Ignore Stroke Count
Somewhere along the way, people got the misunderstanding that stroke count was the Holy Grail to swimming. They developed a belief that if stroke count exceeds a magic number, say 18 strokes per 25 meters, they must reduce swim effort and speed until they can maintain 18 again.
For those of you in this camp, let me ask you if you are consistent. If your cycling revolutions per minute exceeds, or is less than, 90 do you reduce speed or power output? Or, do you aim for a particular speed or power production and ignore rpm when you are trying to get faster?
What about running cadence? The same question applies here. If your stride rate is less, or greater, than 90 steps per minute do you stop the workout? I doubt it.
When you get speedy, ignore stroke count and do whatever you can to swim faster. Experiment to find what works for you.
Swim Year Round
How can you possibly expect to get faster and spend less energy in the pool if you quit swimming until 12 weeks before your triathlon? I've heard the argument that there's "not that much speed to be gained by swimming in the offseason."
There is speed to be gained and perhaps more importantly, you can reduce the energy you put into swimming if you have a solid base of swimming fitness. If you want to improve your swim, you must be in the water year round.
Join a Masters Group
There is no doubt about it, you will swim faster if you have other people in the water with you. Trying to keep up with the other swimmers helps take the boredom out of swimming, and it's motivating.
Learn Other Strokes
Learning other strokes like butterfly, backstroke and breast stroke helps you improve your "feel for the water." You will often hear swimmers talking about losing their feel for the water if they are out of the pool for too long. Though the majority of your swimming should still be freestyle, learning other strokes can improve your freestyle.
Increase Swim Frequency
In the offseason, you can maintain swim fitness by swimming a couple of days per week. If you increase frequency to three days per week, some solid gains can be made. If you reach a plateau on three days per week, consider bumping your swim frequency to four or five days per week for a week or two. This strategy is a swim-specific block and you will reduce the frequency of cycling and running during this time. You want swimming to be the focus.
The bottom line is that if you want to improve your swim, you need to put some time and effort into the endeavor. The good news is that as you develop your swimming skills, like most things, it will take less effort to maintain a higher level of fitness—and speed.
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