Keep these five things in mind the next time you hit the water, and try out the subsequent workout to put those theories into action.
A Fast Stroke Rate Does Not Equal Speed1 of 10
However, it does equal exhaustion and inefficiency.
Picture this: You're riding your bike, and you start climbing a big hill. To make it easier, you pop it in the easiest gear. Suddenly, you're spinning out of control and going nowhere fast. You are pedaling like a hamster in a wheel but making very little progress because there's not enough resistance on the chain. Your legs are moving like pistons and your heart is beating like a drum, but you're barely making it up the hill. What do you do?
Well, you have two choices. You either find a harder gear with more resistance (to slow your pedal stroke down), or you fall over.
Swimming is similar—minus the whole falling over part (we hope). A fast stroke rate does not guarantee speed if you're not catching the water every time your hand enters. To get the most distance per stroke, you need to feel resistance on your forearms and hands, often known as the catch. Slowing your stroke rate down will actually make you a faster swimmer because you will feel the push against the water instead of slipping through it.
Exhale When Your Face Is in the Water2 of 10
Stop holding your breath!
Beginner swimmers have a tendency to hold their breath when their face is in the water and then struggle to both exhale and inhale fully when they come up for air. Not only does this often lead to bad form (lifting the head to get more air causes the hips to drop), but it's also downright exhausting and won't lead to efficient endurance swimming.
When your face is in the water, focus on exhaling the whole time. You may even want to audibly blow bubbles when doing so as a verbal reminder. Blow your air out slowly through the mouth or nose and, when you do need a breath, rotate slightly and focus on a relaxing inhale. The constant pattern should simulate any other aerobic activity.
Think about it this way: You don't hold your breath when you run or bike, so why would you do that in a swim?
Swimming With Others is Part of the Deal3 of 10
Beginner swimmers are often apprehensive about sharing pool space and circle swimming with other athletes. It's not because we're pretentious or self-centered. In fact, it's usually the opposite.
Many adult swimmers and triathletes are incredibly self-conscious and intimidated to be around others. We don't want to feel like we're in the way or slowing a lane mate down. Scoring our own lane is how we think we remain courteous. Except in the world of swimming, not sharing a lane isn't courteous at all.
Sharing lane space and circle swimming is part of the deal, and there are certain rules of etiquette to follow. It's OK to pass someone if you lightly touch their foot. If you want a lane partner to pass you, you can also stop briefly at the wall and allow them to hop in front before the next lap. Just make sure you communicate with each other during rest breaks.
Sharing close space with other swimmers is also valuable practice for those open water triathlons. If you have to share a body of water with hundreds of triathletes, you may as well practice the feeling in a more organized fashion.
For Adults, Swimming Isn't Always Intuitive4 of 10
You're probably thinking, "Tell Me Something I Don't Already Know!" If you grew up swimming as a child, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Kids who learn how to swim young will always have that innate "feel" for the water. They learned technique at an early age before questions and self-consciousness reared their ugly heads.
Why is swimming so frustrating? Simply put, it's not natural for a human to behave like a fish. We're born to walk, run and breathe on land. Swimming can make us feel uncoordinated, like a literal fish out of water.
Swimming is also one of the most technique driven sports, and it involves a certain "touch" to be both powerful (fast) and graceful (in alignment). That's ultimately what we're seeking in the water, right? Power and speed with a touch of beauty and balance.
If you're not already being coached, seek out a local swim instructor. They will assess your stroke and provide tips and drills to make corrections. Remember you can't change everything overnight, and good coaches will only give you one or two things to think about in each session.
Have Patience5 of 10
Enough said, right? Consistency is king with any new skill. If someone handed you a canvas and paintbrushes and said, "Paint me the Mona Lisa," you'd scoff at such a lofty request. Well, remember this. Swimming is a sport, but it's also an art. Treat your swim practice like a masterpiece that takes time.
Put These Theories into Action6 of 10
There isn't a "one size fits all" workout for beginners, but a combination of drill and technique work, breath work and a little speed is the mix you should shoot for. The following is an example workout to practice what was discussed in the previous slides.
Note: Before entering the pool do some ankle stretches and even band work to warm up your shoulders and arms. Practice and visualize a high elbow with fingertips pointed down in order to maximize that catch.
Warm Up7 of 10
3x100 with pull buoy between the legs alternating unilateral and bilateral breathing by 25ft. Focus primarily on the exhale underneath the water and keep your head and spine neutral when you do rotate to breathe. Breathe to the right for 25, then breathe only to the left for the next 25. On the final 50, breathe bilaterally but remember to exhale.
2x50 with kickboard and optional fins where you practice the common catch up drill on the way down and then swim on the way back. This drill emphasizes both the catch and slowing the stroke rate down to feel the push against the water.
2x50 swim with right arm only for first 25 and then left arm only for second 25. Pay attention to what side feels more balanced.
Main Set8 of 10
4x75 done as drill/swim/drill each 25. Take a 20 second rest after each 75. Drills may include doggie paddle, water polo drill, swim with fist and other searchable drills that help build the catch.
6x50 fast with 45 seconds rest. Remember, you're not necessarily increasing your stroke rate significantly. You're trying to grab more water real estate underneath that will propel you further with each stroke.
2x50 as 25 drill/25 swim bring it all back together.
Cool Down9 of 10
There is a lot you can do here that includes more drill work or swimming/kicking with fins to feel the added propulsion. You can also use a kickboard to practice audibly exhaling in the water. It's your time to play and make note of things that went well during your training session (and what didn't).