HELLO! It’s been a minute and this post has been brewing in my brain for a while now. I finally had some down time to hit the keyboard and get to it. I’ve been coaching masters since about February and I’ve been really fortunate to work with swimmers on the full spectrum of ability. I get to coach everyone from brand new swimmers to a silver medalist. But let’s be honest, I sort of just fan girl the silver medalist as she zooms up and down the lane like a badass. While I’ve been honing my coaching skills, with a couple of great mentors, I’ve also been paying close attention to how I swim. And trust me, I have
some several quirks in my stroke that need work too.
Since I’m always learning in both my own athletic endeavors and as a coach I figured I’d start with a list of what I’m seeing works best right now.
1. You. Must. Kick. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “I’m saving my legs!” This is my swim coaching pet peeve. If you have been swimming for most of your life, your kick is probably not super strong, meaning you aren’t kicking hard, but that’s because you learned great body positioning by kicking when you did learn to swim all those years ago. And how did you learn that? By kicking. Kicking helps you build up that strength that pushes your booty toward the sky. And a dragging booty, is a slow booty. So until you have great body positioning (as in your butt isn’t sinking) kick your legs. I’m not saying kick yourself into oblivion, but learn the proper freestyle kick and practice kick sets. Then, you will definitely not tire out your legs for the bike and run by kicking. I promise.
2. Drills, drills, drills. Hey, isn’t that a Destiny’s Child song? OMG, I’m so old. Sorry, back to drills. Drills are super important. BUT! You must pay attention to what they are for. If your coach assigns you a drill or you see it on a printed workout – find out what it’s for and then use it to help your stroke.
3. Play with your stroke. Uhm. Er. That sounds a little naughty, doesn’t it? Let’s keep it moving, sickos. As an example, I was showing up to practice and getting smoked during hand paddle sets by this one woman in particular in the lane next to me. Mind you, I swam faster than her on the other sets but when we put those damn paddles on she became impossible to hang on to and it was tough for me to make the interval. And yes of course, I’m racing the person in the lane next me. Duh. Anyway, I was getting frustrated and at first tried bigger paddles thinking that was the cause. No dice. Still got smoked. So, since frustration breeds ingenuity (that’s how the saying goes, right?), I put on my paddles again and played around with my hand placement as I pulled through the water. And waddya know, I’m now keeping up and even passing this speedy lady from time to time. Plus, it’s helping me pay more attention to how I pull when not doing just pulling sets. So play with your stroke. If you keep doing the same thing over and over and you aren’t seeing improvement, try something new!
4. Push your head down. This seems really simple but for new swimmers who don’t have that great body positioning, you have to push your head down to get your butt up. Remember, a dragging booty is a slow booty.™
5. Slow the f*ck down. Remember when you first became a runner? Well, if you are like me, someone who started running later in life, you know you had to go slower to go long at first, right? This applies to swimming. Slow down if you are a new swimmer and still learning. Swimming is so technical that slowing down and learning it properly before trying to crush intervals (and repeatedly swim with poor technique, see my paddle example above) is a much better way to start out.
6. Blow bubbles. It’s so strange to have two people show up who both claim to be just “doggie paddlers” and one will immediately get the breathing pattern down, and the other will struggle and get half the pool up their nose. If I could figure out why it clicks so quickly with some and not with others I’d be a hundred-aire. Anywho, I tell new swimmers when their face is in the water, they should blow bubbles. It takes times, but always blow bubbles. (This is a pretty post on “breathing” while you swim.)
7. Give yourself some credit. I’ve said it before, but swimming is hard. It’s definitely one of the harder sports to learn as an adult. Humans aren’t really meant to swim as far as I know, and it’s a very alien thing to try to become hydrodynamic for the mere purpose of sport. You know, as opposed, to survival where we would all just never go near water if we didn’t have to. Ha!
What tips have I missed?
8. Stick with it! It is all complicated at first, but it will all click one day soon. The more you keep showing up and working on things, the sooner that glorious day will come 🙂
Here here, Coach!
These are great tips! I’d also love to see some drill workouts for brand new swimmers!
Thank you! You got it Jess!
Great article! I’d love to get back into swimming, and it’s completely my fault I haven’t. I was a decent swimmer in collage but I never ever developed a useful kick despite hours of coaching and work
Thanks Rick! If you have good body positioning then you can kick less, so maybe you already have that part down?
I can add a couple! First, use a coach or a friend that knows proper swim stroke mechanics. You cannot spot your own inefficiencies! Someone else has to tell you that your elbow is low during the pull phase or if your hips are sinking. Well, those were the last 2 corrections my coach made. I couldn’t figure that out on my own.
Add volume: You can finish an ironman swim leg by putting as little as 10k a month into the water. But you can get into the top 10% if you’re getting in 50k a month. More miles will equal more speed. When I went from swimming Masters 2x a week to 6x a week I moved up 2 lanes.
Totally agree with those John! Great extra tips. Thanks!