When I was growing up as a swimmer, I was a terrible sprinter. We practiced our fast swimming often and sometimes I even had to swim the sprints in swim meets. I was so bad a sprinter, my 100 meter freestyle time was only a tad faster than what I would do on the first 100 of a 200 meter swim. After one particularly slow and painful 100 on a relay, my coach admonished me, “You are trying too hard and you are spinning your wheels. Your arms are flailing (I don’t know how he could actually tell, since my arms always flail).”
Here are some tips to swim faster and more efficiently when you race.
Do not let your stroke become short and choppy. Try to maintain your same stroke length, but increase your stroke rate.
Do not increase your body movement. In many cases, the short, choppy stroke causes extra head movement and causes the body to wriggle like a worm.
Do not try to emulate the perfect stroke of Michael Phelps. I see so many swimmers aiming for a beautiful arm recovery with bent elbows. Open water swimming and pool swimming are very different. A higher recovery phase is actually very beneficial in open water swimming, especially if the water is rough. You want to be able to swing your arms over the waves.
Do not drop your elbows underneath the water. Propulsion in swimming comes from what happens underneath the water. If you do not “catch” the water, you will lose momentum and speed. Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen, a top master’s swimmer and a top-notch instructor, tells swimmers to think about how you would feel if you were paddling on a paddle board (check out her video here) . Adopt this high elbow technique, and then practice it until it feels comfortable whether you are going hard or easy.
Do not panic at the swim start, this will only make your stroke worse.
Practice going hard in your training. Do lots of hard 25’s and 50’s to get used to good technique while swimming fast.
Editor's Note:Joanna Zeiger is a scientist, triathlon coach, and a world-class professional triathlete. You can read the rest of this story on her most excellent blog Fast at Forty.