Certainly, a beginning swimmer can make significant gains in speed because they are starting with a baseline of limited to no fitness and skills; but after a few weeks, they will reach a speed plateau. They cannot improve their average speed for long swims. Even intermediate and advanced distance swimmers can hit a speed ceiling.
These more advanced swimmers can often be found churning out set after set of repeat 100s to 500s with very short rest intervals. These swimmers also like long and steady open water swims. Managing a certain level of discomfort for a long period makes them feel like they accomplished something in the workout.
But, what if you are stuck at your current speed and can't seem to get faster?
One answer seems obvious: You need to swim faster in order to get faster. Swimming fast and experiencing a load of lactate is not a feeling long-distance swimmers or triathletes enjoy. They would rather swim 1,000 or 2,000 steady than swim six all-out, fast 50s—even if there is generous rest between each 50.
Speed It UpLet's save the fast 50 workouts for another column. For this column, I'll have you sneak up on some speed with shorter efforts. These workouts come from Masters swim coach Scott Allen. He is a former USA Swimming staff member and helped Susan Von der Lippe qualify for the Olympic trials this year. As well as Olympians, he has coached many triathletes and age-group swimmers of all ages.
He believes, and I agree with him, that you need to swim fast early in the workout, before you have any accumulated fatigue. You need to begin with short distances and then build the distance of fast swimming over time, in a progression.
To get you started on the path to faster swimming, try to do one of the sets outlined in this column after your warm-up swim, but prior to the main set.
For all the sets, the 25s are on a swim interval that gives you around 15 seconds rest. The 50s and 100s are done on an interval that gives you 20 to 30 seconds rest. If you swim in a long course pool, get creative about modifying the workout to achieve the goals in the set.
Repeat the following set two to three times:
2 x 25 Build speed throughout the 25
2 x 25 Swim half the distance as fast as you can, it doesn't matter if it is first half or last half. Swim the other half easy.
1 x 25 All-out fast
1 x 50 Very relaxed and easy
Repeat the following set two or three times:
1 x 25 Steady swimming
1 x 25 Build speed throughout the 25
1 x 25 Swim half the distance fast
1 x 25 Easy
Repeat the following set two times. Wear fins for the entire set:
2 x 100 Do 25 kick, 25 swim, 25 kick, 25 swim
2 x 25 Kick fast
2 x 25 Swim fast—really fast
1 x 50 easy
Include one of these fast swimming segments between your warm-up and main set at least once, and preferably twice, per week for the next six to eight weeks. On your other swim days you can include form drills between the warm-up and the main set.
At the end of your experiment, let me know if it got easier to swim fast on the short sets. Were you able to swim faster in some of your longer sets too? Did you bump your overall speed? Comment to other swimmers in the community by logging your experience here.
Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.