Like most triathletes I’m guilty of saying I should swim more, but then just don’t.  We rationalize it by saying that it’s such a small part of the race, so time is better spent running, or cycling.  After moving into a new condo with a 25m pool downstairs I decided no more excuses, I’m going to swim everyday.  Since I began daily swims I almost never swim more than 1500m (it’s just 30 minutes), but I’m consistently getting into the pool, and my times are coming down.  I did a 500m TT in 8:15 (1:39/100m) in the beginning of January.  7 weeks later I did another 500m TT today in 7:30 (1:30/100m).  These times are far from elite, and they aren’t even FOP amateur triathlete times, but they show improvement.

As someone who didn’t grow up a swimmer, has never had any formal swim coaching, and still mostly swims because that’s what he needs to do to get to his bike, these are my thought on how to make the pool more interesting, and ultimately become a better swimmer.

Do a Workout

When I swim I usually find the time is going by too quickly, the opposite problem of most triathletes at the pool.  If I’m doing a set of 10x50m it’s all out for 50m as I race the clock to get back to the wall, and then the rest intervals seems to fly by and I’m at it again.  This is a really good way to not only chew up distance, but actually improve.  I almost exclusively do 50s or 100s when I workout, rarely is it longer, and they’re always all out.  Few things are more mind numbing than showing up to the pool, hopping in a lane, and mindlessly swimming back and forth to try to get to 2000m.  Doing a workout makes the time fly, and will make you a better swimmer.

Make use of your warm-up and cool down

When I WU or CD I swim 100m breathing to the left (my strong side), 100m bilateral, 100m to my right, 100m left, 100m bilateral.  When I started doing this in January I couldn’t breath to my right at all.  When I tried my head would come out of the water, my legs would sink, and I’d barely get a breath.  Every time I’m in the pool I’m doing 200m exclusively breathing to my bad side, and 400m breathing bilaterally (something else I couldn’t do before January).  I’ve become a better, more balanced swimmer by learning to breath to the right.  It also means that your time in the pool doesn’t get started on the wrong foot by mindlessly swimming a boring 500m WU.  And, it makes it a lot easier to remember what lap you’re on when you’re doing something slightly different every 100.  This may not be the traditional way to learn a swim skill or do drills, but it has worked for me, and helps the WU and CD breeze by.  I might involve swimming with closed fists to into my routine next, to work on my arm position.

Think about 1 thing

Technique trumps fitness in the pool.  You see it when an 8-year-old girl dolphin kicks past you, and when that overweight senior leaves you in his wake.  There’s a lot that goes into a stroke, and a lot to remember.  Am I keeping my elbow high?  How’s my head position?  Am I making myself long and narrow?  Am I catching a lot of water?  How’s my kick?  It can be overwhelming.  When I go to the pool I only think about 1 things.  I may decide I’m going to focus on keeping my head down through my entire stroke.  Or maybe I’ll focus on my catch.  But I wont focus on both, because then I find I don’t really focus on either.

Most people aren’t going to make it a goal to swim every day, nor do they have the luxury of a 25m pool downstairs.  Take my advice for what it’s worth, I don’t swim under 1-hour in an Ironman, and have no qualifications in the pool.  But by making better use of my time in the pool doing tough intervals, using the WU and CD to work on weaknesses instead of falling into mindless swimming right off the bat, and only thinking about 1 aspect of my stroke per swim I’ve seen some great improvements.