Swimming faster isn’t all that complicated when you really think about it. Each day work on becoming a little more efficient and a little more conditioned and you will steadily improve over time. And yet, a lot of swimmers have a hard time bursting through the inevitable plateaus that occur over time.
If you are doing everything you can to improve the fundamentals of your stroke and you are busting your butt through the aerobic and power sessions in the water, there are some additional things that you can do to swim faster this season.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Power up your breathing.
Swimming is one of the weird sports where you have to hold your breath for extended bouts of time. Off the dive and through your dolphin kicking and breakout you are holding your breath. In and out of the flip turns you are holding your breath. If you are a sprinter, you are breathing even less, with many elite swimmers holding their breath for the entirety of 50m races. But how do you become a better “breather”?
Well, there are some breathing exercises swimmers can do, including breathing bilaterally and holding specific breathing patterns while practicing. If you want to really level up your breathing take a look at a respiratory device (like the PowerLung, which I use all the time and review here) which is like weight lifting for your lungs. You breathe in and breathe out at variable levels of resistance. Just like in the gym, with time your respiratory muscles get stronger and you can progressively suck down more and more oxygen with each breath. Pretty hand thing to be able to do in a sport that requires a fair amount of breath control!
Power up your stroke.
While we are on the topic of resistance training, there is no shortage of ways to swim with resistance in the water. You’ve got your regular old drag suit (mine looked like a diaper it was so over-sized as an age grouper), weight belts (done best when vertical kicking as Michael Phelps demonstrates here), and more bulky (and not altogether accessible) devices like Power Racks and Towers.
For swimmers who generally train on their own there are power development tools like DragSox (one of my absolute favorite toys in the water) and parachutes. Swim parachutes are exactly as they sound: You tie a belt with a six foot canvas cord that attaches to a nylon parachute. They come in various sizes, from your small (usually around 8”) to the larger, shoulder-busting models (typically 12-14” wide).
Power training in the water helps you balance out your stroke, encourages a high elbow catch, and once you take it off you get the benefit of post-activation potentiation (in other words, you will feel like someone strapped a jet pack to your back once you take off the resistance).
Power up your mindset.
While we have stuck to the physical components of your performance in the water, there is some work to do with your mental approach to your swimming. Coaches love to paraphrase Yankee legend Yogi Berra when they say that swimming is 50% physical and 90% mental.
When it comes to boosting your performance both in practice and in competition, fewer mental skills carry more punch than visualization. Most athletes use visualization strictly for competition: by picturing themselves performing well ahead of time they are more confident on race day, are able to imagine themselves overcoming adversity (which WILL happen in some form), and groove their ideal performance into their mind.
But if you wanna crank up the awesome in the pool this year add this mental trick to your swimming workouts. Right before your high-intensity efforts quickly imagine how you want your stroke to feel, the sensation of your body surfing over the water, and the crisp hip rotation and pulling motions. Research with track athletes found this simple trick helped boost performance significantly compared to traditional psych-up talk.