Seems like another post on swimming has been brewing in my head recently so I'll take a stab at it and we'll see how this goes!
I think I mentioned in a recent post that my swim sessions have been taken to the next level recently. Not surprised given that Marilyn is an Endurance Corner coach and the swim sessions that come from their website (when they post them) are always some of the most awesome sessions I see posted anywhere... I'm in love with the sets that Gordo's wife "Monsey" comes up with. Every time I see a session written by her I think NICE that's awesome. Awesome in a hard way of course, but awesome nonetheless.
Most of those sets require athletes to think and do math while swimming. I love this. Send-offs that vary so you have to swim faster to make them or can swim easier to recover before having to go faster again... This morning we did a set of 30x100's that were descend 1-5 (x6) and the send-off got 5" shorter through each rounds of 5. So we'd start at 1:50, then 1:45, 1:40, 1:35, 1:30... then straight back into 1:50, which was our recovery since the 1:30's don't allow much rest. Trying to do the math to figure out the send-off for each one was a challenge for sure but I love doing math while I'm swimming so this was no problem. And it makes the set fly by so fast because you're forced to think the whole time. I *much* prefer this type of set over 30x100's @1:40. Or worse, 60x50's @:50. Blah. Ok so I will admit that 60x50's @:50 has it's place and can be a valuable session but it still makes me want to scratch my eyes out when I see it on my schedule.
Anyway, it's been interesting to watch one of my newer local athletes, Sergio, develop as a swimmer. He was a decent swimmer to start with... as far as technique goes, his was good enough to get him across the longcourse pool in <45". So of course there are a few little things about his stroke that we can tweak but fact is, if you're capable of swimming a 50 in 40"(yards) or 45"(meters) then your stroke is going to be decent enough that technique is probably not your biggest limiting factor. If you can't repeat that pace for more than a few 50's then endurance is your issue and this is what I see very commonly! In Sergio's case, this is what we saw. He could swim a very fast 50! But that left him very winded and he couldn't repeat it without a ton of rest. So what we look to develop there is a better sense of pace (ie what is a sustainable effort?) and much deeper endurance. Essentially, he's been joining us for morning swims ~3x/week for the last few months and in the beginning we modified most sets so he could do part of it then get some rest then do more then get some rest, etc. He kept coming back consistently though and this morning I was so impressed- he knocked out ~4K swimming solidly the whole time and had this big AH-HA moment where he said The key is to take the easy ones super easy and save energy for the fast ones. YES. I love it that he got that this morning! Some athletes swim for YEARS and don't ever truly get that concept. Anyway, it's been really fun for me to watch Sergio's improvement these last few months. And it reinforces a lot for me too as far as how we go about improving one's swim. (I.e. suck it up and work your ass off consistently for several months. Or years. In most cases, years.)
I'm also back to teaching 1:1 swim sessions a couple times/week with some other local athletes. I'll tell you here a bit about what I commonly teach during those: Right off the bat, understand that swimming faster is either about 1) Reducing drag or 2) Increasing power.
~Reduce drag by: keeping head neutral; being more streamline off the wall; reduce excess body movement/fishtailing; avoid sinking legs by keeping head neutral and chest down; avoid crossing over with your hands upon entry; avoid a wide scissor kick, etc. Several of these issues (fishtailing through the water, scissor kick) are really a secondary compensation/result based on improper head position or crossing over with arms upon entry. So fix the root of the problem (head position, entry position) and that wide scissor kick that you're using for balance may just fix itself.
~Create more power by positioning your arms/hands upon entry in a way that will allow your lats to get involved and do the work. This one can be a bit more complicated for some but essentially this means pressing the water down and back with strong wrists while keeping an 'open armpit'. I find the open armpit analogy works better for many than 'high elbow' cue b/c you can keep a high elbow while simultaneously shutting off your lat if you're leading your pull with that elbow first. This is probably the most common thing I see when working with a new athlete. Very few swimmers generate the power they could because they are missing opportunity to create power/propulsion because the elbow leads the pull. Instead, focus power through the wrist and you'll find that's how you can get your lats engaged. One last tip I give all the time: the water should feel heavy because you're pulling so much of it. If it feels easy, like your arms are just slipping through the water, it's because your arms are just slipping through the water! Don't do that! PULL the water, every stroke, feeling tension and resistance from your wrist up your forearm and into your armpit. This will probably make you more tired at first, but that's the feeling you want.
Anyway, so there you go. Focus on form for sure, especially if it takes you >2' to swim 100M. But once you're down in the 1:30/100 range, then you're going to get a lot more gain from doing real sets off real send-offs. Sometimes those send-offs should be roomy and allow plenty of rest so you can practice going FAST. Other times those send-offs should be tight so you can practice repeating efforts on very little rest and just holding pace. And finally, KNOW your pace in the pool. I'm constantly astounded by how many swimmers don't pay attention to their pace in the pool.
OK that wasn't really my final point... I still have more to say, and I'm BatShit Serious! Learn to flip turn! And swim more than 2000 at a time! And get in the water at least 3x/week! There. I said it. Now I'm done. :)