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Targeted Swim Training Techniques & Strategies For All Swimmers

Take Advantage Of Winter With These Targeted Swim Training Methods

Swimerg crossfit
2016 US Olympic Triathlete, Joe Maloy relies on Vasa SwimErg training year-round

The winter months are a perfect time to fine-tune your swim stroke through targeted swim training techniques. Coaches Patrick McCrann and Conrad Goeringer agree and have laid out targeted swim training methods to focus on this off-season.

Goeringer, is an Ironman Certified Coach, Ironman competitor, and author of the highly useful book, The Working Triathlete.   McCrann, is a 21-time Ironman finisher, multi-sport coach, co-founder of online athlete communities Endurance Nation and Marathon Nation and author of Train to Live, Live to Train: How to Build the Ultimate Fitness Lifestyle Competitive Triathlon in 10 Hours a Week.  He recommends focusing on improving technique and holding off on big swim workouts until you’re in the meat of the season.

Identify Your Swim Training Weakness

Remote coaching swimmersFirst, identify low hanging fruit, the elements of your stroke that are begging improvement.  Coach Goeringer recommends using video to work on form analysis with a coach.  Record video of you swimming in the water and on a Vasa SwimErg, to identify inefficiencies and problems in your stroke. McCrann says to ask your training buddies or a coach to tell you what they notice when you swim and to offer suggestions on where can you improve. Both coaches advise swimmers do a ten-minute race pace effort swim workout on the Vasa Swim Ergometer to identify what part of your stroke falls apart first.

Once you identify your weaknesses, McCrann says there is no better tool for ingraining stroke improvements than the Vasa SwimErg.

Change Targeted Swim Training Technique Habits

“It takes a while to make changes in form and technique habit,” said McCrann. “And the best thing you can do is be repetitive. If you’re using a Vasa, it’s easy to crank out 20 minutes, and you can swim at home four or five times a week without a big-time commitment.”

In winter, McCrann often recommends athletes train solely on Vasa. “You get all benefits of swimming without wet hair,” said McCrann. “With pool training, you’re getting up at 5 a.m., getting to the pool at 5:30 a.m., cramming your stuff into a tiny locker, showering, training for maybe an hour twenty, done at 7 a.m., showering again, getting dressed a second time, eating breakfast out of a bag, then busting a move to work. An hour and twenty-minute swim is a three-hour hole in your life. Sleep is a precious resource. If you train on a Vasa, you can get an extra hour’s sleep and work in a quality swim workout in 30 minutes in your garage or basement.”

Focus On The Pull

Goeringer trains athletes all year on a Vasa.  In the off-season, Goeringer coaches his swimmers to improve their technique and to build overall strength. And while every athlete is different, the three aspects of the stroke he most consistently focuses on propulsion – pulling power, cadence, and acceleration of each stroke.

“You can have the best body position in the world, but if you don’t have a powerful pull, you can’t swim fast,” said Goeringer. “A swimmer can maintain good form longer as they develop a stronger pull,” said Goeringer. “The stronger you pull, the longer you last before you’ll fatigue.”

“Focus on getting your forearm vertical, and accelerating through the pull. Think about anchoring your arm, and pulling your body over it,” said Goeringer. (see photo inset of swimmer’s arm over an imaginary red ball, as described in this article on Visualizing a great Freestyle)

Stroke Cadence In Your Targeted Swim Training

To work on cadence, Goeringer has his athletes do stroke rate intervals.

“A lot of swimmers have a dead spot on the front end of their stroke,” he said. “Focusing on turn over, increasing your stroke rate or cadence can get rid of that.”

Goeringer likes Vasa training because it gives an athlete the ability to manipulate resistance and cadence and to develop new “gears” and strengths.

“With Vasa, you can think about accelerating through the pull,” said Goeringer. “A mono-speed pull holds a lot of athletes back. Anchor your arm, and accelerate as you pull. That Increases propulsion.”

Goeringer also has athletes do cadence drills on the Vasa, like holding stroke rate at 80 or higher for a minute, or for 50 or 100 meters.
McCrann also uses a Vasa to help his athletes maintain their stroke power through the finish.

“Don’t forget the finish,” said McCrann. “That’s a missed opportunity for most triathletes. If another swimmer just hit you in the ass, it’s hard to put a perfect catch in place. But you should always be able to finish your stroke.”

Eliminate Ineffective Breathing Technique

Targeted Swim Training BreathInefficiency swimming can often be traced back to poor breathing technique, according to McCrann.  He stresses that most swimmers and triathletes don’t appreciate how much stress they’re putting on their bodies by not fully exhaling before they try to take a breath.

“People hold their breath when their face is underwater,” said McCrann. “You’d never run and hold your breath. If you’re a two-minute 100 meter or slower swimmer, you may be able to get faster by fixing your breathing.”

Step one is to practice exhaling as soon as your face is in the water.

“Lungs are bags of air,” explained McCrann. “If you only let out half the air in your lungs, you can only refill your lungs halfway. Your body doesn’t count how much you exhale. But if you’re not inhaling enough, you’re going to get panicky.”

(Here’s a link to an excellent article to improve your breathing)

Consistent & Deliberate Targeted Swim Training

“Whatever your focus, if you’re trying to retrain your stroke, don’t expect instant results,” reminded Goeringer. “It takes a few weeks to get new patterns engaged, and then you have to be deliberate about maintaining those patterns as you train through the entire season. You can develop good, healthy habits over a few weeks, but it will probably take the whole season to overhaul your stroke.”

“Technique-focused blocks set the tone for how you should be training year-round,” said Goeringer. “It’s a psychological thing. You’re working on focused effort, and your workouts throughout the season should be focused.”

“Focusing on frequency is key, even if your training blocks are short,” said McCrann. “If you focus on your swim in the off-season, the gains you achieve will linger for months or years.”

Here are some other resources:

  1. Check out our VasaBlog: Overcoming a “monospeed” pull in Freestyle
  2. Improve quickly using our FREE 5-part Freestyle course.  You’ll receive 5 lessons to get you swimming stronger, better, faster than ever before!