Learn to Swim - Month 3

author : Sara McLarty
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Part Three of a Five-Month Beginner Learn to Swim Series
By Sara McLarty

Technique is very important in the sport of swimming. Improving technique is the easiest way to swim faster, easier, longer, and better. People have been swimming for hundreds of years but studies and research in the last half-century have made the greatest changes to technique. Advances in technology, like underwater video cameras, force sensors, and training tools, have also impacted our understanding of how bodies move through the water.

You have the benefit of learning good technique if you are new to the sport of swimming (or triathlon). Just like training a puppy, it is easier to learn the correct action from Day 1, rather than unlearning bad habits formed during the first year.

The term for the development of good technique is called “Muscle Memory.” After doing the same motion over and over, you body forms a memory of the action and can repeat it without much thought. Let’s use walking as an example: You no longer have to think about lifting one foot, moving it forward, setting it back on the ground, and then repeating the cycle with the other leg. These motions happen instinctively because your muscles have stored a memory of the repeated action.

Every time a stroke is performed inefficiently in the pool, that muscle memory is getting stronger and it will be harder and harder to make changes in the future. A common saying among swim coaches is: “First, you must learn how to swim slowly correctly. When you have a perfect stroke, then we can worry about going fast.”

There are four major parts of the arm stroke in freestyle: Catch, Pull, Finish, & Recovery. Let’s take them one at a time, address some of the key technical points, and explain a drill to emphasize the correct motion.

The Catch is a term for the very beginning of each stroke. After you arm drops into the water above your head, stretch it straight out from your shoulder toward the opposite end of the pool. This will put your body in a long and streamlined position. At the start of each stroke, drop your fingertips to the bottom of the pool, keep your wrist straight, and let your elbow pop up. The whole action takes only a fraction of a second…but is critical to a powerful stroke.

Fist Drill is a perfect way to emphasize a good catch. Swim a lap of freestyle with your hands balled up into fists to feel the water pressure on your forearms during each stroke. Never bend your wrist or let your elbow drop when you are swimming!

A strong catch will set you up for a powerful Pull. Each underwater pull should trace the shape of a “?”. The pull sweeps slightly out from your body, then sweeps back in near the hips, and finishes straight back along the leg. There are two very important things to remember to focus on during each pull: First, always keep your fingertips pointing down to the bottom of the pool. Second, do not let any part of your arm sweep across the center-line of your body.

Single-Arm Drill is my favorite drill for teaching the correct pulling motion. Grasp a small kickboard in your left hand and extend your left arm above your head. Swim a lap of the pool with just right arm strokes. This will allow you to focus on each underwater pull. Don’t be afraid to peer down at your arm and watch the pull…Are your fingertips pointing down? Wrist straight? Elbow high? Question-mark shape?

The Finish is the last push before your arm exits the water. It is very similar to a tricep-push-down in the gym and uses the same muscles. By extending your arm and hand all the way back to the middle of your thigh, you can add a little more length to each stroke. Do not pull your hand out of the water next to your hip!

Thumb-Drag Drill is as simple as the name implies. Swim a lap of freestyle but drag your thumb along the side of your body as you lift your arm out of the water. At the beginning, you might feel your thumb drag along your rib cage, waist, or hip. This means you are not finishing to the middle of your thigh. You have a complete finish when you feel your thumb dragging along the side of your leg.

Finally, the Recovery refers to lifting your arm out of the water, swinging it forward, and dropping it in the water above your head. To begin, imagine a puppet-string is attached to your elbow. When your hand passes mid-thigh, the puppeteer pulls on that string and lifts your elbow out of the water. This is commonly referred to as a “high-elbow-recovery”. Keep your hand relaxed and fingers pointing to the water as your arm moves forward. When your arm is almost fully extended straight above your head, let it drop into the water with a little splash.

Finger-Tip Drag Drill will put your arm in a correct high-elbow position for the recovery. As your hand exits the water at mid-thigh, keep your fingertips in the water and drag them forward. The hardest part is keeping your fingers in contact with the surface of the water all the way from hip to head!

As Vince Lombardi said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect…Perfect practice makes perfect.” Focus on one part of the freestyle stroke each day at practice. Swim the drill sets slowly and correctly. Don’t rush through the workout…take your time and learn good technique for the rest of your swimming career.

Good luck and happy swimming,
Coach Sara McLarty

TERMS

Workouts can be swum in a 25 yard, 25 meter or 50 meter pool
Kick: use a kickboard, keep your feet at the surface of the water
Drill: Single-Arm, Fist Drill, Finger-Tip-Drag, Thumb-Drag, etc
Pull: use a pull-buoy between your thighs, do not kick your legs
Fins: optional piece of equipment, but good for improving kick strength and flexibility
Rest: when you complete an interval, look at the clock (or your watch) and wait the suggested rest period before starting the next one

WEEK # 9

Workout #1  1200 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6 x 50 (25 kick/25 Finger-Drag Drill)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 200 pull
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6 x 50 (25 kick/25 Finger-Drag Drill)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #2  1100 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x75 pull
    with :30 seconds rest after each 75
  • 16x25 swim
    with :20 seconds rest after each 25
    count the number of strokes you take on #1
    try to take at least one less stroke on #2, less on #3, less on #4
    start over and repeat for #’s 5-8, 9-12, and 13-16
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #3  1300 Total

  • 2x100 warm up swim
    :45 seconds rest between each 100
  • 4x100 (25 kick/25 Fist Drill/25 easy swim/25 fast swim)
    With :60 seconds rest after each 100
  • 4 x 100 pull + 50 swim
    With :60 seconds rest after each 150
    After 100 pull, quickly remove buoy and immediately start 50 swim
  • 100 cool down swim

Week # 10

Workout #1  1400 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 8x75 (25 kick/25 Thumb-Drag Drill/25 swim)
    With :30 seconds rest after each 75
  • 16x25 swim
    With :20 seconds rest after each 25
    Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 a little faster, #4 even faster
    Start over and repeat for #’s 5-8, 9-12, and 13-16
  • 200 cool down


Workout #2  1200 Total

  • 400 warm up swim with fins
    Alternate 50 swim/50 kick
    2:00-3:00 min rest
  • 12x50
    Alternate one 50 swim, one 50 Single-Arm Drill (25 right arm, 25 left arm)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #3  1300 Total

  • 300 warm up swim with fins
    :90 seconds rest
  • 300 swim
    :90 seconds rest
  • 300 pull
    :90 seconds rest
  • 300 swim
    :90 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim
    Mix some backstroke/breaststroke into your cool down swims

Week # 11

Workout #1  1375 Total

  • Warm up: 100 swim, 100 kick, 100 pull, 100 swim
    :30 seconds rest between each 100
  • 9x75 swim
    With :45 seconds rest after each 75
    Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 faster
    Start over and repeat for #’s 4-6 & #’s 7-9
  • 8x25 Drill (your choice of drill)
    With :30 seconds rest after each 25
  • 100 cool down swim

Workout #2  1350 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 6x75 swim
    With :45 seconds rest
    Swim the middle 25 Tarzan Drill (head out of the water)
  • 6x100 pull
    With :45 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim

Workout #3  1300 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 3x50 drill (your choice)
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 2x100 pull
    With :40 seconds rest
  • 1x200 swim
    With :50 seconds rest
  • 2x100 pull
    With :40 seconds rest
  • 3x50 drill (your choice)
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down

Week # 12

Workout #1  1300 Total

  • 200 warm up (swim with fins)
  • 9x50 swim
    With :30 seconds rest
    Count number of strokes on #1, try for 2 fewer on #2, and fewer on #3
    Start over and repeat on #’s 4-6 & #’s 7-9
  • 5x50 swim
    w/:60 seconds rest
    first 25 is easy, second 25 is VERY fast
  • 4x50
    With :30 seconds rest
    25 Tarzan Drill (head out of the water)/25 swim with perfect technique
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #2  1500 Total

  • 150 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 250 pull
    :90 seconds rest
  • 350 swim
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 350 pull
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 250 swim
    :90 seconds rest
  • 150 cool down swim


Workout #3  1500 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Finger Drag Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Thumb Drag Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Single-ArmDrill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Fist Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete living in Clermont, Florida. In 2004 she won the silver medal at the SCM World Championships in the 400m free, and a bronze medal at Open Water World Champs in the 5-kilometer swim. In her spare time she leads triathlon camps at the National Training Center.
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date: October 5, 2010

Author


Sara McLarty

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete training in Clermont, Florida. She started competing at the elite level in 2004 after completing college at the University of Florida and narrowly missing the USA Swimming 2004 Olympic team. Her first triathlon was 20 years ago and she has competed in over 200 events since that fateful day as a 7-year-old.

Sara's passion is for all things triathlon...coaching, racing, training, and writing. While she travels the world representing the USA at races, she contributes to Triathlete Magazine as a swim specialist and USAT Life as a youth columnist. Sara is looking forward to sharing her swimming knowledge with BeginnerTriathlete.com's readers and newcomers to the multi-sport world!

Author

avatarSara McLarty

Sara McLarty is a professional triathlete training in Clermont, Florida. She started competing at the elite level in 2004 after completing college at the University of Florida and narrowly missing the USA Swimming 2004 Olympic team. Her first triathlon was 20 years ago and she has competed in over 200 events since that fateful day as a 7-year-old.

Sara's passion is for all things triathlon...coaching, racing, training, and writing. While she travels the world representing the USA at races, she contributes to Triathlete Magazine as a swim specialist and USAT Life as a youth columnist. Sara is looking forward to sharing her swimming knowledge with BeginnerTriathlete.com's readers and newcomers to the multi-sport world!

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