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I've started getting into freestyle swimming after doing a moderate amount of running for a long time (~50 km a month).

I am doing three 1000m sessions a week and have improved to the point of enjoying the workout quite a lot more. I've been keeping an eye out for my times and it seems that at maximum effort I can only sustain between 2:20 to 2:40 per lap(2 x 50m lengths).

I have done some research (mainly swimsmooth website) and I think I got breathing and stroke under control. Not sure about kick at this stage, kicking from the hip takes a lot of concentration from me.

I am not worried about my speed per se, but more about the fact that I am doing something very wrong to cause such pathetic times. It seems like there are lots of different programs I can do but I just don't know where to start.

What should be my next steps in trying to assess and develop my swimming?

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stick with it. the best way to improve swimming is with frequency more so than length or power. –  Ryan Miller Jan 18 '12 at 18:56
    
I found that to be the case with running, so it's reassuring to know that with constant training, my swimming will improve. –  Igor Zevaka Jan 18 '12 at 21:53
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@RyanMiller Maybe you could post that as an answer but provide more information to back it up regarding why frequency is better than length of power of the swim and how those mechanics work together. –  Matt Chan Jan 19 '12 at 14:30

9 Answers 9

Swimming is much more about technique than fitness or body type. I'm a fan of Total Immersion. I used Triathlon Swimming Made Easy to re-learn how to swim in order to swim much better.

This system makes you think about what you're doing and gives you fantastic tips on how to do it.

The second idea is to join a masters swim club in your area. That will get you lots of swimming, against friendly competition and you may get coaching as well.

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That looks pretty awesome. The pool that I go has a recreational lane, so that its possible to practice low speed stuff. –  Igor Zevaka Jan 19 '12 at 5:08
    
Total immersion is cool, before I can hardly complete a 50M session using traditional freestroke, after drilling TI ( 2 beat kick, 4o clock hand, and swing switch) I am now able to complete 100M , I hope I can do 1K without resting in next few months. –  RAY 1 hour ago

Tips for faster free style (Front crawl) swimming:

Press the Buoy:

Your chest is full of buoyant air so if you can lean forward on it, you can literally push against that buoyancy and leverage it to move your legs higher in the water.

The simplest trick I know of for this one is to tuck your chin into you chest and feel like your neck is pulling via your spine to lift your legs up.

This can help with body position (primarily getting your legs higher in the water. You should get to the point, where if you are kicking lightly your ankles are coming out of the water.

Swing from your waist

When you hit a tennis ball with a racquet you do not swing with your arms, your whole upper body gets into is, same with swimming.

You should be twisting so that you almost swim sideways (in terms of your shoulders being up and down) as you stroke.

Best drill for this is use a kick board between your legs like a rudder, mostly sticking down into the water. This gives you leverage in your legs to twist against. Not a pull buoy which is about keeping your legs higher, but a flat board so you have something in the water to push against when you twist.

This lets you use your back muscles in the stroke not just your arms.

The hint for this is, if your upper arms are getting tired when swimming, pause and focus on form, since they are just along for the ride, it is your much much larger shoulder and back muscles that should be doing a lot of the work.

Be as long as you can be

Max speed is related to square root of water line length. (Which is why bigger ships are faster? It all seems goofy to me).

Try this, stand next to a wall, arm over your head at your side, hand on the wall. Then twist your shoulders, and watch where your hand goes, it slides up higher, you just got longer.

So on every stroke you strive to be as long as possible. Since from the previous hint you are twisting on each stroke, you are making yourself as long as possible.

I feel like there is a fourth thing but I cannot remember it right now.

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Freestyle is a lot about streaming. I will look up drills about freestyle and pay attention to body position, arm movement and so on. Also kicking is important, you need a strong kick. The kicks are supposed to have a small amplitude and quick.

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Next steps:

  1. Get an instructor (Not necessarily a coach, although they can be the same individual) to look at your stroke and give you drills.

  2. Restructure your workouts. Shorter distances at higher intensity, with a mixture between threshold work and interval work.

Threshold work is swimming at 85-95% of your top pace, with short rest intervals. These kinds of workouts are designed to increase the amount of time you can spend at your top pace. Interval workouts are faster than your top distance speed, with long rest so that you can make every interval.

So if you can sustain 2:30/100m, then a threshold workout might be something like 10x100 on 2:20, 15 seconds rest. This means 10 100m distances, each one completed in 2:20, and 15 seconds rest between each one. If you can't make every one, then you need to try it at 2:25. If you can make it easily, try the next one at 2:15.

Interval workouts would be something like 10x100 on 2:00, 1:00 rest. If you can make them all easily, next time make it 1:50. If you can't make them all, then either increase the time or the rest until you can.

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I also found a new interest in swimming and here is my take at an answer to your question

Assessment

I at my stage, i.e. beginner/newbie, I try to focus on technique. A typical practice for me is to spend about half to 2/3 thirds of an hour in the pool working on balance, streamlining. E.g. one length drill, one length swimming. The assessment there is to strive for the perfect technique. For me - as an old basketball player - this is like all the shooting, dribbling and passing drills that you do, not only as a beginner but also on advanced levels. Typically my pulse rate here is around 110, i.e. not very high

In order to get a higher pulse (150-160), I usually end the practice with interval training. The last couple of weeks, I have done 100m intervals for 20-30 minutes. The assessment here is time (currently around 1 min 40 for 100m, not fast but a huge improvement compared to my earlier attempts) and strokes per length (12-14 for 25 m pool, and 27-30 for a 50m pool)

Develop

Key development for me was to attend a two day workshop in swimming. Not only were the instructors great but also excellent sharing of best practice among the participants - some were very good, i.e. world class in their age categories, e.g. Lennart Larsson (the first Swede that swam from Robin Island to Cape Town, no wet suit, at age 63, started w swimming at the age of 56.., see http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=507&artikel=5162180), others beginners/newbies as myself.

Selecting a style of swim training seems to be important if you have to learn the basics. A close friend of mine wasted a whole semester on a traditional beginners freestyle course. I did a more thorough research and went for the Total immersion style with a much better result in any way you assess the outcome.

If I have the time, I am thinking about joining a Masters class this winter

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My suggestion to improve your speed would be:

  • Try out the various drills-like one hand drill, kick drill, hand drill, etc. They develop the specific part of the body.

  • Increase the frequency of our kicking. Ideally, you should be kicking 8 times in one whole stroke. This will boost your speed.

  • Try squatting exercises, they will improve your thigh strength and will give a boost to your leg strength, which enable to have a stronger kick.

  • Do at least 100 crunches a day. It will remove the flab around your stomach, this will help you get into a better streamline position.

  • Also, start exercises which increase the strength of your biceps and triceps. This will help your pulling action and in freestly, this action is important.

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With those new to swimming, it takes a while to build up swimming fitness, since it swimming fitness is quite different from running or any other type of sport fitness. Continue to focus on your breathing and technique, as well as ensuring you are constantly kicking. The more you swim, the better you will get and the more you will improve. Keep it up!

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I'd really recommend getting a coach/trainer, even if only temporarily.

It's very difficult to diagnose your own mechanics, even with video, without the experience.

Even a few sessions could do wonders and help you decide what area(s) to focus on.

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Not to mention how hard it is to take video at a public pool. First time I tried with my phone I was told to put the camera away. –  jontyc Dec 4 '12 at 6:58

From my research, ankle flexibility seems to be quite important for speed. It is common for people with poor ankle flexibility (often joggers) to go the wrong direction when floating on their back and kicking for example, even when kicking from the hips.

I wear full length flippers for a few laps in the crawl stroke to not only get enough speed to create a wake to breathe behind, but to try and increase the flexibility as the resistance is quite heavy.

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