The key factor in swimming is your technique. When you swim in clothes, a bad technique will slow you down a lot. You can quickly see where you can do better. Small adjustments show immediate results that will improve your overall technique.
The total distance of each session starts at 500 m or 20 lengths, and slightly increases through the weeks. There are no time limits, as the main goal is to achieve the distances throughout the training. Add five more lengths and one clothing item every week. This builds more strength over time.
This is by far the most effective training you can do to improve your freestyle swimming. While performing one arm stroke keep the other arm outstretched in front of your head and do not move it until the other arm has finished the stroke. The benefit of this swimming technique is that you are forced to keep the arm stretched in front of you while the other arm is performing the stroke.
As for the arm catch up skill, the one arm front technique is meant to improve the efficiency of the “gliding” phase of freestyle. It consists of repeating the arm stroke of only one arm with the other arm stretched in front of you. Do one lap stroking with the left arm and the next stroking with the right arm, breathe normally in the direction of the arm stroke.
Here’s where the fun starts!
Take advantage of a long set, like repeat 300s or 400s, and put swimmers of similar abilities in the same lanes.
Each swimmer should start one second apart, basically one after another, and try to stay right on the leader’s feet.
Don’t forget to alternate who leads the lane after each interval.
During a normal swim set, every wall is a chance to rest, relax and recover before the next lap. However, there are no walls every 25 or 50 meters in the open water.
One way to prepare yourself is by doing a long swim (500 to 1000 meters) without touching the wall. Instead of turning at the wall and pushing off with your legs, flip at the T (at the end of the underwater lane marker), or five feet before the wall. You will lose all of your forward momentum and be forced to use your arms and legs to get moving again.
Caution: This can be stressful on your shoulders, so be sure to also use your legs to accelerate after you flip. As with all activities, don’t overdo it.
Breathing is a key factor in swimming freestyle. To improve the breathing technique and make it as efficient and natural as possible, you can train in varying the rhythm of your breathing pattern during freestyle. During your regular training and your special drills session try to do breathing, every 3, 5 and 7 arm strokes.
For example, you do 500 m freestyle; do the first 50 breathing every 3 strokes, the second 50 every 5, and the third one every 7, and then go back to 5 and 3. Repeat until you finish. This kind of drill will teach your body to swim with less oxygen improving your aerobic conditioning, but also to keep your breathing technique clean even when you really need to breathe, like in a competition.
During your first few months of practice you may discover why coaches always pace along the pool deck. Usually it is to communicate with swimmers in other lanes, but sometimes it’s just to keep warm or for personal entertainment. Often they enter the pool for a moment to show a skill. Use this random movement to your advantage.
Pretend your coach is a big, orange inflated buoy. Practice sighting for your coach during a drill set. Lift your head forward, scan the horizon for the coach/buoy, turn your head to the side for a breath and then continue swimming. Do this no more than five times per lap (25 meters).
Water polo players never seem to have a hard time swimming with their heads out of the water. It is part of the sport. Take a page out of their book and train with your head out of the water. There are many reasons you might need to do this in a real open-water situation (cold temperatures, feet in your face, hard-to-find buoys, etc).
Swim the entire set with your head up (say: 6x25m). Don’t turn your head to the side to breathe; that’s cheating! This is a great way to build strength in your upper body and make you aware of how your lower body sinks when your head is raised. Performing this drill with clothes on makes for a grueling strength workout.
Most swimming lanes are two to three meters wide. This is just enough space to cram you and a pair of teammates side by side. Do six 25m swim fast, where you alternate which position each person starts in. The middle slot is the most fun and should be sought after.
The importance of lung capacity is often overlooked. Open water can seem much less intimidating if you can hold your breath for a long period of time or you are comfortable not taking in air every three strokes. Situations like cold-water shock, chop and splash, or a dunking are very common during an event.
Working on a hypoxic breathing-pattern set, or gradually increasing the number of strokes you take between breaths, is a great way to prepare for some of these situations. An example is a 5x100m set in which you breathe every three strokes the first lap, every five strokes on the second, every seven strokes on the third and every nine strokes (or not at all) on the last lap.
Rarely will a triathlon or open-water swim have a 180-degree turn on the course, as sending swimmers head-on toward competitors is not the best idea. Thus, 90-degree turns are the norm. Pretend there is a buoy in the middle of your lane, swim towards it and make a U-turn around it.
You can put a teammate onto an inflated buoy, use a mark on the bottom of the pool, or just your imagination. The point is: Practice your turns! Do some 180-degree turns as well. It can’t hurt to be over-prepared!
These fun and challenging drills can be incorporated into a regular swimming practice. After a while, training in the pool can get a bit repetitive and anything to mix up the tedium is a welcome change. Not only will these drills give you a little mental boost, they will also prepare you for your first, second or 100th adventure. Be creative, original and inventive with your skills.
These are just some guidelines to inspire your own training ideas.
Combine multiple skills to make another day at the pool more enjoyable.
Remember, the most important thing is to feel confident and prepared when you are starting your open water adventure.