Many swimmers I see simply jump in the pool and slog it out lap after lap with no real purpose or direction to their training. In order to continue improving you need to have a strategy in place that addresses your weaknesses and/or problems with your technique. Here are my 5 tips on how to swim faster.
To improve your swimming you need to remain consistent. It’s no good swimming 4 times a week for 6 weeks followed by 2 weeks off. Rather you should aim to do 2 sessions per week consistently without missing any weeks. Missing 1 week in the water can take you back as much as 2 weeks, especially if you didn’t spend your childhood chasing the black line. This is due to losing your “feel for the water”.
So how many sessions should you complete? This is a good question and really depends on your history and session frequency over the past 3-6 months. If you are new to swimming (6 months or less) then 2-3 sessions will see modest improvements. If you have been chasing the black line for a number of years then I would recommend following Tips 2 and 3 and ensure you are ticking these off before adding additional sessions and slogging it out. To answer the initial question; for someone who has been swimming 2+ years, I would aim for 2-3 swim sessions per week.
– 2 sessions weekly: Hold current form
– 3 sessions weekly: Improvements if your sessions are structured correctly
– 4 sessions weekly: Begin to see improvements
– 5+ sessions weekly: Begin to see good improvements
This will also depend on the session distance and duration. For low-intermediate swimmers, you are better off increasing frequency rather than trying to complete monster sessions that take you more than 1.5 hours.
This is the number 1 flaw I see in swimmers, especially triathletes. If you are inflexible in the shoulders, back and torso then your stroke “reach and catch” plus recovery (arms out of the water) will be limited. If you have poor flexibility in the ankles then your feet can act like anchors and you will not be able to achieve a high/horizontal body position. Tight muscle, tendons and ligaments can cause poor technique, inability to relax, fatigue and in some instances injury. On top of this, a poor technique will not allow you to activate the major swimming muscles used for faster swimming. Regular massage can be very effective for improving your flexibility and range of movement.
3. Practice Drills
Some form of drills should be practiced in every session whether you are a beginner or elite swimmer. Olympic swimmers will complete drills almost every session to refine their stroke and “feel for the water”. Drills are the number 1 way to fix stroke flaws and discrepancies and will help you sim more efficiently. Beginner swimmers should especially practice drills and not simply flog themselves up and down the pool inefficiently. A good technique must be practiced at easy-moderate efforts before it can be implemented under race conditions.
4. Avoid Weights
There is generally no need to be doing strength training in the gym until you are completing 3+ sessions a week in the pool, unless prescribed for an injury or ongoing issue. Swimming-specific strength is a much better option and can be achieved in the pool through drills, paddles, pull buoy and band work. Weights will increase strength, however, if this strength cannot be applied to your feel, catch and pull through, you are going to make yourself tight and inflexible, heavier and slower. Exercise bands (such as Thera-band) are a good dry land strength tool as they allow you to isolate muscles used for swimming and imitate the correct technique.
These recommendations above are for endurance/triathlon swimmers. For pool sprinters (<200m) this advice may vary.
5. Be Patient
Becoming a faster swimmer will not happen overnight and in many cases it will take years to reach your potential (especially if swimming wasn’t practiced often as a child). Have faith and stay consistent, listen to your coach (or seek advice), make sure your program is structured around the principles of training and be prepared to put in the hard work.
If you are interested in swim coaching/advice or programming please contact me via email
Ryan Bourke (Performance Triathlon Coach)