Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can You Run Out of Things to Improve On?

A bunch of Masters swimmers have asked me to coach an extra weekly practice, mostly focused on technique. In swimming, improving technique is where your biggest bang for the buck comes from, since simply grinding away at more weekly yards rarely gives much of a boost to swimming performance. In the process of discussing this weekly addition, one swimmer noted that we might run out of things to work on.

Is that possible? Can you run out of things to work on in swimming? I'm guessing that Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps haven't done so, and therefore neither should we. Swimming is a game of constant thought processes and incremental improvements that add up to big performance gains. At first, when swimmers are starting out with poor technique, each thing they change can make huge differences in their effort level and in their times. Later, as the stroke gets more refined, the changes become tinier and the gains smaller, but there are still gains to be had.

One of my Masters swimmers told me this week that his fastest 50m swim of all time came when he was concentrating on "laying his armpit on the water" - in other words, reaching full extension of his stroke. Sometimes one area of concentration can produce a leap in performance that can't be built through sheer yards alone.

So, all that being said, I've been swimming competitively for 28 years now and there are still new things that I'm working on each and every year. Right now in my stroke, I'm concentrating on a couple of areas:

1) Offside breathing - moving the head turn earlier in the stroke. I realized that I was turning my head too late when I breathed to my "off" side (as opposed to the good side I normally breathe to) and that's part of why I have a more difficult time breathing to the left. I'm working on getting my head to rotate earlier and return to neutral position earlier in the left armstroke recovery.

2) Head Down - This is my perpetual problem, especially as I enter a flip turn, I tend to pick my head up and slow my momentum. But I have remnants of head-up swimming at other times as well, and since it affects body position and I tend to sink, it's important to keep the head down.

3) Turns - I'm working on coming in closer to the wall on my flip turns. I had an epiphany the other day, which is that if I take an extra stroke, even if it's a short one, I get closer to the wall on the turn, have a tighter and faster turn. I used to glide into the wall on my last stroke, thus losing momentum.

These are just a few things that I drill on every week. If you're serious about improving your swim stroke, I recommend picking just a couple of things to work on. Google those problem areas and find drills and technique instruction to help you make the changes that you're looking for. And overall, never forget the concept of Kaizen - constant and never-ending improvement. It's how swimmers get faster, from the cream of the Olympic crop down to the triathletes and Masters swimmers who are just starting out.


Marv said...

So right. There is always something to work on. It seems that I am always working on form even on the long swims. I have made smaller incremental improvements over time, but the biggest gain being able to swim easier and getting out of the water fresher for the bike leg.

Amy said...

Thanks for the tip on starting to turn your head earlier when breathing to your weak side. I've been focusing on bilateral breathing recently and the tip has really helped!

Amy said...

Thanks for the tip on bilateral breathing. I've been trying to improve on this and telling myself to turn my head earlier has really helped!