The Key to Fast Swimming – Part II

Part I.

Power – The stronger you are, the more water you can pull, the faster your propulsion.  That is the basic theory behind power training.  This incorporates aspects of technique, intensity, and volume into the training.  This year the team has used power towers and parachutes on a regular basis, and the team and I think they are awesome.  Learning how to grab the water more effectively, generate force with your arms and legs helps create easy speed for the cruise part of fast swimming, but you can also emphasize technique to work on maintaining form at the end of a race.  But power training too often can lead to decreased turnover, which while increasing distance per stroke and distance per kick, may take away some of the speed of a swim.  The ability to find a quick sprint might not be ready with heavy doses of power training.  Power training can be hard on the muscles and joints too.  Sometimes power tower sets become a challenge to see who can fill the bucket up the most and technique suffers as a result.  If you are just working on power, how will you be able to find variable speeds and adjust during a 3 day competition or during a race?  What about power outside of the pool in the weight room.  Is the more you lift necessary better?  Doing weight exercises that incorporate the core and recruit as many muscle groups as possible seem the best way to add power out of the water.  Doing 500 pounds on a leg press is great, but does that help out a backstroker that works the core like crazy going 15 meters underwater kick of each wall?  We have flyers right now that can do 20 pull ups and some that can’t do 4, yet they all swim around the same speed so obviously power plays a different role for different people.

Athleticism – So now speed comes into play with athleticism.  Power might tend to slow our muscles down, now we work on some quick reaction speed with dryland exercises.  But can you get better at swimming by not swimming?  Yoga can help with body awareness and coordination.  Same with slosh pipes, expect you add a power dimension.   But these body awareness drill sure can take a mental toll on a swimmer.  It’s frustrating to find balance and awareness that isn’t always natural. Medicine balls can work on endurance and aerobic fitness while stability balls can work core strength.  But ask yourself “What are you trying to get out of dryland”?  Does dryland supplement or complement swimming workouts?  Finding new ways to stress the body out the water and simulate movements one would use in the water is a good way to teach body awareness and transition strength and coordination into the water.  Dryland is a great way to set up team challenges that can add to team cohesion and not to mention ignite the competitive fire within swimmers.  But that said, swimming still will end up being more important at the end of the day than building athleticism out of the pool.

Attitude – The mental approach to swimming is one that is the most overlooked.  Swagger and confidence will enhance physical abilities.  A positive attitude can make a challenge fun, while a negative attitude can make a simple task overbearing.  Work ethic comes into play here too.  While consistent effort in all aspects of practice often leads to better performance, that isn’t the case in all instances.  What I love about pathological liars is their inability to distinguish the truth from lies.  More swimmers need to be like this.  Even if you start lying to yourself saying you are amazing, you can make a hard set, or just get in a cold pool for warmup, eventually if you tell yourself this enough you will begin to believe it.  Tell yourself you are great, and you’ll start taking steps towards greatness.  Because as George Costanza once said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

So I’ve explored some ideas that I’ve seen employed at various programs across the country.  Every program subscribes to a different philosophy, yet they all have success.  Why have they all had success doing something so completely different?  Of course the easy answer is to say you need all these aspects of swimming to be the fastest.  The world is covered in different shades of color, not black and white.  But that would be the easy answer.  To me the answer is that a coach must find what training is most comfortable for the athlete and for the coach.  Communication is probably the most important factor to swimming fast.  Communicating and establishing a purpose for all swimming activity leads to motivation and responsibility.  What is the purpose behind yards, intensity, technique, power, dryland?  That is a question that each swimmer and coach needs to answer on their own.  Here, our purpose every day is to accomplish a task that will make each swimmer better when he leaves practice than when he entered.  If we are doing dryland, the purpose is to become more athletic so a swimmer can have more control and awareness of the body in the water.  The purpose of a long aerobic day is to continue to push intervals down lower to make a cruise pace more effortless.  The purpose of our sprint and power days is to feel strong and fast and be competitive.  The purpose of our technique days are to increase our efficiency with better strokes for longer periods of time.  And each day a challenge is set forth with the idea that nothing is an obstacle presenting failure, but an opportunity for success and excellence.  So whatever way a team, coach, and swimmer decide to train, the key is to act purposefully in all that you do.

Steve Barnes is currently the second year head coach of a Wabash College in Wabash, IN. Steve maintains a regular blog, which can be found here.

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