How do I go faster?
This is a question that I see posted regularly online, and that I get asked by people almost every week in the local pool. The answer is “its complicated”. The Rome Challenge on this website is an example of what it takes for the casual swimmer to improve their speed, but it is being run with a specific goal in mind. There are a number of things that need to be done and things to consider if you wish to swim faster. I will cover these in two articles. Both will be aimed at the average masters swimmer or triathlete so I will be keeping the terminology as basic as possible. This first article will discuss goals, technique and swimwear, the second article will discuss training methods.
What is the goal?
It might seem obvious, but you need to decide what you actually want to achieve? Do you want sharp short speed to get you through a 50m sprint? Do you plan to race in Masters competitions? Do you want to be able to get more meters in per swimming session? Do you want to get that 750m swim in your triathlon faster? There is nothing wrong with answering yes to any of these questions, each one is a legitimate goal. Be aware though that the amount of time you can actually spend in the pool will directly affect this goal and some goals will need more pool time than others.
Technique technique technique
No matter what level you swim at you should be constantly looking at your technique and ways to improve it. You may need to hire a swim coach to take a look at your technique, if you can get underwater footage to a coach that’s even better. Depending on where you are and what resources are available, these might not be possible, you may have to compromise by simply getting another swimmer to look at you.
From casually looking at masters swimmers and triathletes the most common issues are: body position (hips too low), incorrect kick (feet too wide, kick is not small & continuous, incorrect technique), lifting the head on breathing, poor arm recovery & entry, not catching on the pull and/or not pushing far back enough. Working drills into your sessions will help, as will trying to be aware of what you are doing when swimming.
What are you wearing?
What we wear when swimming directly impacts our speed. I cannot count the number of times men have asked me for advice on improving their swimming while wearing baggy gym shorts. Yes speedo sell shorts, no you shouldn’t wear them if you want to swim lengths of the pool. Almost as bad are loose jammers. The looser and baggier your swimwear, the more resistance you will generate when swimming. Not only will this pull you back, but it will also pull your hips down resulting in bad body position. Some fabrics such as lycra will generate less resistance and will take on less water, but they may not last as long as other fabrics such as polyester.