5 Ways to be a faster swimmer

Me and Daniel Tardy before Boulder 70.3.

I’m often asked for swimming advice, so I thought I’d post my most frequent tips here:

  1. Swim downhill – Most rookie swimmers tend to drag their legs like an anchor behind them. This is a subconscious product of wanting to keep your head close to the surface. Try to visualize swimming “downhill” instead. Of course, you can’t actually do it, but the visualization should press your chest down – thusly lifting your legs (raising the anchor).
  2. Put your arms though a sleeve that’s too long – Imagine you’re putting on Andre the Giant’s sweater. Extend your arms out slightly farther than is natural to get your arms through that long sleeve. This will pull you up on your side. You should be able to “ride the glide”. Avoid reaching too far though as the excess “glide” will kill your momentum. This creates our next tip…
  3. Swim side to side – You should swim side to side with a roll, turning/pressing your armpit towards the bottom of the pool with each stroke. Imagine a barge plowing through the water and the wake it creates. Don’t be a barge. Now imagine a sleek speedboat with its streamlined shape cutting through the water. Swim side to side, but keep your head still and in the center as you roll.
  4. Don’t cross over – when your hand enters the water it should still be on the same side of your head as that arm. A common mistake is placing your hand in the water in front of you on the opposite side of your head. This creates a zig zag motion and diminishes your momentum. Hand enters the water on it’s natural side about a foot in front of your head.
  5. Kick from the hips, not the knees – Your kick should generate from your butt, not from your knees. Slight bend in the knees when you kick and loose ankles. Personally I think my kick follows my roll. I don’t have to think much about my kick as it’s generated by the rolling motion of my torso and hips.

Bonus tips:

  • The water should hit your head at the hairline, not the brow line – you should be looking the bottom of the pool, not at the wall in front of you.
  • Press the buoy – this is another way to visualize swimming downhill. Imagine or actually try swimming with a pull buoy under your chest. This will force your chest down and bring your legs up.
  • Learn bilateral breathing – really force yourself to learn to breathe on either side. Most of us break down into one side breathing in the heat of a race, but for training learning to breathe to either side will even out your stroke.
  • Swim through a tunnel – When I start getting tired I imagine a clear tunnel around me that I’m swimming through. It’s only big enough for me to swim with proper form. I can’t drop my legs or they will hit the bottom of the tunnel. Imagine swimming in small tunnel or sheath.
  • High elbows - your elbow should point to the ceiling or sky with each recovery stroke before your hand reenters the water.
  • Breathe out before you breathe in – seems simple, right? But this is the thing I hear most often from new swimmers: “I can’t get my breathing right.” Most new swimmers try to the in and the out when they turn their heads to the side. This is essential hyperventilating. Instead, breathe out normally when your head is the water. Your breathe should be empty by the time your turn to draw a new breathe. Breathe out underwater so that all you have to do when you turn for air is breathe in.
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