Learn to Swim - Month 2

author : Sara McLarty
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This installment of the BT Swim Series will focus on being efficient in the water. Learning how to swim smooth and efficiently is important to becoming a great swimmer.

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Part Two of a Five-Month Beginner Learn to Swim Series
By Sara McLarty

Being efficient in the water is more important than just working hard and trying to go fast. An efficient swimmer will use less energy, be more relaxed, glide through the water, and have an easier transition to the bike. The best swimmers in the world (in the pool and open water) use their bodies to work with the water rather than fight against it. Learning how to swim smooth and efficiently is important to becoming a great swimmer.

The first step is to learn how to float on your stomach. Take a deep breath, hold it in your lungs, and calmly lie face-down in the water. Can you float on the surface or do your feet sink to the bottom of the pool? Think about what your body is doing and try to RELAX! Do not try to ‘hold’ yourself on top of the water. Let your arms and legs relax into the water.

How is your head position? Look straight down at the bottom of the pool and let the water line cut your head in half (half underwater, half above). The key to floating is to arch your back a little bit and push your stomach down. This will allow your lower body (hips/legs/feet) to rise up to the surface. Do not try to push your butt up…the exact opposite will happen and you will sink.

Getting Streamlined

The horizontal body position of floating is exactly how we swim freestyle. Everything should be in line directly behind your head so that you are moving through one hole in the water. This is also called a “streamline position”. You should be in a streamline position when you push off the wall: palm of one hand on top of the other hand, arms straight overhead, and squeeze your ears against your head with your biceps. Kick gently 4-6 times before starting to take strokes.

When you start to swim, remember to keep your face pointing down and a slight arch in your back. If your hips and legs are in line with your spine, you will feel your feet breaking the surface of the water with each kick. Practice this with a kickboard: make short and shallow movements with your legs (only go 12 inches underwater). Make quick and fast kicks for a high cadence. Feel the tops of your feet slapping down onto the surface of the water and making a splash.

Catch-up Drill

When you start swimming with a horizontal body position, you will see immediate improvement in your times and speed. The second step to becoming a more efficient swimmer is to learn how to glide through the water. A good way to practice gliding is with the “catch-up drill”. In a streamline position on the surface of the water, take one complete stroke with your right arm. Keep your left arm extended overhead. When the right arm completes a full stroke, tap the left hand. Now take a complete stroke with your left arm while the right arm remains extended. Continue this drill the length of the pool. Count the number of strokes you take across the pool with catch-up drill and compare that number to your regular swim stroke. Which method has more glide and is therefore more efficient?

The 6-kick-switch and the 3-6-3 Drill

Other drills for learning how to glide are the “6-kick-switch” and the “3-6-3”. 6-kick-switch is very self-explanatory: when you push off the wall, take one underwater pull with your right arm and pause (right arm against your side, left arm extended overhead) for 6 kicks. After six kicks, complete the stroke with your right arm, tap your left hand, and repeat with your left arm. 3-6-3 is a simple variation: take three strokes and pause on your right side for six kicks. Take three more strokes and pause on your left side for six kicks. Continue this cycle until you complete the lap. These drills are also good for strengthening your kick. If you are having a hard time staying afloat or getting across the pool, try this drill with rubber fins on your feet. Fins will help you move faster through the water and increase your ankle flexibility.

Swimming slow and smooth is the best way to improve efficiency in the water. Focus on technique, gliding, relaxing, and body position during the warm-up, cool-down and drill sets. Only when the set calls for fast swimming (or descending times) should you be concerned with times. The more good technique you can learn in the first months of swimming means fewer bad habits formed later on. Each stroke you take in the pool is creating muscle-memory in your body so make sure those muscles have good memories!

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: Catch-Up or 6-Kick-Switch or 3-6-3 or any other technique drills
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 #5

Workout #1  1000 total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest

  • 6 x 50 (alternate kick & drill)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 2x100 swim
    :45 seconds rest after each 100
  • 6 x 50 (alternate kick & drill)
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2  900 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x50 pull
    with :30 seconds rest after each 50
  • 12x25 swim
    with :20 seconds rest after each 25
    count the number of strokes you take on #1
    try to take one less stroke on #2, one less on #3, one less on #4
    start over and repeat for #’s 5-8 & #’s 9-12
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #3   1000 Total  

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 4x100 (25 kick/25 drill/50 swim)
    With :60 seconds rest after each 100
  • 4x100 pull
    With :30 seconds rest after each 100
  • 100 cool down swim


Week # 6

Workout #1  1100 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 6x75 (25 kick/25 drill/25 swim)
    With :30 seconds rest after each 75
  • 12x25 swim
    With :30 seconds rest after each 25
    Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 a little faster, #4 faster
    Start over and repeat for #’s 5-8 & #’s 9-12
  • 150 cool down


Workout #2  1200 Total

  • 2x100 warm up swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 6x50 kick with fins
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 6x50 swim
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 6x50 pull
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3  1100 Total

  • 250 warm up swim with fins
    :60 seconds rest
  • 250 swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 250 pull
    :60 seconds rest
  • 250 swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Week # 7

Workout #1  1100 Total

  • Warm up: 100 swim, 100 kick, 100 pull, 100 swim
    :30 seconds rest between each 100
  • 9x50 swim
    With :30 seconds rest after each 50
    Swim #1 easy, swim #2 a little bit faster, #3 faster
    Start over and repeat for #’s 4-6 & #’s 7-9
  • 6x25 Tarzan Drill
    With :30 seconds rest after each 25
    Swim freestyle with your head out of the water (practice for sighting)
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #2
  1150 Total

  • 200 warm up swim
  • 6x75 swim
    With :45 seconds rest
    Swim the middle 25 Tarzan Drill (head out of the water)
  • 4x100 pull
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down swim


Workout #3   1100 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 3x50 drill
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 2x100 pull
    With :45 seconds rest
  • 1x200 swim
    With :60 seconds rest
  • 3x50 drill
    With :40 seconds rest
  • 4x25 kick
    With :20 seconds rest
  • 100 cool down


Week # 8

Workout #1  1100 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
  • 200 cool down swim


Workout #2  1200 Total

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


Workout #3  1200 Total

  • 100 warm up swim
    :60 seconds rest
  • 6x50 (25 drill/25 swim)
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 6x50 kick
    With fins
    With :30 seconds rest
  • 4x100 pull
    With :60 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: September 3, 2010

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!

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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