Get it on tape
The best weapon you have against time is improving your stroke technique. The best way to do that is to have someone videotape your stroke.
By watching myself on videotape, I was able to figure out what my body was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix it, says New Hampshire swimmer Tracy Grilli, who was shocked to see her body position. I was like a tugboat, a barge, my feet were dragging, just tremendous resistance. I just said, Duh, how about if I kick a little harder? It was just a matter of figuring it out. I still have technique flaws I can work on, but I need to see them first.
The key to a lifetime of swimming fast is to want it, to really challenge yourself. One of the tricks I do when Im trying to accomplish something is set my self-image way beyond what Im trying to accomplish, says masters star Ande Rasmussen, 36, of Houston, who swims a 48.5 in the 100-yard free.
So if I want to be the best masters swimmer in the country in my age group, I think its really important to act like that in training. Not necessarily to stand in front of people and say, Im the best, but to remind yourself of that. Set really high standards in training. Im a big believer in quality. I think its better to be tightly focused for one minute, really pushing your limit, then to meander for two hours.
The No. 1 training tip from Rasmussen and other fast swimmers is to build your strength through dry land training.
If we had a $10,000 bet a really good reason to get in shape for one race the first thing I would do is get into the weight room, Rasmussen says.
Dont be afraid to push yourself in practice. For you to get faster, its imperative that you swim fast in practice, says Rob Butcher of Deland, Fla. The biggest thing that helped me was training with people who were faster than me.
Adjust your yardage
For some swimmers, a key to lasting success is swimming more laps; for others, its the opposite.
Im training harder now that I ever did in my life, says Graham Johnston, 68, a masters legend and a 1952 Olympian. I hate to admit it, but a big part of it is ego. I love to win.
The opposite has worked for Nancy Ridout. At 45, I cut down from 4,500 yards per workout to 3,000 to 3,500, she says. I decided I didnt want to be tired the rest of my life.
Sixty-two-year-old Jeff Farrell, a 1956 Olympic gold medalist, agrees. In 1958, his time for the 50-yard free was 22.5 seconds. Today, he can still swim 23.5. The secret to his longevity? I have a lot of fun with it, I dont take it too seriously, says Farrell, who trains three to four times a week with the Ojai Masters in Ojai, Calif. I usually get to practice too late to warm up, he admits.
One day, maybe, Farrell will attempt to break his 41-year-old 50-free personal record. If I really took dryland and strength training seriously, if I swam 3,000 yards instead of 2,000 and swam five to six days a week, if I studied swimming more, if I checked all the stuff thats on the Internet yeah, I definitely think I could do a faster 50 free.
But if I did all that this year, says Farrell with a laugh, what would I do next year?
Supplement your diet
Many swimmers swear by nutritional supplements. They are extremely important, says Drury Gallagher, who starts his day with a nutrient-filled Greens Plus drink, and takes vitamins B6, B12, and C, beta carotene, and a natural hormonal supplement.
Masters star Pipes-Neilsen takes antioxidants (vitamins E and C) before swimming. She believes they help alleviate muscle soreness. She also endorses a protein and carbohydrate drink called Go!, which she consumes immediately after workouts.
It really helps my recovery, by replacing the amino acids lost in the workout, she says. I want to set myself up for a good swim the following day.
Loosen your joints
Swimming is a lot easier than most sports on your joints, but you may have occasional shoulder, lower back, or knee aches and pains. Lots of older, faster swimmers, including Farrell and Johnston, take care of those twinges with a mixture of glucosamine and chondroitin. It is available under various brand names (such as Joint EEZ from A Nu You Nutrition), and reputed to ease joint inflammation.
Try it all
If you want to stay fast, stay curious. Try new techniques, new weight-training regimens, eat well, get plenty of rest or try new dietary supplements. These swimmers recommend trying any legal method that keeps you zipping down those lanes all the years of your life.