What is it that allows people to swim fast? Balance, stability, power is what comes to mind. So it makes sense that to become comfortable at high speeds, one must practice as much as possible at high speeds.
Well this could be very wrong.
I am sure everyone has ridden a bicycle before. Once you get going, and generate speed and momentum, then it is easy to ride in a straight line for as long as you like. But have you ever tried riding slow – as in really slow? Suddenly, your balance is thrown, and your flaws come to the surface. This is because, in going fast, you’re allowing physics to do all the work in hiding your flaws. As soon as you try to slow down, forward momentum can’t be your saviour. This is where it gets tricky.
Boxers quite often shadow box at a much slower speed. Why? Because then they can look at the intricacies of their technique.
Musicians practice at a slower speed, to make sure their technique is adequate. The list goes on, but for some reason, it hasn’t transferred to swimming.
Try applying the bike analogy to swimming. Yes, the medium is different, but the central idea remains. Speed is your objective, but it can also just as easily be your enemy. At a slow speed, it is much harder to remain stable through the core, to keep the body aligned at the surface, and to maintain length of stroke. So why don’t we do it?
Well it appears that it may just be that we have become tunnel visioned to the idea of moving fast. In pursuit of speed, the details are sometimes left behind as focusing on it leads to a certain one-track mentality.
I challenge you – Try swimming a 50 as slow as possible with perfect race technique. When I first tried, as a 23 second 50m swimmer, the best I could do is 61 seconds. And to be completely honest, I don’t think my technique stood up to the test. By now, after practicing this for about 3 months, I can swim a 50 in 1:45, with fairly good race technique. I have to say, it’s bloody hard though.
What I have noticed as a by-product, is that when I try to swim faster after working on this for a while, my stroke length is exceptional, I am holding far more water, and I am much more stable through my core. Tick, tick, tick.
If you can get past the possible embarrassment of looking like a fish out of water, in the water, I urge that you give it a go. It’s not taking the easy option, in fact it is far from it. By applying yourself to the details of your stroke in such a concentrated fashion, the benefits are numerous.
The session below is one that I use to work this technique, and operates on the principles discussed above. The focus is on transitioning race technique from slow speeds to fast, all whilst maintaining balance and precision.
As a side note, feel free to use a snorkel at any point in the session to increase body alignment by removing the breath.
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