Expert Andy Bullock explains that improving swim speed isn’t just down to drills.
Traditionally, improving your swimming technique requires you to practice a series of drills, breaking down your technique into smaller parts and then putting the swim stroke back together, integrating the new part of the technique back into your stroke. This, combined with a committed approach to a structured swim programme that includes speed development, steady aerobic swimming and pacing practice, results in the ideal steady progression of your swimming. But what if there were other ways of improving your swimming? What if you could find ways of keeping your stroke together, improving your pace and staying relaxed throughout your swim training and racing in a different way? This feature will look at three different techniques – visualisation, the use of music and learning using analogies. You may not have heard of them or experienced them before, but they might be just the thing you’ve been looking for to help revitalise your swimming.
There is an idea that we can actually imagine ourselves swimming quicker, and then make it happen. There are several ways in which you can use this technique; all are relatively simple. This one works in three stages. Firstly, find a video of someone who swims in a similar style to one you would like to adopt. Watch this video and focus on any aspect of the swimmer and the video clip that stands out to you; this could be the action, speed of movement, rhythm. Try to get the image of the swimmer as clear as possible in your head and separate it from anything around it by brightening the contrast between the two. Stage two is to close your eyes and replay the video in your own mind, keeping the image bright and clear, and focus on the areas that stand out to you. This will take a bit of practice but you should eventually be able to play this image back in your mind at will, so repeat stages one and two until this is possible. Stage three is to simply play this image in your mind while swimming, concentrating on the areas that you highlighted when you first watched the video. Then see what happens with
It has been said that music makes the world go round but can it be used to make your swimming go faster? Some people respond to music better than visual images, so using music may be a more suitable way of improving your swimming. The use of music can either help you associate or dissociate from your task at hand. Neither is better than the other; it’s just personal preference. One way in which music is used is to set the tempo of your movement. How many times have you used music in turbo or run sessions to set the cadence of your movements? So why not do it in your swimming? Find a song or tune that allows you to develop and maintain the arm turnover that you want during your swimming and simply sing it, to yourself, while swimming. Or you could even invest in a waterproof MP3 player that allows you to listen to your favourite tracks while swimming in the pool.
Swimming drills help break your stroke down into several small, manageable chunks. However, there is an increasing amount of scientific evidence that over-thinking skills in this way can actually be detrimental to your speed during a race. This is because it’s very hard to think of lots of different details when trying to perform at your absolute best when under race pressure. So instead of thinking about exact hand entry, the angle of your elbow at the catch or where your fingers point as you push the water, try to think about the movement in larger pieces. For example, imagine you are wrapping your arm around a barrel as you place your hand in to the water at the start of your catch. This will automatically place your arm into an effective position – a position that grabs hold of the water. Similarly, concentrate on pushing water towards your feet, as this will focus several aspects of your stroke, such as the position of your elbow and how deep your hand is.
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