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Technique and Training

Divide and Conquer: Break Your Swim Down to Make the Most of Practice

Splitting your swim into manageable chunks helps you maintain focus

Terry Heggy | December 4, 2017

Swimming well requires concentration on technique, but it’s difficult to continually think about every little detail required for optimal performance. Here are some ways to mentally divide your swims into manageable chunks to maintain focus.

Long Division

Technique drills are fabulous for learning to perform strokes correctly, but it’s easy to fall back into old bad habits when you’re in the middle of a long and tedious set. Dividing each swim into a set of fourths is one way to keep your mind engaged in proper stroke execution.

Magnificent Medley

The obvious example of swimming in fourths is the individual medley. Changing strokes on every quarter forces you to pay attention to what you’re doing, while simultaneously rotating through a variety of muscle movements. Consider throwing some IMs into any long sets of 100s or 200s.

Reducing Resistance

Use the WHAT acronym to focus on different ways to become more efficient for each quarter of your swim.

  • Wall—As you begin the first length of your repeat, focus on your streamline off the wall by clasping your hands together and pressing your arms against your ears as you push. Keep your head down and your body narrow as you kick your way into your breakout stroke.
  • Head—On the second length, focus on your breathing motion. Ensure that only one goggle lens is out of the water when you inhale. Keep your neck in line with your spine as you breathe and as you turn back into the water to exhale.
  • Abs—The third length is all about keeping your core engaged. Tighten your stomach muscles to hold your hips and shoulders in alignment. Make sure your legs stay in line with the rest of your body.
  • Turn—As you approach the wall to begin your fourth length, think about executing your turn as quickly as possible. Make sure your body is in position to push off by the time your feet reach the wall so that your contact time is minimized and you can carry that speed into the next length.

Pumping up power

Use each fourth of the swim to focus on a different element of your propulsion chain.

  • Catch—Focus on how each hand enters the water and extends forward and down into the catch position. Cut in cleanly, so that there are no bubbles on your hands as you begin the pull.
  • Vertical forearm—Spend the second length paying attention to how you begin your stroke, pointing the fingers down while keeping the elbow near the surface and your shoulder close to your face. Think of your hand and forearm as a unified paddle surface that grabs the water early in the stroke.
  • Acceleration—On the third length, focus on how much force you can apply as you move your arm through the stroke, accelerating all the way to the release point where you disengage the water for your relaxed recovery.
  • Kick—After spending three of the four quarters concentrating on the arms, spend the last length thinking about getting maximum power from your kick.

Other Options

The possibilities for quality quarters are unlimited. Be creative. Try different breathing patterns for each length, different levels of effort, or even sprinting a different fourth of the pool during each segment. The main thing is to always have something to concentrate on so you don’t lose focus and let your mind drift during your precious workout time.

Racing

Olympic gold medalist John Naber shared in his 1983 video “Getting Better: Championship Swimming with John Naber” that he focused on fourths during his world-record performances.

  • Stroke—For the first quarter, focus on swimming smoothly. Get a good catch, breathe efficiently, and think about swimming straight.
  • Pull—For the second quarter, put your energy into your arms and think about engaging the water early and accelerating with power.
  • Kick—The third quarter is where you think about getting what you can from your legs. Hang onto momentum of the second-quarter pulling while you focus on kicking harder.
  • Sprint—For the final quarter, just give it everything you have. Maximize your arm and leg tempo while maintaining a good grip on the water. Put your head down and gut it out.

Practice racing-style quarters during your workouts so you can understand the level of exertion you can maintain. The way Naber swims tends to result in an increasing application of energy throughout the race, which leads to even splits and fast times.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Terry Heggy

Terry "Speed" Heggy has been swimming for more than 50 years. He won his age group in the 10K Open Water Championship in 2006, competed in the National Championship Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2014, and qualified again for USAT Nationals in 2015. He's the head coach of Team Sopris Masters in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach and an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

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