Stuck in the Slow Lane? Tips To Speed Your Swim

Spring is here and it is finally getting warm enough for outdoor swim workouts!  And because KT Tape stays on in water, nothing can hold you back from working out in the pool!  Alex Kostich from Active.com gives ten tips for speeding up your swim pace to get you out of the slow lane this summer: With the triathlon season under way and upcoming open water races in our collective anticipatory consciousness, athletes everywhere are beginning to ask themselves a common question: How do I get faster? It is a question whose answer remains elusive, confounding both the weekend warrior as well as the athletic elite. When it comes to swimming, there are lots of ways to improve your speed. Whether the end result is avoiding the end of the pack in the first leg of a triathlon, or achieving a personal best time at a Masters meet, no one will hesitate about committing to self-improvement. But if the means of getting there are as simple as a basic checklist of things to do, it may require even less work than you had initially thought! While there are infinite ways to get faster -- some complex and others surprisingly obvious -- the following list of 10 ways to gain speed in the water will help you achieve a season of success. You may already be practicing a few of these ideas, but if there are a few on the list that you haven't considered, then now is the time to try. Let the racing season begin! 1. Improve Your Technique Many triathletes are forever resolved to the fact that they learned to swim too late in life, and therefore will never be as strong in the swim portion of their race as their swimming-background counterparts. With a shrug of the shoulders, they struggle through Masters workouts with rudimentary (or just plain bad) technique, swimming because it is a necessary evil and figuring they will make up for time lost on the bike and the run. You can't make up for lost time; once it's gone, it's gone. So why not make the best of your swimming leg and learn to swim correctly? It could mean a weekend stroke clinic, or perhaps a peer-analysis from a training partner. Maybe you can find someone who can objectively look at your technique and inform you of mistakes: are you finishing your stroke? Is your head riding too low? Simple changes to old habits can result in huge improvements (and if your speed doesn't improve, then at least you may avoid injuries or unnecessary race fatigue that result from bad technique). 2. Practice Speed Work Some swimmers are so consumed with covering a fixed amount of yardage in their daily workouts that they pile on the distance sets (e.g. long, medium-paced drills, endurance-testing pulling sets, or several thousand meters of constant swimming at a slow pace). By swimming long distances at a constant pace, one gains little more than the ability to swim long distances at the same constant pace. One actually learns to swim slowly; and is then unable to know how to swim fast! It is important to tack on a few sprints at the end of every workout, regardless of your event or racing preference. Maybe 4 x 25 sprint freestyle on a minute interval. Or 2x50 at 30 seconds rest followed by 2x25 at 15 seconds rest. Speed work not only conditions and develops fast twitch muscle fibers (used for explosive bursts of speed during a race), but it forces a swimmer to elevate their heart rate to very high levels for brief periods of time: this is anaerobic training. In any sport, athletes and coaches strive for a delicate balance of aerobic and anaerobic drills for maximum performance come race day. 3. Kick Kicking is often neglected by open water swimmers and triathletes, either because of a general disinterest in the bottom half of the stroke or out of the belief that saving their legs will result in a better bike or run. But short bursts of light, fast kicking can leave a pack of drafters in the dust, and can be the difference between first and second place in an open-water swim. When kicking in a workout, see how long you can maintain an aggressive six-beat kick (six leg-kicks per one full arm stroke using both arms). It may only take 10 strokes before you feel your quads burning, but see if you can't develop a little more endurance throughout your season by choosing the last 50 meters of every set you swim to try a six-beat kick. If you can turn it on at the end of a race (even for 20 strokes or so), you will find it's a great secret weapon to rely on should the need arise to ditch a few followers and drop your finish time. 4. Gain Strength This Fitness Makeover column I wrote offers a six-week, basic weight-training plan for swimmers looking to gain swimming strength without losing flexibility or putting on bulk. It is a simple but effective routine, and when combined with speed work (see tip No. 2 above), can result in the ability to swim with explosive bursts of speed without the accompanying fatigue that often plagues weaker swimmers. By having a hidden resource of extra strength to fall back on when racing, you can challenge a competitor mid-race and come out ahead. This not only puts them behind you and tires them out, but it mentally shuts them down and puts them out of the race for good while you get a confidence boost and keep on going! 5. Improve Race Starts The race start is a very important part of your swim (be it in a triathlon or open water race, or pool competition), yet is often neglected because it is such a small part of the overall distance of your event. This is a poor excuse. The start of the race can set the tone for the remainder, by either positioning you in the front of the pack, or by giving you a chance to assert yourself in a crowd of slower folks (who mistakenly and obnoxiously think they should be in front of you). Again, lost time is lost time, and a few milliseconds gained early on can be the difference at the finish line. Take the time to practice your starts with a coach or trained professional. If you don't know how to dive off the blocks without losing your goggles, then learn. If you don't have the confidence to begin a triathlon with a running start (braving the shorebreak and avoiding hidden sandbars, for instance), take a trip to an open body of water and acclimate yourself to the sprint down the beach and into the water…  To read all of Alex’s tips for speeding up your swim, visit Active.com.