Dance With the Water–Part 5: Coordination Building

In this "Dance with the Water" article series, we continue discussing the idea that an athlete must listen to the signals the water gives, like a dancer following the lead of their partner. Move to your own beat, and not in rhythm with the water, and you're bound to struggle.

In this column, I'll highlight the need to build coordination and movement efficiency in the water.

Ask a swimmer or triathlete how their swim session went, and you'll probably get an answer which tells how far they swam. If they are a more advanced swimmer, they'll probably also tell you a key set they did, on a send-off interval, or holding a certain average time.

This is good, because the athlete understands the fact that there are different aspects to training besides volume. Volume is simply how much swimming you're doing, while giving a speed and time interval helps to define the intensity.

Put another way, volume helps to show aerobic fitness, because an athlete must have some basic aerobic fitness to be able to swim a distance. Intensity will show the muscular fitness of an athlete, because the athlete must have a certain amount of muscular power and fitness to complete the intervals on a set time.

How You Tell Your Muscles What to Do

Those are two important systems in training in general (not just swimming): the aerobic/cardio-vascular system and the muscular system. But there is one other system many athletes do not recognize or simply give lip service to in the pool with a few laps of drills, the nervous system.

The nervous system, or in this case the neuromuscular system, is what helps our muscles fire effectively so we can soundly perform the very technical movements of swimming.

Despite the fact that swimming is as technically demanding on skill as sports like golf and basketball, most swimmers and triathletes will spend very little time improving these skills, and their coordination, in order to improve their technical skills.

A single swim session may include only a few hundred meters of drills, (about 10 percent or less), or movements which challenge their coordination and sense of movement in the water. Imagine if a golfer or basketball player never practiced their swing or shots, or spent only 10 percent of their training time working on it. They would likely not be very good.

In swim training plans I design, there is a big focus on challenging the swimmer's movement patterns and coordination. Drills which challenge this include alternating single arms and breathing patterns, such as a single drill of two right arm strokes, two left, three right, three left, repeating with breathing every three strokes.

This forces the athlete to balance changing sides for both arms and breathing patterns. Do this enough, and it's easy to see how an athlete can improve their coordination and movement patterns.

If you can begin to focus on skill development, specifically challenging your neuromuscular coordination in swimming, you will be amazed at the progress you will make.

Best of luck!

Check out Part 4, the previous part of this series, "Tennis Anyone?" or sign up for a swim or triathlon.

Find a Drill for Your Next Swimming Workout


Jim Vance is a USAT Level 2 and Elite Coach for TrainingBible Coaching, and a professional triathlete. Questions or comments can be sent to jvance@trainingbible.com. You can also follow his writings and training advice at his coaching blog, CoachVance.blogspot.com, and on Twitter at Twitter.com/jimvance.

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