I love to coach swimming. I get to meet new athletes and see some of the athletes I coach personally on a weekly basis. I also love that I get to use my experience as a collegiate swimmer and professional triathlete to produce fun and exciting workouts.

One of the most frequently asked question is, “How can I become a faster swimmer?” My answer is always to look at three parts when trying to become faster:

  1. Swim technique
  2. Swim frequency
  3. Workout execution and specificity

Swim Technique
Have you taken swim lessons from an established swim coach? How often have you done so? For a newbie swimmer it is important to get swim lessons on a weekly basis. You want someone to teach you the right drills, discuss form and help you to execute these the best way possible. A one time lesson will get a new swimmer started but having multiple lessons will help you to understand each part of the stroke better and better. Even a former swimmer can benefit from a lesson or two to get the latest knowledge in swim technique.

Common mistakes: The biggest mistake athletes make is they get their lessons and they do not apply them to their swimming. All swimmers, new and old, can benefit from a session on their own where they simply focus on form and technique. This swim takes care of two things, one it is a great cool down after a bike or a run and it helps increase frequency (see below). This type of session works best on its own, is slow and methodical and not remotely concerned with swim volume.

Swim Frequency
More than the other triathlon disciples, swimming has a biomechanical component that is directly related to the number of days you touch water. Your “feel’ for the water can decrease and increase with the number days away and in the water. Almost all my athletes who swim four to five times a week have said they feel so much better than when swimming two to three times. There are studies that show that two days a week is maintenance, three days a week will get you some forward progress and form improvement, but four or more days a week will give you your biggest gains.

Common mistakes: Athletes will commonly swim two days of 80 to 90 minutes in hopes of swimming faster. In reality they will swim slower since they can not hold form that well and much of the workout becomes less effective. It would be better to see someone swimming four to five days of 40 to 50 minutes then two days of 90 minutes. Athletes will say they can’t make the time to get to the pool that many days a week. To accommodate that I have many of my athletes tag on a run so they can save time earlier in the day. Another tricky way to sneak in the extra session is to stop at the pool after a ride or swim and do a simple 500-1000 of warm down that includes a lot of drills (reinforcing the technique mentioned above).

Workout Execution
There are two different ways to work out in swimming. Straight swimming or doing intervals. With interval training, there is doing an interval with a given amount of rest (5×100 w/20 seconds rest). There is also doing an interval on a given amount of time (5×100 on 1:50). These are two completely different styles of doing intervals. The first way the swimmer can do whatever pace they want and then can take 20 seconds rest once they come in. The second way (5×100 on 1:50) the swimmer has to leave and come into the wall by the 1:50 in order to get rest and go again.

Common mistakes: Many new swimmers do not understand how to read a pace clock or continually use the wrong intervals. Since coaching Masters, I have found that many athletes either choose to not follow the clock or the interval is too hard and they end up missing the interval so they touch and go all the time. You must execute workouts with a specific purpose. That means doing workouts that challenge you on a specific session as well as workouts that are easy and workouts that require lots of rest. The touch and go training will not help make you faster, just able you to operate a steady pace for long periods of time.

The mistakes many athletes make all have a common theme in that the athlete is afraid of becoming slower. In order to get better at something we have to slow down to focus and make changes as well as accept that our friends may be in another lane. It is tough to do. When you think of athletes like Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods, they both had years where they really changed their stroke/swing and those years were not that great. But both athletes came back to be better than before. They believed in their processes and were confident. Find your process to get faster, apply it and believe in it.