
Try this: Back into your reach position, both arms stretched as far up as you can. Pretend you are a cheerleader. Leave one arm up, move the other down, so it's 90 degrees from the other arm. (If you turn sideways, it'll look like the letter L).
For all intents and purposes, that's what your pull is supposed to look like. Not a goal post. When you complete the pull, you can brush your thigh. When you do that, your body will rotate toward that side.
When you complete the pull, you can brush your thigh. When you are in the "L" position, think about how deep in the water your arm is. When your arm is deep, you are moving against more water resistance, which means your pull is pulling you further. (This is called "Force"). The L is simply to make a point, your arm will bend a bit as you dig deep.
One quick point. You might hear people talking about the HIGH ELBOW. Don't worry about the "high elbow". That's one of those things that really messed me up. I couldn't get the "high elbow" yet "deep pull". In my head, those were contradictions. Work on pulling deep or the L. (Again, your arm will have a natural bend. It won't exactly be straight like an L).
When you put steps 2 and 3 together, one hand as soon as it hits the water, starts the pull. While on the other side, the arm is brushing the leg and coming out of the water. Sounds complicated, so for me, I had to think about ONE thing at a time.
4.) Kicking. If you have access to a deep pool, go into the deep end where you can't touch the ground. Stay vertical. Put your arms straight up and kick. The goal is to keep your head out of the water.
Here's what I learned: if you are pedaling like a bike, you'll sink. Your kick is coming from your knee down.
Your kick needs to come from your core. When coach used to tell me this, it didn't make sense. So, think of your kick as a "full leg" kick. Your kick actually starts from your hips, quads and hamstrings. They need to move! When you do that, you engage your core....automatically. When you think about it, what is the strongest part of your legs? The tiny muscles in your shins and calves? Or the big muscles in your butt, quads and hamstrings?
Take advantage of those big powerful muscles.
5.) The biggest change that I had in my kick was when my coach had me switch to a 6 beat kick. Most triathletes don't kick or kick with a slow 4 beat kick.
This next part is something for you to think about. The kick is a numbers game. Don't think about it when you're swimming. Just think about it logically.
The 4 beat kick sets your body into poor movement. It's 2 kicks per leg per side. A 6 beat kick is 3 beats per leg per side. This is important because with a 2 beat (or kick) per side, you are finishing your kick with the leg on the same side as your pull and your body rotation. Now, this isn't something me or any other swimmer really thinks about. It's simply an "odds" and "evens" game.
On the 6 beat kick, you finish your kick with the opposite leg.
Again, an easy way to visualize this. Put yourself into a crawling position. (Get on your hands and knees). When you move forward, you move your left leg with your right arm. You can't crawl if you move your left leg at the same time as your left arm.
That's the 6 beat kicking concept. When you do 3 beats (an odd number), you are finishing your kick on the opposite side of your pull which is again creating power (or force) and pushes you through the water.
The biggest changes I made:
a.) full leg kick
b.) 6 beat kick
I can tell you that switching to a 6 beat kick was not easy. It's very tiring because it feels (initially) like you are over kicking. Once you get it, it feels much more natural and as though your kick is now a productive part of your freestyle.
One more thing that will help. These fins were recommended to me by my coach.
6.) Pace. Like the woman at the beginning of this post, are you swimming all workouts and all intervals at the same pace?
Do you run 400 meters at the same pace you run a 10K? I hope not. The same rule goes for swimming.
When you swim a fast 50, it should leave you winded. If your 50 pace is very close to your 100 pace, you're either not going fast enough on your 50's or not going fast enough on your 100's. Likewise, your 100 pace should be considerably faster than your 1000m pace.
When you use toys: fins, pull buoy, paddles, even your easy pace, with toys, should be considerably faster than your pace without toys. (If it's not, you might have found a weakness in your stroke).
Just like running or riding, you have to teach your body to move fast if you want to get faster. If you swim at the same speed all the time, you are only learning how one pace feels.
Your swimming days should consist of speed days (USRPT), mid-distance, long days, hypoxic, and (yes) even stroke days (to stregthen to entire body and your freestyle).
7.) A word about Flip turns. No one fucking cares. Do it or don't. It doesn't matter. An open turn is a completely legal turn in the swimming world. Don't let any arrogant ego driven person tell you that you need to flip turn.
I have always done flip turns. (I taught myself from youtube videos. Then, my coach at masters taught me how to clean it up). I do them because I want to.
Other than coming off the wall faster, I don't really see any benefit that you get from flip turning. Some people claim that it gives you hypoxic training, but you can do hypoxic workouts without flip turning.
Do what you want. I don't care if people flip turn or not when I swim with them.
That's it. Maybe this helps you. Maybe not. For me, swimming was the hardest of the three to learn because it is definitely more of a finesse sport. Don't get me wrong. You have to be strong to swim, but there are more nuances in swimming than in running and cycling, in my opinion.