Ten skills to slay ocean swimming

You can swim in the pool but when you get to the sea, woah! It’s a different story. You look out from the beach and there are waves, it’s choppy, you can see the wind is pushing the water into currents and you wonder how you’re going to be able to deal with that. 

Don’t ignore the reality of swimming in the sea.  It’s harder, challenging,  more of a workout and there’s added risk – but yeah it’s heaps more fun when you get confident.  

First of all, everything you learn about good freestyle and practice at the pool is tested in the open water but everything you learn about freestyle has to be put into practice in the sea.  

When the water is moving around and the waves are crashing into your face, yes things are going to be messy but the more you can keep your technique tight, the better, faster and easier things will be.  

Here’s ten things to work on to make open water swimming in the rough ocean manageable and enjoyable:  

  1. Cut through and keep in control, don’t bob around like a cork. Swimming in rough ocean conditions means you can be tossed around like a cork if you don’t take control. Yes, it’s a workout and yes, it’s hard to keep swimming fast in rough conditions. You have keep moving forward to maintain momentum, to cut through the waves and to keep in control. When a big wave comes, from any direction, decide early to dive underneath or cruise over the top, but keep moving and don’t stop.
  2. Some stretching before you dive in is advisable because you may have to deal with forces that push and pull you around in ways that you don’t normally deal with. You’re going to be arching your back more than usual to see where you’re going and you may have to lift your head higher to breathe in, so stretch your back and move your neck around a bit. Your elbows need to higher in the rough water to clear the waves, so stretch those arms behind your back or hold your elbow behind your head.   
  3. You need a higher stroke rate than normal. And you need to kick more than you might otherwise in smooth calm conditions. And you have to make sure that you never, ever stop kicking. You have to keep moving forward and in charge of your own direction. Keep your speed up and don’t settle for bobbing around in the water like a cork because that means a loss of control and could make you a bit seasick as well. So yes, when you start an open water swim in rough conditions you know you are going to be getting more of a workout and you’ll be using more energy.   
  4. Focus on your technique and trying to do everything (as much as possible) correctly. Sometimes swimmers say things like: “Just crash and bash your way through” but that is understating what they themselves are doing. They are staying strong in their core and maintaining a stable platform for all their levers to operate effectively. Yes, sometimes you will crash through a wave and sometimes the wave will roll over you completely but whatever happens you have to remain long, straight and ready to start your next stroke and keep kicking. Hold your body as still as possible. The idea is to cut through the water, the chop and the waves, not get thrown around by them. So that means a you need a nice tight straight body position, not a loose core that’s not supporting your arm movements and kick.  
  5. Kicking – do it and a lot more of it than usual. Keep your legs close together, don’t do big or deep kicks, keep them relatively small and fairly fast. Don’t stop kicking at any stage. 
  6. Each arm stroke needs to enter the water with intent. Your arm recovery (when it is in the air moving back to the front) has to be quick, real quick. Spear your fingers in first, followed by your arm and grab the water nice and high, way out in front of you. A faster stroke rate doesn’t mean missing out on a powerful catch at the start of every stroke. This is the most important part of the freestyle. You need to be powerful at the front of every freestyle arm stroke, Push forward with hand after entering the water then use plenty of effort to grab the water with your wrist, hold your elbow high and pull through with real muscle strength from biceps, back, shoulders and triceps.  
  7. Breathe in more often, even every arm stroke. You don’t want to be worried about your breathing and you don’t want to left with no air so breathe more often. You can make this part of a really strong freestyle if you focus on pulling hard and straight with the arm that strokes while your head is down. As long as you keep things even, balanced and straight,  this galloping style of freestyle can work for you in the sea. 
  8. Sighting – do it at the top of the waves and don’t look around when you’re in a trough at the bottom of a wave. Look up with arm straight out in front and one arm pulling back hard. Keep kicking when you’re sighting and arch your back rather than drop your legs.
  9. Duck dive under broken waves – waves with white foamy water are broken and you need to be diving underneath. That mean get your arms straight in front with your head below your hips. A duck dive uses your core to move like a dolphin up and down.
  10. Learn to body surf. Coming back into the beach, use the waves to push you as much as possible. When you are swimming in the wave breaking zone, try hard to catch the waves to give you a free boost. You can catch a wave just as it’s breaking if your head is lower than your legs and hips and you are traveling quickly. As soon as you feel the wave picking you up and pushing you along, get your legs up high behind you, one hand out the front and enjoy it.

Ten freestyle swim drills you need to know

Unfortunately, you can’t just go swimming and magically improve. You need to regularly do drills and skill exercises to develop and maintain a reasonable technique.  

Below are the most important basic drills for freestyle swimming that you need to practice if you want to improve. Try one every time you go for a swim sesh at the pool. They all work your body and your brain. 

1)      Catch-Up – This is the number one learning tool for every teacher and coach, and every swimmer learning freestyle. Olympians do this drill in their warmup just before going out to the starting blocks to swim their gold medal final. Don’t start your freestyle stroke until your recovering arm has touched your hand. Here is a demonstration of Catch-Up. The more you do it the better you get at this drill and when you are swimming in the open water you can use the catch-up as a fall-back swim style, when you’re tired and breathless. The great Dutchman Ferry Weertman swam catch-up and won gold at the Rio Olympics 10km men’s open water

2)      Fingerdrag. This is often (wrongly) called the Popov drill, including by me, after the great Russian swimmer Alex Popov, who trained for many years at the AIS in Canberra. The fingerdrag drill requires you to recover your arms with a very high elbow and low hands and fingers hanging off your elbow. Your hands are very close to the side of your body. 

3)      Kicking: Yeah you don’t like it but like vegies it’s good for you. You don’t need a kickboard and I have done kicking classes at the beach where we only kick – all the way around the 700m course. Reach both arms out in front of you, put your head down in the water and only raise it to breathe in. Your leg must be ONE UNIT. Your kick comes from your glutes (bum), your thighs and your lower back. There’s not much knee bend in freestyle kicking. Stretch your legs and feel like you’re making them long.

4)      No Kicking: Use a pool buoy in your thighs to keep your legs from sinking and turn your kick off. You will notice that you don’t get as tired and you can focus on getting your stroke correct. You will also work your shoulders, biceps and triceps. Keep each stroke long, with a flick of the wrist upon hand exit at the end of each stroke. 

5)      Water Polo – Head up freestyle: Keep your head up and look forward while swimming freestyle. This means you have to kick more and get your elbows really high during the recovery. This is hard work. 

6)      Tap and Go: This one is tricky but sounds easy. Tap the back of your hand on the surface of the water just after your hand exits the water at the end of your stroke, so down near your thighs or hips. Easy right? Try it. 

 7)      Sculling: Reach out in front of you with straight arms and point your fingers straight down. Your task is to propel yourself forward by just using a side to side sculling motion with your hands. You can also do this drill with your arms level with your head and further back, near your hips. Here is a coach explaining this drill. 

8) One-arm freestyle – Yes do a whole lap of freestyle with just your left arm and change arms to come back for the return lap. Hold your right arm straight out in front of you, while you stroke with your left. This gets you focusing on the details of what each arm stroke is doing. Meanwhile your other arm is holding you up, not moving and pushing forward. 

9) Swordfish drill. This is a kicking, rotating and breathing drill for freestyle. one arm is straight out the front, one arm down near your pocket. Do six kicks then change sides with one big stroke. here is Dan doing the swordfish drill at Stroke Improvement group recently.

Swordfish freestyle swim drill

10) Long Dog paddle – This is like freestyle but your hand must stay under the water at all times, even during the recovery phase. Like dog paddle, the stroke cycle is under the water and your hand returns to the beginning of the stroke under the water. This is a workout and helps you to develop a great feel for the water. Here is a coach explaining how to do it

And just for extra homework and credit for the swim nerds, the advanced Popov drill is more complicated for people who are really serious about improving their swimming. This video explains it pretty well. Popov was so technically perfect (for his time) that he never lost momentum and at the time scientists believed he had reached freestyle perfection that could only be surpassed by swimmers with taller bodies. 

Just a reminder, this is the booking page link for all our swim club events, groups and lessons: https://MOWSCandWOWSwimming.as.me/

This is the direct link for VU pool squad (Tuesday 6.00am and 7.30pm + Thursday 7.30pm): https://MOWSCandWOWSwimming.as.me/VUAquaticPoolSquad

Check out the club’s web page here. It’s time to start thinking about renewing your membership for 2023.

How to train for a long distance swim event or tri

Nine tips for building endurance in swimming.

Are you planning a big swim event or three this summer? Maybe a triathlon? 

Triathlons come in a few distances: 

  • Sprint = 750m swim + 20km bike + 5km run 
  • Olympic = 1.5km swim + 40km bike + 10km run 
  • Long Course = 3km swim + 80km bike + 20km run 
  • Half iron = 1.9km swim + 90.1km bike + 21.1km run 
  • Ironman = 3.9km swim + 180.2km bike + 42.2km run 

Open water swim events also have fairly standard distances: 

  • 1.2km (like Pier to Pub or WOW Challenge 1.2) 
  • 2.5km (plenty of these around) 
  • 5.0km This is a FINA junior official distance 
  • 10km FINA official swimming marathon 
  • 25km FINA ultra-marathon (don’t even think about it) 
  • Channel swim (like the English Channel) = over 33km 

Depending on your starting level of fitness, for any event over about 1000m, you need to put in a significant amount of work to build swimming endurance.  

Here are some tips to follow to build your endurance for open water and triathlons: 

  1. Learn to swim straight and sight effectively in the open water. Swimming off-course can add hundreds of metres to your swim event. Both sides of your body have to be balanced. Strokes have to be long and straight. To sight effectively, look before you breathe in by lifting your head only as high as your goggles out of the water. Your nose should still be in the water – blowing out bubbles. Make it a natural part of your stroke. Never inhale then left your head to look around. 
  2. Swim three times per week minimum – in addition to your other fitness activities. To build swimming endurance, you should be doing two hard pool sessions and one long open water swim (minimum) every week. It doesn’t matter whether you run a lot, cycle a lot or go to the gym. You still need to swim three times per week to maintain your skills and feel for the water. There are plenty of fit people who fall apart in the swim leg. 
  3. Going for a long slow swim does not make you a long-distance swimmer or eligible to enter long distance events. An event is always tougher than training, even if only in your mind. So, you need to raise your heart rate during training to build your fitness and endurance. Your heart rate while swimming needs to be at least double (minimum) your resting heart rate to get any fitness benefit from the activity. Swim fast and train smart. 
  4. Complete 2.0 km each swim: Swimming 500m – 1000m per swim session doesn’t cut it. Yes, start small but quickly build up to two or more kilometres. Really if you are not swimming 2km total pre session, your progress and improvement is going to be very slow. You are not pushing yourself. 
  5. Swim intervals on a timed cycle. Yes you want to swim a long distance but the best way to build up to that is to swim short distances repeatedly on a limited time cycle. So, 10 x 100m @ 2.0 minutes is better for you than 1km @ 20 mins. 
  6. Stretching: Yes. Do stretching. Lots of stretching.  Stretch your calves, your thighs and do a full range of stretches every day. Do the swimmer’s stretch – elbow behind head. Firstly, stretching helps you avoid cramping, strains and muscle injuries. Secondly stretching helps you be flexible and fluid and swim properly in the water.  
  7. As you get close to the event, swim at least half the distance of your event a couple of times. So, if you are training for a 5.0km event, swim 2.5km or more at least twice in the month leading up to it. 
  8. Experiment with feeds and drinks you will use before and during the event. Don’t leave it to the event to try that new energy goo. Personally, I like bananas and apples for food and sweet black tea for a drink, with hydralite for a few days beforehand. Don’t forget to take your vitamins and eat sensibly. 
  9. Taper – Yes ease off in the last week before the event. So that means no heavy weights, hard gym sessions or extreme workouts of any kind. But still go for your three swims and do some exercise every day. 

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Dump your lazy, land-based breathing habit with these ten tips to breathe like a swimmer.

There are four steps to sustainable swimming – 

  1. Breathing, 
  2. Floating, 
  3. Kicking,
  4. Arm strokes. 

Every learner and every parent thinks only about number 4) – developing those big powerful arm strokes.

Plenty of adult learners neglect the most important first step – breathing – and breathing for swimming is unlike breathing for any other physical activity. When you enter the water, you need to start breathing like a swimmer and drop your “land-based breathing” habits. 

Land based breathing is often shallow and slow. Land-based breathing is often inhaling through the nose. When you’re exercising on land, your breathing is often fast and in and out through the mouth and nose. To breathe like a swimmer is to get the maximum benefit from each lungful of air. Swimmers focus on the exhale part of breathing because inhaling comes naturally – it is a hardwired reflex.

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Here are ten tips to get you breathing like a swimmer. If some of them sound repetitive, umm, yes: 

  1. Inhale deeply and quickly through your mouth. The inhale has to be fast and deep – the air must get to the bottom of your lungs straight away. And it has to be through your mouth. You might not realise that land-based breathing does not involve quick, deep inhaling. Usually it’s more relaxed, takes a long time and breathing is often quite shallow. Mostly we breathe in and out through your nose. In swimming It’s in through the mouth and out through the nose.  
  2. Exhale slowly and steadily from your nose – you can even close your mouth and hum to ensure the air is leaving through your nose. 
  3. Swimmers generally don’t hold their breath. When your face is in the water, you should be exhaling, slowly from your nose. Your mouth can be closed (so a little hum is good). Little bubbles are leaving your nose so no water can get in and you are safe. 
  4. Practice breathing like a swimmer – quick and deep inhale through the mouth, and long slow exhale from the nose by putting your head under the water and watching your bubbles. You should be able to produce a steady stream of little bubbles from each nostril that can last up to about 10 seconds. 
  5. When you turn to breathe in, your aim is to only lift your head enough so that one eye is out of the water, and one remains under the water. So, you aren’t lifting your head very much at all, you are turning your torso using your abs.  
  6. Practice taking one breath every three or four strokes. You can take one breath every two strokes when you’re racing or swimming fast but as much as possible train yourself to lengthen your exhale. 
  7. Learn bi-lateral breathing. Everyone has a favourite side for breathing but you really do need to be able turn to the other side if necessary to take an inhale. And always breathing on one side means you will develop an unbalanced stroke and become stronger on one side than the other. You won’t swim straight in the open water. 
  8. Your leading arm needs to hold you up as you inhale. Don’t start your stroke until your head is back down, exhaling. So, if I turn to my left to inhale, my right arm is stretching forward holding me up. My left arm is pulling back hard but my right arm stays in that forward position until my lungs are full of air again. 
  9. Breathing is done quickly in the back half of the stroke. If I am breathing on my left side, my right arm is stretched forward and I turn to inhale when my left arm is passing under my face. The inhale must be all over by the time my left arm is returning back, through the air to the front of the stroke.
  10. Breathing is all important to swimming. When you’re exhaling you are relaxing. When you hold your breath you are tense and that is bad for swimming. Children develop their swimming breathing skills by playing in the water, by going under the water, by blowing bubbles in the water so spend time doing all these things.
Photo by Jess Loiterton on Pexels.com

Most importantly – remember this: Swimmers don’t hold their breath, swimmers exhale and stay relaxed. Play around in the water and blow bubbles to get on top of this skill.

Respect always pays dividends in swimming

Most of us are not training for the next Olympics but we all want to be fit, healthy, strong and to keep improving at swimming. Maybe you have a goal (good idea) to complete a big swim event in the future. One thing I like about swimming is the respect you need to make it all work. This goes for adults as well as kids.

Kids who find themselves in competitive squads and going to race meets soon work out there are no short cuts, no way to improve on their own. To prosper in the sport, respect must become a cornerstone trait of their personalities.”

In this apparently very individual sport, they need the group, the team, the coach.

There’s no shortcuts. You need your team, your friends, your coach.

When you make swimming your physical exercise activity you are taking on the toughest of all sports. Sure, it’s very low impact, so pretty safe, but it’s tough physically and mentally. You require strength, aerobic capacity, cardio fitness, co-ordination and all-over conditioning. Talent and body type can help but these attributes are dwarfed by commitment and respect. In order to succeed in our world, it all boils down to one thing: Respect.”

There’s method behind the occasionally repetitive madness of swim training. You don’t get much benefit from doing something once. You have to repeat that thing, that skill, that set, hundreds of times over months and years to change yourself. But more than that – You have to accept and be ok with all that. You have your swim training friends to share the experience with. This is your lifestyle and when you respect and accept it, you get the full benefits.

You’ll meet the swimmers with all the gear, the apps, the jargon who are doing it on their own. Please reach out to them and offer support 🙂. You need to be in a group with other swimmers, doing it together, respecting each other, learning and supporting each other if you want to get the most of this thing.

I’m not saying this to get you to pay me money (really 😉), I’m just urging you to be part of the scene, participate in the groups, learn from each other, support your mates. This thing is not an ordinary sport, it’s a level up from everything else. 

The flipside of respect is that really good swimmers can commonly become a bit arrogant – perhaps coz they know they are better? Haha this is an old problem and issue.  But if you level up from mere mortal human being to swimmer, and to open water swimmer, maybe you have earnt the right to feel good about yourself. You’ll know when you’re good, coz you’ll have respected the process of getting there.

And check out our latest vid from the 9am Swim group here.

I swim a lot … but I’m not getting faster …?

Ten tips to beat The Swimmer’s Plateau

Do you swim a lot but have stopped improving? You’re no longer getting faster?

This is a common issue for swimmers of all levels of ability – learners, people who are training for an event and elite competitive swimmer – and is called The Plateau.

Even elite swimmers can hit The Plateau and despite training for hours each day, they are not recording faster times, sometimes they are even getting slower times than they have done in the past.

The solution is not training more. The solution is to train differently, even just small changes can bust The Plateau and get you improving again.

If you aren’t getting fast anymore, despite lots of swimming metres and hours, think about these ten tips to beat The Plateau:

  1. Make sure you are having fun: Swimming is fun, that’s just science. Swimming only works if you’re having fun. Moving fast through the water, diving in, feeling strong in the water. These are all 100% enjoyable. If you have hit The Plateau go back to doing the stuff that drew you to the water in the first place and have a bit of fun every time you dive in. Don’t get out of the water if you’re not smiling and feeling amazing.
  2. Ask someone to watch you: A coach or an experienced swimmer may be able to see something small that you can improve to help you through The Plateau. You might be making a small mistake, every stroke that is keeping you from improving. The trick then is to act on the advice and feel the difference.
  3. Change things: Change the way you train. Go to a different venue. Complete a different set of reps. Swim for longer reps, or shorter sprints. Do more backstroke, breaststroke or some stroke that you rarely use.
  4. Be Patient: Think positively and stay conscious and in charge of your body every single stroke. If you are just going through the motions, you are not maximising your potential to swim well and swim effectively. Every single movement of every part of your body is important. Feel your way through and stay attuned to how your body is moving through the water.
  5. Go to the physio: If you have aches and pains and niggling little shoulder injuries, go and get help, get a massage, get fixed up. Little aches and pains might disappear from your conscious mind when you’re swimming but they don’t go away and could be impacting on how you move.
  6. Do some dryland training: Change things up a bit and move your body in different ways. This can help you get out of the rut and break through The Plateau. Go running, cycling or head to the gym.
  7. Use some swim gear – Fins (flippers, paddles, snorkel) to get you moving differently and using your systems more effectively. What is really happening is you are focussed and making more of an effort with specific muscle systems.
  8. Just do sprints – Do some sessions of short sharp superfast sprinting. Maybe you have adjusted t the hard endurance training and the long-distance reps. Break through The Plateau by just going flat out.
  9. Swim with friends: Ask a friend to come train with you or find a group to swim with. Sometimes we hit The Plateau because we have made our swimming a isolated, lonely activity. Make it a social exercise and don’t be concerned if you are not as fast as other people.
  10. Take a rest: have a rest week away from the pool or the open water and get recharged and reenergised. Maybe you’ve been pushing it too hard. During your week off, do plenty of stretching and other activities.
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Swimming – It’s a brain exercise

Sometimes swimming can make me feel really dumb. We think swimming is a great physical exercise and will make us really fit, right? But yes and no to that idea….

Because only people who can do it fairly well can get fit from swimming. The rest can’t get their breathing and rhythm together long enough to get fit.

Freestyle swimming (and the other strokes) is a brain exercise, a mental puzzle that you FAIL if you don’t stay focused and consciously thinking all the time. 

The puzzle is that your body must be in the high floating buoyant position to start with – that’s takes skill and an experience of your own centre of buoyancy. Then you have to master your breathing. Then all your body’s limbs and levers have to do what you tell them, when they’re told and while you monitor how they are doing it and you must be able to adjust with small movements and modifications as necessary. 

Even experienced swimmers can fall into the trap of ‘going through the motions’ and not concentrating on what they are doing. That’s when they FAIL at swimming.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

You need to mentally solve the puzzle to make it work for you. So here’s some mental tricks – some questions to ask yourself – that will change the way you manage your own body when you’re swimming. Get back in charge by thinking your way through it. 

  1. Freestyle is not arm strokes 

You might have heard the freestyle swim style called ‘overarm’ or ‘crawl.’ 

Stop thinking of freestyle as a cycle of arms – stroke after arm stroke. Just think about the stretch forward. Think about freestyle as just a stretch and pull. Forget about strokes and think stretch forward while you pull back with the other arm. 

Look forward to that reach forward because this is the fun gliding part of swimming freestyle, the rest is work. If you think of freestyle as an endless process of one arm stroke then next arm stroke etc you risk losing focus. Then you will run out breath for sure. 

  1. You don’t need air 

Breathing is important but try forgetting about it and you’ll swim easier. Think of it as unimportant, even though. in distance freestyle, you actually need more air so you probably will inhale every stroke cycle – so every right arm or every left arm and that’s OK.

BUT you can’t let it dominate your thinking. You have be confident both in your ability to breathe and confident in your ability to go for a few seconds without breathing. 

So – focus on exhaling. Forget about inhaling. Get your exhale long, steady and in control, then your inhaling will largely look after itself. The best way to exhale is via a steady stream of small bubbles out of your nose. The best way to inhale while swimming is via a large, deep, quick breath in through your mouth. 

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  1. Breathing and bubbles.  

If you are losing your timing or losing your breath, choose one side to be your favoured side for breathing and stick to it. Then look at your hands and label one hand the hand you move when breathing and the other hand is the hand that is stroking while blow bubbles. One hand/arm for breathing and one for bubbles. Breathing and bubbles. When you’re getting anxious or really pushing yourself in a swim, you fall back to calling your hands Breathing and Bubbles. This reminds your brain that you are soon going to inhale and to stop worrying. 

  1. Kick or don’t kick, make up your mind. 

I’ve written about kicking a lot over the years and I’ve coached a lot of swimmers with a bad kick and plenty with great ability to kick. Good swimmers can either kick very well, probably from a childhood spent in swim squad, or they hardly kick at all. Bad swimmers always think they are kicking but are probably just wriggling their legs around or making a cycling type of motion. That means a lot of splashing and movement without getting much go-forward at all.  

Kicking is a cardio activity so use it sparingly or not at all if you want to conserve energy over a long distance. Don’t fool yourself, if you don’t have a good kick, stop moving your legs around. Can you actually stop kicking? Do you have control over your legs or are they just moving out of habit? 

  1. It’s your body, so take control. 

Can you order your arms to do what you want them to do? And when to do it? What about your legs? Really?

Many swimming drills, like catch-up, 1-arm freestyle and others, are mostly about making you, your brain, take control of your body, your legs, your arms. If you can’t do the full range of swimming drills and skill exercises you are not in full control of your body. Everyone is either left or right brained. Everyone is better at controlling and working on the right or the left side of their body. But in swimming everything has to be balanced. You have to be able do exactly the same movements with the same strength on both left and right side.  

That’s one part of it but there’s more. You have to be able to tell your body when to move and when not to move. Sounds easy right? Most people can’t do it. Swimmers can do it. A good swimmer’s arms and legs never fall into an automatic cycle of actions, they are always in active control. 

Did you know that your arms and legs don’t have their own brains? Yes it’s true, that’s just science so they can’t be trusted with ‘muscle memory’ to get the job done correctly every time without you in control. 

Do exercises like catch-up, fingerdrag and one-arm freestyle regularly as a way of telling your body that you are in charge.

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How to train to swim fast – 13 tips that will make you faster

Speed and time is the traditional metric for measuring swimming ability.

Yes, it seems a bit arbitrary but then again, no, it’s not.

Sure, we all want to swim a long way in a relaxed and sustainable fashion and that is great but all that is easier and more obtainable if you have developed the technique to swim fast.

Speed through the water is mostly technique with fitness thrown in as a bonus, not the other way around like many other activities. 

Swimming as a sport and industry has come to appreciate long-distance swimming only in the last 20-odd years. But speed and times have always been number one. A fast swimmer can transition to distance swimming pretty readily. A slow swimmer can easily get in trouble in open water events. 

Anyway, now is the time of year for plenty of events, triathlons, races etc so how do you train to build your speed?

Photo by Jim De Ramos on Pexels.com

13 tips to swim faster 

  1. Go to the pool. Yes, we love swimming in the ocean but it’s not making you quicker. Laps of the pool make you quicker. Interval training makes you quicker.
  2. Train fast to get faster: Don’t train at 50% or even 90% max effort – you can’t get faster doing that. You have to train at 100% effort. You have to swim faster than you have swum before to increase your speed in the water. If you are not pushing yourself to top speed in training, you won’t be able to go fast in a race or event. This might mean you have to swim shorter distances – down to 25m at a go – to really ensure you are pushing yourself to maximum pace. 
  3. Quality of metres, not quantity of metres, is what counts if you want to increase your swim speed. Lots of kilometres, swum relatively slowly is the training you do if you want to swim slowly for a long distance. If you want to increase your speed, do this: swim fast, rest, then swim faster, rest again, repeat. If you want to swim fast for a long distance in the open water, you have to mix things up. Swim fast intervals a couple of times per week at the pool then do one long swim each week. 
  4. Relax to swim fast. All this info is not designed to stress you out. You can’t grit your teeth and pull hard through the water and get faster. Everything has to be fluid. Your technique has to be better than ever before if you want to travel through the water faster than ever before. The water is unforgiving of bad technique. The water loves you if you do things correctly.
  5. Be firm in your core, don’t wiggle and snake through the water. Reach out in front until your elbows are straight. Be long. Develop a feeling of reaching so far with your shoulders and back that you are stretching yourself longer and taller. Maintain a firm spot just under your belly button.
  6. Get narrow and straight. Like a streamlined torpedo. Legs close together. Arms coming straight through under the water and straight back through the air, close to your body. That means high elbows.
  7. Rock, don’t roll. When you reach forward, rock using your abs in your stomach. Your shoulder will move forward and your other shoulder will turn so it’s out of the water, allowing your recovering arm to cleanly get back to the front for the next stroke. Your hips though need to stay fairly stable, not rolling from side to side.
  8. Faster stroke rate? Yes. Shorter stroke length? No. The best way to tire yourself out is to take lots of strokes. Every stroke has to count and be worth the effort you’re making. Don’t give up on your stroke halfway – keep pushing until your thumb flicks past your hip or thigh. 
  9. Your kick has to be pretty good. Keep legs close together, pretty straight and toes pointy. Your legs can undermine all your upper body effort. A good kick can even give you some go-forward speed but the first consideration is to keep them up behind you, at the top of the water. 
  10. Fingers get wider apart – The faster you swim, the wider apart your fingers need to be. You have to be grabbing more water.
  11. Elbows need to be high, forearms vertical really early in your stroke and your hand has to get ‘behind’ your elbow asap.
  12. Breathing – Your head can’t lift up to breathe if you want to go quickly. You need to keep it low and have faith that your speed will make a bow wave and a pocket of air behind it with the top of your head – if your head is low when you breathe in. One goggle in the air and one goggle in the water is the key.
  13. When you start to get it – it all clicks, you rise up just slightly in the water, there’s a bow wave, you can feel the rush of the water and you are superhuman. The water loves you and you will want more of that, it’s addictive. Ian Thorpe said: “Swimming is my art.” This isn’t endorphins flowing from physical activity, recent science has debunked a lot of that anyway. This is a technical masterwork you have created yourself by being relaxed, in control of your physical self and able to spend serious energy without things falling apart. You’re a junky. Be proud.  
Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Should I use swim training equipment like flippers, paddles, pull buoys, boards etc …?

You want to improve your swimming so should you use equipment to give your training a boost?

You use equipment like weights and bands and machines and gloves and all sorts of other things in other sports so what about swimming equipment? Does it really make you better?

The answer is Yes …. and No 😊 haha, you knew I was gonna say that.

If you want to improve, there’s one piece of equipment every swimmer NEEDS and that is a pool buoy (sometimes called a pull buoy).

Pool Buoy

You use it between your legs to focus on your strokes, where most of your go-forward comes from. Plus you can hold it in your hands as a kickboard as well.

A pool buoy raises you into the correct body position. Don’t kick when using it, not even a little bit. Cutting out kicking means you won’t get puffed out and you can focus on the strength element of swimming – the upper body movements, the arm strokes. Make each stroke count, make each arm stroke long and strong. Use the pool buoy regularly if you are serious about swimming.

Mostly it should go between your thighs, but for more advanced workouts place the buoy between your knees and even ankles for a really good strength workout.

Flippers / fins

These are more controversial because although they are very useful they can become a negative training tool – turning into a crutch or even making your kick worse.

Good swimmers need shorter fins

The best flippers/fins for swim training are short and relatively stiff, not long and bendy snorkelling flippers. The long flippers can lead to too much bending at the knees and that’s a negative when you take them off again. The long flippers can help with ankle flexibility for learners but the goal for good swimmers is a small strong kick so shorter fins are usually best.

Firstly flippers/fins can help ease the pounding your shoulders take when you swim regularly, so that’s a positive, particularly if you have sore/injured shoulders or muscles in your upper body.

Secondly, they increase your leg strength and endurance if you exert some kicking effort when using them.

Thirdly they help with ankle flexibility – and this is all-important. Focus on the down kick and use them until your ankles start to ache.

Overall, yeah, give them a go but don’t use them all the time and use them properly, don’t put them on just to swim fast without trying hard.

The other thing flippers/fins do for swimmers trying to improve is raise their speed and their body position, so everything feels right. This is fun and a good learning opportunity. This is the feeling you want when you don’t have flippers on your feet, so feel it, then work towards it, but don’t be fooled by it.


Yes, you need to do some kicking and you can use a board or your pool buoy to assist. You don’t need a flotation device to practice kicking but it can help.

There’s two ways to hold a kickboard. Hands at the top and hands at the bottom. When your hands are at the top (front) of the board, your head is up, looking forward. This means you have to bend (arch) your back more to keep your feet at the surface of the water.

When your hands are at the bottom of the board, you can put your head down, look at the bottom of the pool and get into the correct swimming body position. You can even take an arm stroke to breathe on the side.


Hand paddles can be large or small, and come with straps or without. Paddles can help developing swimmers learn to catch and pull the water more efficiently.

Swim training paddles – without straps and with straps

Paddles can help good swimmers get stronger and use their swimming as a strength workout. I like the paddles that have NO straps because you have to use a correct technique or they will fall off.

The problem with swim training equipment

All swim equipment can be overused and can lead to us not having a clear idea of where our swimming is at.

In short, use all these toys, some of the time. But swim with no toys every time. So, you might put fins on for part of your workout sometimes, but never for all of your workout.

It’s easy to use fins/flippers too much. Beware of the strain they place on your knees and ankles and the false impression they leave you with about how fast you are.

I like to always use the pool buoy for a few hundred metres in the middle of my training sessions, but I never use it in the warm-up when I am stretching and not straining anything or the main set, when I am focusing on swimming at ‘race pace.’

Paddles are an occasional add-on to give me an extra workout.

The only equipment you REALLY need are goggles, towel and speedos. Have fun everyone.

Yes children can learn to swim in the sea

What is old is new again and there’s nothing older than kids learning to swim in the open water. For generations parents have taken their kids to the local pool for swimming lessons. Now the outside open air, the space, social distance and the healthy salt water are appealing to parents looking for swim lessons for their kids.

And the kids are loving it.

Children who learn to swim in the sea are not fazed by the smallest wave, seaweed or jellyfish. They learn to love the outdoors and be a just a bit more resilient to the challenges of the natural environment. Very soon, after just a few lessons, the kids are asking when can we go back to the beach for swimming?

Learning swim skills in the open water

Relaxing and enjoying yourself is the number one item on the learn to swim agenda. Swimming only really works when you aren’t freaking out, scared or panicking. So learning to love the beach and all the flora and fauna is important.

Human bodies float just a bit easier in the salt water so getting that all-important high horizontal body position is just a bit quicker for the children swimming in the sea. You have to be able to float before you can swim so this step is achieved faster in the ocean than in a pool.

Blowing bubbles under the water is the next step and this means learning to live with a bit of water occasionally getting in the nose and mouth. For kids who are sensitive to chemicals like chlorine this can be an issue. But the salt water is healthy and getting used to sea water in and around your face is important for water safety. If you fall off a boat or jetty, you want to be confident of being able to swim back, not in shock from the strange feeling of water on your face.

At Williamstown Beach we set up floating marker buoys for the kids to swim around, so we can do ‘laps’ just like at the pool.

In addition to freestyle we teach breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, survival backstroke, sidestroke, swimming under the water and treading water.

But more than that – in the sea we can teach straight swimming and group swimming more easily from the beginning, while kids are still developing their stroke technique. We also teach sighting, surfing, diving under waves and dealing with the chop and rough water. Kids learn about currents, rips, tides and sea creatures.

In just a few classes kids who have never before been comfortable in the open water are loving the whole experience and they are already showing signs of more resilience.

Even small kids learning the basics can do it in the sea. We are teaching kids as young as 6 in groups at the beach. These kids will enjoy the water for a lifetime. They are learning to love the great outdoors and be safe at the beach.

If you are interested in your kids learning to swim at the beach, follow this link to our booking page for information about our Junior Dolphins for under 10s and Junior Dolphins LEVEL UP for Over 10s groups.