Lap swimming and cardio fitness will only get you so far in the pool. To really smash your PB, you’ve got to think technique, training aids and swim drills.
Here are our top five tips and training equipment picks for a faster, more efficient swim…
An inefficient body position creates drag, saps your energy and makes even a simple swim feel tough. Correct your body position and you’ll ditch the drag to conserve energy and swim faster. How-to? Tighten up your technique by ironing out curves – aim for a flat spine, with your neck aligned, core engaged and your hips up. As your body follows the lead of your head, elite coaches suggest perfecting you head position first, which is where a centre snorkel comes in handy.
Try this: To improve your head positioning, perform a one-arm drill. Wearing a centre snorkel, swim freestyle with one arm by your side, head in the water facing the bottom of the pool. Focus on maintaining a neutral head position as you swim, keeping your core engaged throughout. Tip: Fins can help provide additional momentum, allowing you to focus on your positioning.
Buy it: Speedo Centre Snorkel
Even with a pro-worthy body position your speed will be short-lived if your upper body isn’t up to the task. As the upper body does the bulk of the work during freestyle swimming, it pays to build your arm, shoulder and back strength and endurance. Power paddles (hand-held paddles which strap to your hands) create additional water resistance as you swim, putting extra work through the upper body to build strength and improve muscular endurance. Add them to your usual training drills for a more challenging workout.
Try this: Power paddles can be used to help your distance-per-stroke. Measure your improvements by recording the time it takes you to swim 25m wearing paddles (e.g. 30 seconds), along with the number of strokes it took. Add the two numbers together and compete against yourself to reduce the total combined number.
Buy it: Speedo Biofuse Power Paddles
A solid, efficient stroke is the speedy route to greater propulsion through the water. End result: a faster swim. During your arm stroke, enter the water with your fingertips first, palm facing the pool floor, elbow kept high. To increase your propulsive power and hold maximum water, aim to bring your arm pull under your body, keeping your arm and hand beneath your body, not out to the side. A pullbuoy can help you to isolate your upper body, allowing you to work on your catch and pull technique while providing a challenging workout.
Try this: Set up a stroke technique session, incorporating a pullbuoy and a centre snorkel, where you break down the elements of your stroke. The pullbuoy will remove the need for you to kick, allowing you to really focus on your hand and arm positioning, along with your feel for the water.
Buy it: Speedo Pullbuoy
Unlike arms, the legs don’t have the luxury of a brief recovery period when you swim. Therefore it makes sense that increasing muscular endurance in your quads and hamstrings will allow you to hold a faster swim pace without them screaming prematurely for you to stop. Outside of kick sets, vertical kicking (a favourite with elite coaches) provides a great conditioning session, placing demands on the lower body and core while offering an intense cardiovascular workout. Try 30-45 seconds of vertical kicking, arms above the water, followed by 20 seconds rest. Repeat this up to five times, if you can.
Try this: Want to build kick-specific leg strength and power? Start using a kickboard during your kick sets to isolate the legs. Up the challenge by holding the kickboard vertically, rather than flat, in the water. In addition to working your legs, you’ll need to engage your core throughout to sustain a horizontal position in the water.
Buy it: Speedo Kickboard
Is poor ankle flexibility slowing you down? The bane of many a triathlete, poor ankle flexibility lowers the position of the feet and legs in the water, creating speed-zapping drag. Without good plantar flexibility, pro coaches agree you haven’t got a hope of achieving a fast, powerful leg kick. Wearing fins regularly during training can help. The large surface area they create forces you to extend your ankle during your kick, improving flexibility.
Try this: If you don’t already, incorporate fins into your kick sets and swimming drills (technique, speed or otherwise). Not only will they help improve your ankle flexibility over time, but they’ll also improve your swim-specific leg strength and endurance.
Buy it: Speedo Biofuse Fitness Fins