Coaching 101 – Getting into the swim of things

With swim training due to get under way shortly it is a good opportunity to reboot your swimming and make it better than ever.

To start with if you haven’t swum for a while swimming will be tough. Maybe the first 25m will feel good but if you are like me, after that the piano falls on your back and it becomes a matter of survival. The good news is that gains can come reasonably quickly even if you only swim 1-2 x per week.

While you won’t necessarily get any fitter your endurance will improve with each swim. The key is to do whatever you can to keep swimming. For me this means I swim for distance first- just straight swimming. When I get tired I put the pool buoy in so I can swim a bit more and then when I get really tired I put the fins on. Once I have recovered I start the cycle again. Each week you work on swimming more and using the toys less.

The other area to focus on now is technique. To start with the aim is to simply work on your position in the water. How can you adjust your head, torso, glide, hips and kick to better balance on the water? While eventually you want to work on increasing stroke rate and catch now is the time to work on balance.

I would use a more catch up style swimming to work on balancing on the front arm longer as you bring the recovery arm around. The key is to set the front arm up so that you are balancing on your forearm and hand- feel them holding you up on the water. Look forward and observe the hand out in front as it holds its position. You want a slight downslope from the shoulder to the fingers.

An easy way to demonstrate the benefits of a long stroke is to push off a wall with both arms by your side. See how far you travel with no kick and compare it to how far you travel with both hands stretched out in front. A long vessel is a fast vessel. The longer you can hold the front arm out in front before you start the stroke the faster you will go with less energy output. Just watch that you don’t pause the recovery arm at the back of the stroke in an attempt to glide for longer. It is not about glide, it is about along vessel and maintaining momentum. 

Counting strokes per lap is an easy way to measure what is happening. The lower the stroke count, especially for the same speed or ideally quicker the better. Olympic 400m champion Mack Horton speaks about counting strokes in the pool for just about every swim that he does.

Your SWOLF score on your watch will give you an idea on how effective you stroke is. This takes into account the strokes taken (left arm only) plus the time taken to swim a lap- the lower the score the better.

If you don’t already then a reboot is also the perfect time to learn bilateral breathing. This is where you breath every 3 strokes. When I first learnt to swim as a 25year old (I couldn’t swim 25m before this) we just focused on swimming and didn’t learn the basic skills. Learning to bilateral breath is one thing I wish I would have learnt as it would balance up my stroke and saved me years of shoulder pain.

Work on setting up a rhythm of breathing and stroking. Try to count it in i.e. 1, 2, 3- breathe or combine it with exhaling under water and use the mantra of bubble, bubble (as you exhale) breathe. You want to avoid holding your breath under water which makes the breath taking portion of the stroke too long forcing you have to lift your head too much. Instead try to work on minimising head turn when you breath. The head should follow your body as it rotates and turn only just enough so that pretty much one eye is above the water line as you look across the pool or slightly behind you (not up in the air).

Grant’s teaching skills are as good as any when it comes to swim technique so if you haven’t before, look at joining in with the Lakers sessions and have him provide you with some guidance on your stroke. 

While it is never easy to get going again after a long break, the gains can come quite quickly if you can consistently hit 1-2 swims per week and have a clear technique plan when you swim.


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