Article image

by Chris Ritter

September 3, 2014

Focus on these three areas of training and intensity for swimming improvement

As a Masters athlete, your time is a valuable commodity. Whether you’re trying to fit your swimming workouts in between your work, family, or even just golf outings—chances are slim that you have unlimited time to train, so you have to make the most of your time both in and out of the water. The long, high-yardage workouts that you swam as an age grouper may not fit into your current schedule.

So what’s the key if you want to get faster whether you swim sprints, distance, or everything in between? Very simply: to swim faster you need a faster time, which means you need to swim faster. And in order to swim faster, you need to achieve a higher top-end speed and be able to hold closer to that newfound top-end speed for a longer time than you’ve done previously. Therefore, it only makes sense to have your water program revolve around just three types of swim training:

1. Technique

Swimming through water quickly is much more dependent on technique than running through air quickly. Drag forces in water can make or break your time and training efforts, so having the most efficient technique possible is the first area to tackle when swimming. This is the area that most good coaches put emphasis on. If you can swim more efficiently as a swimmer, you’ll become a faster swimmer. Your actual speed or pace doesn’t matter; if your efficiency, such as how many strokes you take per length or how low your heart rate is for swimming with moderate effort, your speed will improve.

2. Race Pace

If you want your body to be able to swim at a certain pace or faster, it only makes sense to practice that situation when you’re training. Don’t let swim meets be the only time that your body experiences going that fast. You may not break personal best times in practice, but that’s not the point. No matter what distance of race you’re focusing on, split it up into halves or quarters and swim those distances and try to beat your race-pace times. You’re teaching your body how to swim at that pace and becoming more familiar with that speed instead of just experiencing it at meets.

3. Supra Race Pace

If you want to get faster than your current pace, your body needs to experience a speed that is actually faster than you can or want to go in a race. Much like race-pace training, when you split up the distance you are training for, you’ll do the same thing or split it up into even smaller components to try and swim even faster than your current pace. By going a much shorter distance, you can focus on trying to a reach a new and faster maximal speed.

And with this approach, because you’ve raised your maximal speed ceiling, every pace below that will become achievable with slightly less effort than it previously required. Think of it as a Volkswagen Beetle and a Ferrari going 60 miles per hour—the VW Bug is working much closer to its ceiling in terms of total available speed when it’s being run at 60 mph. Therefore, the engine has to work harder than the Ferrari’s engine will to achieve that same pace. Continually increasing your top speed will enable you to achieve a relatively lower speed more easily. You’re just raising the roof on your own speed limit.

If you’re spending any real amount of time on anything other than these three types of training you may be getting a great workout and you may be tired, but I would challenge the notion that this effort is making you a better swimmer over the long run. Getting tired isn’t the same as getting better.


  • Technique and Training