Unlike cycling and running, where pure mileage can bring with it power and speed (to a certain degree), swimming is largely a technique-based sport.
"Triathletes tend to equate progress with workload," says Brett Rose, a former pro triathlete and managing partner of SwimLabs Swim School in Orange County, California.
I've seen more triathletes than I can count swimming 3,000 yards in the pool or the ocean five times a week and expecting that's going to make them fast. They couldn't be more wrong. They might get slightly better at swimming, but without proper technique and skill, most of that mileage is just pure junk that's more likely to blow out their shoulder than get them to T2 any faster.
Even those of us with swim team backgrounds can fall into some pretty bad habits with regular Masters swim workouts. Coached workouts are always going to be aerobically challenging, but I venture to guess that most Masters coaches aren't going to stop a practice mid-set to make everyone scull for a few hundreds so they can better understand the feel of the water.
That's just not how most of the workouts are set up. They are set up to give you a hard workout, and for most triathletes that means a purely freestyle workout as well. Putting in the time either in a workshop, a one-on-one stroke analysis or even on your own to practice proper form is hard. You have to slow down and pay attention to every little detail (and many of them simultaneously) in a way you don't have to in cycling and running. The payoffs can be substantial though.
Now that we're in the offseason, it's a perfect time to work on your swimming technique. A video swim analysis or one-on-one swim technique session with a Masters coach are great options. Many Masters coaches will, often for a reasonable price, set aside an hour with you to go over some of your stroke deficiencies, as well as give you some useful drills for you to perform on your own. Sometimes a simple Smartphone video of your stroke (while often hard to watch), can give you valuable insight into what you need to improve upon.
I recently had a one-on-one video swim analysis at SwimLabs Swim School in Encinitas, California, and found the entire experience incredibly useful.
I'm a moderately serious Masters swimmer with a competitive swim background, which in reality just means I thought I knew what I was doing in the water despite having developed a multitude of bad habits. I've been working on correcting them (crossover entry on the left side, slightly steep entry on the right side coupled with late breathing on either side) for the past couple of months. However, despite some quick drills given to me by my Masters coach, I really didn't understand what needed to be done differently because I couldn't see myself doing the drill.
It was frustrating to say the least. And, worst than that, my left shoulder was beginning to talk to me as well.
One of the benefits with video swim analysis is that you can change your stroke and see what you're doing wrong in real time. The SwimLabs facility in Encinitas has four Endless Pools, equipped with multiple cameras under and outside of the water, as well as a mirror on the side and underneath you. First, SwimLabs manager and instructor Mason Bailey had me do an easy warmup in the water, which he filmed to get an initial assessment of my freestyle stroke. Then, he broke it down for me piece by piece. We worked through a series of drills to help correct my left arm, as well as worked on my overall high-elbow catch.