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- Swimming

To swim faster you are going to have to swim regularly

Wanting to swim faster?

The hardest of all the disciplines of triathlon for many,

We aren’t about to bore you to tears (I hope!) going on about frictional drag, and all the talk on biomechanics etc which surround most articles and discussions about to wanting to swim faster. Unfortunately, to swim faster you are going to have to swim regularly and that means at least 3 times per week and for some up to 5 times per week or at least include some dry land swim specific work on non swim days if the pool time is not possible.

Pool Swim Training

Many triathletes new to the sport don’t swim in a squad with a swim or triathlon coach, and for what ever reason that maybe, you are already giving yourself a great disadvantage. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you hate swimming with a passion and you will do as little as possible and only do as much as you feel you need to do to simply to finish the swim and start your race once you hit dry land.

The problem with this is that more often that not you are very very tired by the time you get to your bike and may take as long as 10-15+ minutes before you find your bike legs. By the time you have finished the event you may have lost 3-5+min because the swim has ‘hurt’ you so much.

The hardest of all the disciplines of triathlon for many, the swim can still bring grown men to tears and cause many an adult swim coach to pull out his/her hair in frustration. There are many how to swim books and videos available these days, along with your monthly hit of ‘how to’ in the Tri magazines.

The content of a swim session should comprise of:

    • Warm up – including stroke drills
    • Main set – specific, interval or distance work
    • Stroke drills again
    • Warm down

Some of the areas which generally need to be looked at closely with triathletes are:

    • Streamlining – creating less water resistance (including pushing off the wall)
    • Head position – head is not too high when in the water, with head still when not breathing
    • Hand entry – entering just past your head rather than overreaching prior to the hand entering into the water. Eliminating snaking up the pool.
    • Stroke length – full extension out in front of you in the water and pulling back past your thigh before recovery.
    • Body rotation – Shoulders, hips and torso working together
    • High elbows – in recovery and catch under water
    • Accelerate through stroke under the water
    • Feel for the water
    • Relax during the recovery
    • Experiment with breathing – bilateral or one side
    • Kick from the hips
    • Count your stokes from time to time – trying to achieve greater distance per stroke
    • Try not to put your hand across your midline under water or straighten your arm under water

An important part of any swim program is adding variation and using swim aids at times in each session, rather than just swimming constant lap after lap freestyle.

Swim Programs

An important part of any swim program is adding variation and using swim aids at times in each session, rather than just swimming constant lap after lap freestyle. The swim programs I set always contain some other ‘form stroke’ such as backstroke and breaststroke and for those swimmers that can cope – butterfly. This helps use different muscles and assists in balancing out the work load.

Even if you are not great with the technique of these other strokes it will still help you to change from working the freestyle muscles every workout. Another component most important is the inclusion during your training week is the use of Hand Paddles (small or medium), Finger Paddles (small half moon shaped paddles), Pull Buoy, Fins and Kick Board.


Please refer to the sites core strength pages for basic stretches that should be employed before diving into the pool each session.

A lot of adult swimmers, never even think of stretching for swimming. This routine done twice through takes less than 5 minutes. After which a slow steady warm up in the water will see you ready for action come time for the main set.


Stroke drills are the best way to help improve on faults within your stroke. They are designed to work specific areas such as breathing, co-ordination, strokes length, feel of the water, etc, and should be included in each session you do in the pool.

There are many swim drills available for all strokes. For triathlon and multi sport time is at a premium so I like to focus on mostly free style drills and work on the drills that will make a difference to the general stroke mistakes that I have seen adult swimmers make and utilize the following drills in most swim programs. Emphasis needs to be placed on doing the drills correctly rather than hastily.

Drill laps may be followed be normal freestyle swimming laps. You will find that you will need to kick more than normal due to holding a streamline position and gliding between strokes more than when swimming normally. For beginners or swimmers that are not so strong the some of the following drills are recommended to use fins with – especially the ones where you swim on your side or a side element is involved where momentum drops away and a kick is needed to keep moving.

Particular drills below have fins in (brackets) after the heading for the harder drills we recommend you use fins for.

Swim Training with Nick Croft

The best drills that we have found useful for triathletes are:

    • Catch up Free Style – Pushing off the wall at the start of a lap. With both arms out the front, take a stoke with one arm leaving the other arm out stretched until the stroking arm rejoins the out stretched arm (shoulders width apart). Than do the same with what was the outstretched arm once the stroking arm catches the outstretched arm. Alternate the sequence for the remainder of the specified distance. Breath bilaterally if possible. Once to each stroke.
    • Polo Drill – water polo style free. With head out of water swim with a shorter faster stroke rate working on keeping head straight looking ahead.
    • Fingertip Free – during recovery phase, keep elbow high by dragging your fingertips slowly through the water till just past your head then enter hand in water as a normal stroke – don’t rush this.
    • One arm free – arm out front – 1 arm out front and the other arm stroking. Enter the water in the catch phase at shoulders width apart and work on breathing every 2 stokes trying to roll your body with your head at each breath. Breath on your stroking arm side.
    • One arm free – arm at side (fins) as above but have the arm that was out front – at your side stroking with the other arm. Breath on the side that the arm is at your side. (This is a harder variation and works on body roll more).
    • Three / Three / Six Drill (fins) A combination of 1 arm where you do 3 strokes 1 arm (lead arm hold out front). 3 strokes the other arm and six strokes normal free – alternating in that sequence for set distance. Best done with bi-lateral breathing pattern.
    • High elbow drill (fins) usually with fins – push off wall on side – 1 arm out front, the other by side, head position should be ear down on outstretched arm with mouth clear of water. Take a slow stroke with arm from your side – count to 4 or 5 as you run your thumb from your thigh to armpit staying in contact with your body the whole time, keeping a high elbow. Once the arm gets to your arm pit role back to a position flat in the water and at the same time take a half stroke while rolling to the other side with what was the stroking arm taking the front position. The sequence is repeated the same for the other side – alternating for the set distance
    • Clenched Fist – swimming with a clenched fist is like – having a ‘blindfold’ on your hands. Swim 25m fist / 25m normal – see how much better you ‘feel’ the water when you open your hand back up. This drill also teaches you to use the rest of your arm in the freestyle pull more efficiently.
    • Sculling – there are a few variations and degrees of difficulty. Generally I like to use the scull drill which has you lying supine – (face down in the pool) and with open hands, place your arms out in front of you. As you push off from the end of the pool make sure your head is down in the water and kick is kept to a minimum (just kick enough to maintain balance) most of your propulsion will come from the hands and forearms making a sculling movement of fast repeated figure 8’s out in front of you. You should feel constant pressure against the palms of your hands and forearms. It’s a bit like sweeping the water inwards using your open palms and forearms facing each other and then outwards by doing a quick rotation from the elbows down reversing the palms and forearms so they now sweep the water away to each side of you. The quicker the action the more pressure you will feel against the forearms and the more ‘alive’ they will feel when you swim freestyle.
    • Hip, Shoulder, Enter – wide (fins) This drill is aiming to have your recovery arm following through close to your torso by brushing your hip with your index finger on the way past your hip at start of recovery stroke and then the top of your shoulder before entering the water. Make the hand entry quite wide – ie thumb enters shoulder width. The timing on this drill is similar to catch up free in that pushing off the wall to start you lead arm remains out the front of you until you enter the water with your recovering hand.
    • Three strokes, roll onto side and hold for six kicks (fins) This drill is bi-lateral, so we do the roll and hold equally for both sides. Push off the wall and take 3 normal strokes of free – on the third lock yourself into the position of lead arm remaining out front of you and pulling arm out behind you placed on your hip. As you lock this position in you roll to your side (eg right arm out front and left at your side you are on you right side down in the water). Hold this side position for 6 kicks. The start the next 3 stokes – you start this with the opposite arm now so at the completion of the next 3 stroke you are on your opposite side. Hold for 6 kicks like previous and continue for the lap.
    • (D) istance (P) er (S) troke – Work on getting as much distance with each stroke you take

Many triathletes new to the sport don’t swim in a squad with a swim or triathlon coach, and for what ever reason that maybe, you are already giving yourself a great disadvantage.

A sample swim set

    • 10 x 50m free Distance per stroke (Dps) – 15 sec recovery after each
      4 x 50m – 25m fist/ 25m free – 15 sec
    • 100m Dps
    • 6 x 50m catch up drill – 1 x 50m catch up / 1 x 50m free – 15 sec
    • Pyramid set 100, 200m,400m, 200, 100m on the 2min, 4min, 8min etc
      @ 85-90% effort (If a weaker swimmer start & finish the pyramid with 50m & delete the 400m & adjust the time base to suit).
    • 100m easy backstroke/ freestyle
    • 4x50m fingertip free – 15sec
    • 100m Dps
    • 4x50m kick – 15 sec
    • 100m easy Total 2800m
Swim Squad Training

Open Water swimming

Some tips & Tricks

    • Check directions of swim start, turning buoys, swim exit, deepwater start or standing (run in start).
    • Water conditions e.g. rips. Currents, shallow water, sand bars, wind direction.
    • Pick out landmarks that may help you swim in the right direction – trees, buildings, etc.
    • Wading practice and dolphining needs to be practiced.
    • Breathing opposite sides to waves or wind chop.
    • Swim polo to help sight buoys
    • Learn how to draft
    • Body surf (eg for Australian events at surf beaches – Mooloolaba & Byron Bay).
    • Start at a point which will give you the shortest and most direct line to the first buoy.
    • Practice run / breach starts

Swim Aids

Kick boards
By isolating the legs we can concentrate on our kick. Ankle inflexibility is a problem for most adults. Best way is to gain ankle mobility is to kick with fins. The fins will help lift your legs if they are sinking. The traditional buoyant kick boards tend to put a lot of strain on the upper shoulder areas, so using one of the new generation of boards which actually sink a little is a better proposition.

Pull Buoys and paddles
A lot of adults love to throw in the pull buoy when they start to fatigue. Putting a pull buoy between your legs, makes you float higher, therefore taking the load off your arms – you still get a workout, but not as good as without it. Using paddles with the pull buoy will make you work harder by catching more water but if your stroke isn’t good than you may be setting yourself up for shoulder injuries. Use the paddles to help you create a more efficient pull and a longer stroke.

Choose the paddles with holes in them so water flows through the paddles. And helps ease the load on the shoulders. Remove the wrist strap if they have one. You only need the strap that the finger goes through. Don’t use them for more than 10% of your total swim session if in first 2 seasons of swimming. Try to limit the amount of strokes you take per lap by 2 or 3 with the goal to eventually the do the same without them.

All your diligent training and hard earned money spent on equipment should be rewarded with results and most of all enjoyment of the sport. Utilising the services of a coach at Multisport Consultants, especially in the infancy of your triathlon or Ironman ‘career’ will ensure you set off on the right path and get the best results out of your body and the sport.

So what now? To find out about Multisport Consultants training programs available online click here, or if you feel you may require a more personalised training program, contact Multisport Consultants for more details.

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