August 1, 2007

Let’s face it.  No one feels great in every workout.  Sure, there are those far too infrequent times when you dive into the pool and feel strong, fast, and efficient.  However, there are other times that the only thing slower and more painful than your turn-over is the clock ticking down to the end of workout.  When this situation unfortunately yet inevitably occurs, you have some options:

A)     Get out.  (But, by the time you’ve made the effort to get to the pool, change, and get in the water, this option is a huge waste of time and energy.  Plus, it’s so hard to find an excuse that the coach will actually believe.)

B)     Mindlessly go through the motions of a workout. (This would count as “junk yardage”.  You’re no doubt being sloppy, repetitively engraining bad habits into your stroke and keeping your heart rate at the level of a Sunday stroll through the park with Grandma.  Refer to “huge waste of time” in paragraph above.)

C)    Use this opportunity to change things up, break the monotony, and have fun in the workout. (Bing! Bing!!  Bing!!!  Pick this!  Pick this!)

Master swimmers in general fear change (i.e., try getting someone to switch out of their normal lane in a morning workout!).  However, sometimes to stay motivated and improve your swimming, you’re just going to have to suck it up and do it!  All the hard sets, long yardage workouts and painful intervals can’t compete with efficiency and good technique.  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  As long as you’re going to be there, you may as well get the most out of your workout.

Here are some ideas to improve your swimming (and your “I should have taken up Masters Badminton instead” attitude):

Work the turns.  Yep.  Just the turns.  You may be feeling slow and lethargic during a set, but don’t waste the whole set by just ‘getting through it’.  Stay long and relaxed in the main part of the pool, but when you hit the flags, pick up your kick and increase your turnover.  Snap your legs on the flip, make a concentrated effort to explode off the wall, and exaggerate the streamline. Take two or three strong strokes out of the turn, then back off and relax.  Repeat this for every turn during the set.  Not only is it great cardio training with short bursts of efforts followed by a recovery period…but you will also be so focused on the turns, that you just may forget the monotony of the set.

DPS (Distance Per Stroke).   Forget about speed.  Work on efficiency.  Some days you just don’t feel fast, and that’s okay.  Try swimming a few hundred yards of the same stroke and keep track of the average number of strokes you take per length.  Then, spend your workout concentrating on taking fewer strokes per lap.  You will have to extend the glide phase of your stroke and you may have to pick up your kick a bit.  Initially, try knocking one stroke per length off a swim.  Then two.  Challenge yourself to see how few strokes you can take. 

Catch Up Stroke.  This is a freestyle drill that you can do while swimming a set.  Don’t start the pull with the right arm, until the left arm “catches up” at the top of your stroke.  It feels alittle awkward at first, but it’s a great way to work on core rotation and glide.  If you ever watch world-class swimmers, even the sprinters have a powerful glide each stroke. 

Find the chinck in your amour!  Ask your coach to watch your stroke (it can be any of the four) and give you one, just ONE, thing to work on to improve your efficiency.  If you try to “keep your head down, lift your elbows, work on hip rotation, and increase your kick” all at once, you’ll probably end up more confused and less efficient than you ever have been.  Change takes time.  Changing anything about your stroke is like a sore in your mouth…if feels huge although it is barely visible to the naked eye.  Take this one aspect of your stroke, and concentrate on it for the entire practice.  Slow down if you must, but really work on correcting it. Check back with the coach intermittently to be sure you haven’t slipped back into old habits.

Change it up.  Try moving to a lane with slower intervals and swimming one of your ‘off’ strokes.  We all have a stroke that we ignore like a redheaded stepchild.  And usually, it’s the stroke we could improve upon the most.  If you’ve been powering through months and months of distance freestyle, try swimming the main set backstroke or breastroke.  Working different strokes not only makes all of your strokes stronger, but changing movement patterns can also help alleviate overuse injuries that are all too common in swimming. 

We can’t have the best workout of our life every time we jump into the pool.  However, with a little creativity, you can get something positive out of each and every workout….regardless of how your feeling.  Take advantage of the workouts where you feel great!  But also take advantage of the days where you don’t feel so great and use them to work on things you may normally overlook in your practice.  Most of all, make it fun, and you’ll always be successful.