Originally posted May 4, 2005
Ever wonder how it would feel to be an Olympic swimmer? Not the pride and glory part, but the in-the-water part, how it would feel to have the water moving past you THAT FAST. Are you curious how quickly you’d have to move your arms and legs just to keep up with the pace?
Some swimmers have pondered these questions for YEARS, and their coaches have come up with a quick trick for teaching swimmers what it’s like to go FAST. It’s called speed-assisted swimming. Simply put, it means using artificial methods to swim faster than you can otherwise swim. Speed-assisted swimming helps you start to realize what it’s like to swim REALLY fast.
Speed-assisted swimming makes so much sense on so many levels, but we’ll focus on just one: race preparation. How many times have you stepped up on the blocks at a championship meet without EVER having done a stroke at the pace you’d like to achieve? Happens a lot, right? If every practice has been filled with yardage, yardage, yardage, all done at well below real race pace, how can you hope to hit your desired stroke rate and pace NOW? It would take some powerful magic to have it all come together, at that one moment, to swim faster than you have EVER gone. WOW, it puts a lot of pressure on the athlete. But through the frequent use of speed-assisted devices and techniques, you can gain some understanding of what’s about to happen, and be better able to handle the new sensations.
Why Do It:
Swimming with surgical tubing allows you to experience how quickly you must move your hands to maintain ultra-high speed. You’ll also realize that the faster you go, the more resistance you encounter. And as you struggle against resistance, you’ll learn the importance of all the basic drills that establish balance and rotation. You’ll also learn the true beauty of STREAMLINING!
How To Do It:
1. Get yourself a swim tether. You can purchase a really nice (expensive) one like the high-powered swim coaches use. Or you can go the Rocky Balboa route and pick up some inexpensive surgical tubing off the net. You’ll need 26 to 28 feet of surgical tubing in order to have enough to go around your waist, to swim with, and to tie around the starting block or diving board.
2. Secure one end of the tubing or tether to something REALLY solid, like the diving board (shown above), the base of a starting block, or the lane-line anchor bolt. Make sure your knots are SECURE.
3. Tie the other end of the tubing or tether around your waist, and have the knot toward the FRONT (at your belly button). Make sure your knots are SECURE.
4. Position yourself at the opposite end of the pool from the anchored tubing. You may need someone to assist you in staying in one place, because the tether will be stretched very tight at this point. If your tether won’t stretch to the other end, stand on the bottom or have someone hold you with the tether stretched taut.
5. As shown on the video, start with a VERY SHORT push off, come up, and begin to sprint immediately. DO NOT allow your hands to glide out front, because you won’t have time to do this when you sprint. DO, however, try to reach full extension on each stroke.
6. When you feel the cord go slack, MAINTAIN your cadence. Do not allow yourself to shut down until you get all the way to the wall. Don’t be a wimp, either, and complain that the cord is in your way… power through it. The video goes to slow motion at the EXACT moment the cord becomes slack. You’ll feel this in the water. That’s when you REALLY attack!
7. Take a quick breather, then swim back to the other end. When practicing speed, swim back more slowly, and think about how your hands catch and hold on to the water. Try not to struggle too much, and if you get to a point where you can no longer move forward, try adding a little more kick, or stand up and walk.
8. Experiment with different strokes. This isn’t just for freestyle. In breaststroke, for example, you’ll feel as if you’re just spinning your wheels, but when you really look at the stroke, you’ll notice a pretty wide catch.
This exercise is to be done with EXTREME INTENSITY. If you wonder why I put the word "wimp" in this article, it was to get your attention. There’s no room for touchy-feely, smooth-and-nicey stuff here. This is about power and attack. If you approach this exercise with a weak attitude, then the cord will end up doing all the work, and you won’t really learn what you set out to learn.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
BE CAREFUL! Think SAFETY FIRST! Whenever you’re working with cords, make sure you keep them under water whenever they are stretched out. If they break, they’ll snap you so hard that you’ll remember it for years. I’ve also heard of people losing an eye due to careless use of swim tethers. If the tubing is always under water while tight, the water will slow the cord down if it snaps, and it will never even get to you.
Also make sure NO ONE is walking behind where you’ve tied up the cord. Cord work should be done under VERY CONTROLLED, supervised conditions, and never at a public pool during open swim. If you do have the opportunity to practice this, however, you’ll discover a great way to learn speed, you’ll get in a great workout, AND l you’ll learn some anchoring techniques as well. And you’ll begin to get some insight into how the water behaves at the elite level of your sport.