A good portion of our typical swim students, maybe half, are primarily concerned about swimming faster. The other half may not be directly interested in getting faster – they just want swimming to be easier and more enjoyable regardless of speed (so it is said).
However, for swimmers of any orientation, speed remains an important measurement of skill (though it should be understood that speed is certainly not a complete measure of skill by itself). And, I think most would agree that sliding faster through the water feels good too!
Swimming speed is something to measure and use as feedback about where you are at and what potential you may still have in front of you – for competition or sheer recreational pleasure. It does not need to drive your training, but it should complement it. When blended with other metrics, speed gives a good indication of how well a swimmer is using the precious, limited energy supply – when the body is using energy well, the swimmer experiences that as a pleasurable state of exertion, or when the body is not using energy well, the swimmer experiences that as an uncomfortable state of exertion. Speed + Other Subjective Measurements = Indication of True Energy Efficiency.
And, True Energy Efficiency Feels Wonderful.
This Wonderful-Feeling Efficiency is the very thing both athletes and recreation swimmers should be aiming for, because it gives them access to both highest performance and highest pleasure.
How to improve swimming speed?
Getting a little bit faster than you are right now may happen by applying some nifty tips you get from some coach. Out of compassion (or clever marketing) coaches try to give people something that will provide a quick fix and a boost of hope to the swimmer. But note the phrase “a little bit faster” – swimming faster while keeping it smooth and easy is a very complex skill set. Unless you happen to be one of the few who seem to be naturally smooth-and-fast, the rest of us land-mammals have a complex choreography of motion to master that all the tricks in the book won’t provide a short-cut to.
Those quick-fix tips may help for a bit, but short of a major investment of time and attention to technical details into your swimming, the value of such tips will go down to zero after a while. Then those who rely on them can join the ranks of dedicated people who swim hard day after day, year after year, and really don’t get any better.
So, what do we do? Where is the hope?
Good Process + Persistence = Improvement
Here is a way to break that equation down into practical steps:
- Pick a proven process
- Understand that process
- Trust the process
- Set improvement expectations accordingly
- Invest the time and attention
So, to realize your true physiological and mental potential as a swimmer, and to make consistent progress toward it, you need a process that aligns well with physics and human development principles. Not all processes (systems of training, programs, etc) are equal – and think critically about even those that are popular. They might be ‘popular’ just because they are the only (traditional) option in town. Don’t measure a program merely by how many attend, but also by how many were not served well by it.
You need to understand how it works, so that you can make personal training decisions that keep you aligned with those principles and on the improvement path. Following rules without understanding the principles behind them will often lead to a distortion of the principles. You need to actively cooperate with the process and improve your cooperation each day, not merely obey instructions given by someone else.
You need to trust the process, to believe in it. If you believe in the path you are committed to it will enhance your awareness and improve your understanding, and your mistakes become learning opportunities – this way, even a moderately good process will give you some good results. But if, deep-down, you don’t really believe in it (or just don’t care), mistakes reinforce your skepticism and resistance, then you will not only depress the value of that process, you’ll sabotage your own progress, even if it is a great program.
You need to establish smaller incremental goals along the path to your main goal, with those smaller goals being properly designed to fit to the stage of training you are in, and level of skill you have. You can do this yourself, or have your coach help you discern what are appropriate short-term goals right now.
You dedicate yourself to the process, realizing it will take a consistent investment of time – in the form of frequent, high quality practices – over weeks and months, and cyclical seasons each year. And you realize that your frequency of practice, and your quality of practice have more affect on your progress than whatever ‘talent’ you may have for swimming.
My own story: Really, probably the vast majority of swimmers on the planet would be thrilled to swim as smooth and fast and enjoyably as I do. I have come to this state of swimming ability and mindset after the first 13 years of injury and mistakes from poor swimming technique and poor process, then after another 14 year of self-coaching in good technique under TI’s great process. I have invested A LOT OF TIME and innumerable kilometers practicing to get to this level. That may be the tough news for some to hear, but it should be hopeful news – I would not consider myself naturally talented as a swimmer (proven by my struggles in the first 13 years) but once I found TI, honestly, I have only increased my love for swimming and for practicing swimming, and swimming further and more confidently under a wider range of conditions than ever before.
Keep in mind, that over those 14 years I was teaching myself from the book and video – I received NO live coaching – so I took a lot more time and a more meandering course than I think others need to. Getting live coaching help is a way to knock years off that process. Now that I have formally learned and practiced the process for about 6 years, and am able to professionally teach this process and tremendously shorten that learning curve for you, letting you benefit from the lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
These 5 steps are a way of describing the approach I have thrived under, and I think most would thrive under also. So, if you feel any discouragement in your progress these days, consider that the error that leads to it may be found in any one of these steps. If you feel you are doing well, you may consider reviewing these steps and seeing how you could improve them and boost your training to a new level.
Read the next parts…