Learn to Swim - Month 4

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

Swim training, like anything else in the 21st century, has evolved from its meager beginnings. Athletes are no longer just wind-up dolls that swim repetitive laps, without stopping, staring down at the black line on the bottom of the pool. Thanks to advances in equipment, training methods, and coaching techniques, training in the pool today can be creative and fun!

Let’s start with the most basic of swimming tools: a kickboard. Almost every pool in the world will have a couple kickboards lying around the deck for the swimmers to use. The original use, as its name implies, is for kicking. I encourage my swimmers to kick with a board to work on building leg strength and without a board to work on body position in the water.

A kickboard has various other uses including a make-shift pull-buoy when one is not available. By holding a kickboard between your thighs, you can benefit from the floatation and the added side-to-side resistance. I call this the “Sailboat Drill.” It can make you aware of good hip-rotation and strengthen your core muscles.

The “Catch-up Drill” can be improved by adding a kickboard. Turn the board long-ways and grasp the edge in one hand. Swim with the board extended in front of your head and swap the board from hand-to-hand between each stroke. The board keeps your hands shoulder-width apart and does not let you cheat!

A pull-buoy is probably the second most popular piece of training equipment. It is usually nothing more than a piece of shaped Styrofoam or two pieces hooked together by a strap. A swimmer squeezes the buoy between their thighs to float their hips and legs to the surface without kicking. Swimmers with a tendency to continue kicking with a buoy can use a strap (nothing more than part of a punctured bike tube tied into a loop) around their ankles.

The “Shark Drill” is performed while swimming with a buoy between your thighs. At the finish of each stroke, reach back and tap the top (the part sticking out of the water) of the buoy. This extra reach will encourage you to maximize the final part of your stroke and discourage your arm from exiting the water early.

Scoot the buoy down to your ankles and try the “Low Buoy Drill.” The added floatation to your feet will encourage your back to arch and put you in perfect swimming body position. As you swim, be aware of your feet floating at the surface and your hips pressing down to the bottom of the pool. Keep your head in line with your spine and look straight down at the bottom of the pool when you perform this drill.

Fins are sometimes a controversial piece of equipment. Some people might say triathletes do not need to kick, fins are cheating, or they cause calf cramps. As a swim coach and long-time swimmer, I feel that these ideas (and other anti-fin opinions) are incorrect. Fins are a great tool for the beginner swimmer because they help a slower athlete in the water feel what it is like to go FAST! Just like a boat, the faster your move through the water, the higher your body will ride on the surface and the easier it is to swim, period. Kicking with fins encourages your legs to move in the proper kicking movement with a nice pointed foot. You cannot flex your foot when wearing full-length rubber fins! For weaker kickers, fins are the perfect way to strengthen those specific leg and hip muscles to improve overall swim speed.

Many of the drills in this month and previous months are difficult to execute at slow speeds. If you feel like you are sinking in the water during the Single-Arm Drill or the 6-3-6 Drill, try using a pair of fins. Without much effort from your legs, you can move faster through the water and focus on executing the drills correctly. Just like any exercise, build into your fin usage. Too much too soon and you might suffer from sore feet and cramping calves!

A kickboard, pull-buoy, and fins are the most useful and critical pieces of your equipment bag. They are the first three items that I suggest my swimmers have and use. The next three items are not as common but still very useful for improving your swim.

First, my personal favorite is the stick. This is a homemade item as simple as a 12-inch wooden dowel or a piece of PVC pipe with end caps to keep it afloat. As mentioned above, the Catch-up Drill is best performed with something to keep your hands shoulder-width apart. A stick is a little less intrusive to your stroke than the board but still keeps you focused on long, smooth strokes. My favorite set is 10x50 w/:15 seconds rest, one 50 with a stick, one 50 without a stick.

Hand paddles are as various as people in the pool. There are different shapes, sizes, and brands but they all build strength in your upper body by creating a larger surface to grab water. Do not shop with the motto that bigger is better for your first pair of hand paddles. In this case, paddles slightly larger than the span of your hand will suffice. Start out with only a small percentage of your pulling sets with paddles. Increase the total distance slowly to allow your shoulders to acclimate to the added pressure.

Finally, a freestyle snorkel is one of the newest additions to swimmer’s equipment bag. The front-mounted snorkels do not get in the way of freestyle strokes or fill with water. Elite swimmers use the snorkel to improve their lung-capacity and ability to deal with excess carbon-dioxide in their lungs. In layman’s terms, it can be harder to breathe when swimming with a snorkel but you’ll breathe a lot easier afterwards. I instruct my beginner swimmers to try a snorkel so they can focus more on their stroke and less on the struggle to rotate and breathe.

Whatever your swimming ability, using equipment and tools in the water can help you move to the next level. My personal equipment bag includes the six items listed here. During the span of one week, I will perform all the drills mentioned here and in previous month’s articles. As you improve in the pool, make sure to always go back to the basics!

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 # 13

Workout #1  1400 total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 8 x 50 (25 kick with board/25 pull with board)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 200 pull with buoy
    :60 seconds rest
  • 8 x 50 (25 kick with board/25 pull with board)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #2  1300 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x100 pull
    with :30 seconds rest after each 100
  • 20x25 swim
    with :15 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, less on #5
    start over and repeat for remaining #s
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #3  1300 Total

  • 3x100 warm up swim
    :30 seconds rest between each 100
  • 5x100 with fins (25 kick no board/25 choice Drill/repeat)
    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 # 14
 
Workout #1  1500 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 8x75 (25 pull/25 Shark Drill/25 pull)
    With :30 seconds rest after each 75
  • 20x25 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 remaining #’s
  • 200 cool down


Workout #2  1400 Total

  • 300 warm up
    Alternate 50 swim/50 kick
    2:00-3:00 min rest
  • 6x50 Sailboat Drill
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 Catch-up Drill (with kickboard or stick)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 Single-Arm Drill with Fins
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #3  1700 Total

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


Week # 15
 
Workout #1  1500 Total

  • Warm up: 100 swim, 100 kick, 100 pull, 100 swim
    :15 seconds rest between each 100
  • 10x75 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
  • 10x25 Drill (your choice of drill)
    With :20 seconds rest after each 25
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2  1450 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
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #3  1600 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :15 seconds rest
  • 4x50 drill (your choice)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 3x100 pull
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 1x200 swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 3x100 pull
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 4x50 drill (your choice)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :15 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down

Week # 16

Workout #1  1500 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
  • 6x75 swim
    w/:60 seconds rest
    first 25 is easy, second 25 is medium, third 25 is FAST!
  • 4x50 your choice of drill (use equipment)
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 200 cool down swim

Workout #2  1700 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 300 pull
    :90 seconds rest
  • 400 swim
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 400 pull
    2:00 minutes rest
  • 300 swim
    :90 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3  1500 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 kick/25 Sailboat Drill)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Shark Drill/25 pull)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Catch-up Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 Fist Drill/25 swim)
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim
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date: November 4, 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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