Triathletes - Learn to See Swimming in a Different Light (Drills, Drills, Drills)

Be a Safer Swimmer - 360swim SaferSwimmer

Oct 24, 2011

Triathletes - Learn to See Swimming in a Different Light (Drills, Drills, Drills)

Stereotypically, I find triathletes to be very self-motivated athletes always pushing their limits in whatever they do. And rightly so. In order to achieve competitive level in all the three sports combined, triathletes have to manage their workout regimes very tightly, so they have time to practice and improve in all of the sports. Talk about time management skills :). This, however, also brings with it a big challenge for many triathletes when it comes to improving in swimming. Running and cycling are very similar sports in the sense that if you run or cycle for longer periods or more often, you are bound to improve as the motion is not as complex as in swimming and the activity is on dryland which we are more accustomed to. Going for weekend 6 hour rides feels very tough at the beginning, but after a 3 month period of continuous riding, it suddenly does not feel so bad. One cannot, however, simply use the same principle in swimming. If you enter your swimming workouts with the following idea in your head, "I will swim as hard and as much as I can and I'll improve" you are already setting yourself up for a failure. Swimming smarter and not harder is the cliche that gets repeated over and over, but it is actually very much true.
Arm lead balance drill

Swimming needs a bit of a different, more scientific approach to training. You cannot simply turn your brain off when you swim and hope for the best. The swimming movement is such a complex matter that it needs to be broken down into parts and these parts need to be practiced over and over before they can be slowly put together again. Similar to babies finding their hands and practicing putting them in their mouths and practicing their first steps.

Human bodies weren't originally built for water, so we need to work extra hard to be efficient swimmers. To break down swimming into parts, we use what we call in swimming lingo "swimming drills". Each swimming drill focuses on a specific small aspect of the swimming stroke with the goal of improving the overall stroke. Some drills are easy, and some quite difficult, but they all have a purpose. For example, we could have a side balance drill where a swimmer only kicks on his/her side to practice correct body line position, increase core body strength and overall ballance in the water. Or to help with the underwater catch we could use the freestyle one arm drill where the swimmer swims freestyle only with one arm while the other is pointing forward or by the body. There are hundreds of swimming drills for every stroke out there and the best coaches incorporate them into their practices every day. So why shouldn't you?

I know what some of you might be thinking: well, if I swim slower with one arm or just kick on one side, I don't feel I am working as hard as I do when I train in running or cycling. Sure, your heartrate might not be as high, so you feel like you are wasting your time since you are swimming slowly or you might get bored as your body needs that rush of exhaustion all the time for you to feel that the workout was worth it. Or you might be thinking that I don't have time to worry about this, I just need to swim as I don't have enough time to master all three sports and, I have to swim as much as I can. If you belong to this category of triathletes and you train in this way, you are just asking for trouble, especially when it comes to improving in your swimming. Not improving your technique by incorporating miscellaneous swimming drills into your swim routines, is a bit like running or cycling with untied or unstrapped shoes. You can tie them at any point you want, but you do not and you keep running or cycling with them untied even though you'd run much faster if you took the time to tie them. You can perform swimming drills during your workouts, but you do not because your mind and stubbornness get the better of you.

One arm freestyle drill with an early vertical forearm catch
The same problematic behavior can apply when swimming in a group, on a masters team or in a lane with other lap swimmers. Your competitiveness or pride gets the better of you and you try to race the person in the next lane or pass a slower swimmer in front of you. This competitiveness spirit is awesome and it is what makes you better in one way (so don't lose it), however, it also cripples your ability to slow down and properly understand the different movements your body is making in the water. The same goes for choosing what time intervals to keep during your swim practices. Many of you may feel you have to keep up with the faster swimmers all of the time and therefore cut your rest or interval workouts so you can stay with the group. As much as this is very good practice once in a while, most of the time you are damaging your swimming more than you are helping it. First, the intervals and rest are there for a reason: if you cut them short you are suddenly practicing on a different heart rate level which has a different effect on your body than planned by the workout. Second, since you are working harder than you are supposed to, your swimming technique deteriorates and your stroke suffers.

Next time you are doing your workout or are in the pool just cruisin', take these words to heart and do me and most important yourselves a favor. Start to think about your stroke. Swallow your pride, learn to think like a swimmer (not a triathlete) when you are in the pool and swim at your own speed and utilize swimming drills in your workouts. You can't go wrong, if 50% of your swimming workout is composed of miscellaneous swimming drills. So happy drilling everybody!
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.


Anonymous said...

I think everyone should learn how to swim. Even if you don't have room for a traditional pool...people can get Above Ground Pools! Swimming is a great way to lose weight and spend the summer.