Training, Pain, and Technique

Dec 14, 2007
Training, Pain, and Technique

There are many myths floating around these days about what it takes to be a really FAST swimmer. While that sentence alone is enough to spark conversation, there is one KEY word that should work to clarify the meaning... FAST.


While FAST is a relative term to each individual, let's deal with fast as in FAST... VERY FAST... EXTREMELY FAST... OLYMPIAN FAST. At the ultimate level of FAST, please understand that the faster someone swims, the more resistance he will encounter. And the greater the resistance, the stronger the athlete must be to overcome that resistance. While it's true that reducing drag will ALSO help the athlete overcome resistance, there comes a point at which the body simply can't get any more streamlined. Even when a world-class athlete has perfect body alignment and perfect technique (for that athlete), she will still face extra resistance when she tries to go faster. So it is inevitable that every FAST swimmer will at some point need to focus on conditioning and strength if he or she wants to get faster.

So let's assume we have a swimmer with a wonderful, technically beautiful stroke. She's explored every variation of hand pitch, catch, pull, kick, recovery, you name it, and she has honed what's best for HER. If this athlete has focused solely on technique and mastering her stroke, she is probably in pretty good shape just from spending all that time in the pool. But there's a possibility that she's not in FAST shape. To reach the advanced levels of FAST, she needs to do a few more things, and those involve strength, conditioning, and training.

Training... yep... training, and LOTS of it. Yardage? Sure. Hours in the pool? Yep. Pain? Oh yeah. As hard as it is for some people to accept, reaching the pinnacle of any sport takes a lot of training and, in swimming, that means time in the pool. While today's swimmers generally train a bit less than swimmers 20 to 30 years ago, their intensity in those training sessions has increased. And their time in the weight room has generally increased or become more intense. While they may be swimming less, they're swimming faster. While they may not be grinding out the mind-numbing 20,000-meter days that burned a black line onto your retina, they are facing sets that induce a more intense, higher level of pain. And if they want t reach true FAST, they have to get use to it.

Today, it's in vogue to sell the quick-and-easy way to success. Take this pill, you'll lose weight. Learn this drill, and you'll be faster. This can definitely work. Heck, if we didn't believe this, we wouldn't publish a new drill every week. Teaching someone better technique in this sport is a GREAT way to help someone improve TODAY. But mastering a drill is just the beginning. It gives you more potential to be FAST... but only IF you can incorporate the lessons of the drill into your TRAINING.


Athletics would be so simple if the best athletes were those who worked the hardest and who trained themselves to have the best resistance to pain. Wouldn't it be great if all it took to be great was to be more insane than your competitors? It may have worked like that in the past, but not in the 21st Century. Today, you have to have the whole package. You have to have impeccable technique. You have to have skills. You have to maximize the potential of your body. But then... once you have that in place, it's time to train like an animal. But even that part has changed. You have to train like a SMART animal. In today's world of FAST, technique doesn't equal success. Technique equals better... but not necessarily success. Today, you HAVE to have the training component, and the more of it you do (combined, of course, with technique), the closer you will get to FAST.

Because EVERYONE wants to improve, what's the quickest way to help someone do that? One answer is to take what they're doing today... and teach them how to do it better... today. It's quick, easy, and most people are very excited about quick improvement. Now, if you're a competitive athlete, what do you DO with that new trick, that new knowledge? Do you now start to train LESS because you've learned how to do something better? Probably not. Chances are, with new knowledge at your command, you'll be motivated to train even more because you will experience more progress and more speed.

If you're a casual athlete, then you may be happy knowing you've learned something, and maybe now you CAN train less, because it's going to take less training to maintain the level you're at. But that's a philosophy for another article because here, we're talking about... FAST!


So, in thinking of FAST... the FASTEST... we can look at how the top sprinters in the world train today. Recently, we've had the pleasure of working with two of the fastest sprinters in the world: Roland Schoeman and a female athlete whose name we'll reveal very soon (spoiler - POTW). While filming them, we also had the wonderful opportunity to watch them train, and guess what... THEY TRAIN! Here's a sample set from the female:
10 x 100 (scy) PULL on 1:15, holding :57s the entire way... with ONE BREATH PER 25! I was out of breath just watching.

This was but one small set in a 2-hour+ training session -- and not her only session of the day. Suffice it to say, these are professional athletes. What do they do all day, both in the water and out? They train. And they eat well, too. Training is their life.

There's been a lot of coverage lately of Dara Torres's training routine. The reports like to focus on how she swims only once a day, and that now the REST of us only need to swim once a day, too. I mean, we're all like Dara right? We've all been born with her genes and physiology. We've all made 4 Olympic Teams and have won 9 Olympic Medals. We've all kept our bodies in supreme physical condition through childbirth and aging. We all have extremely low body fat because our meals are prepared meticulously by private chefs and we all have exceptional flexibility from having professionals work with us in our dryland and stretching routines. If you do everything Dara does... and spend as much time focusing on doing everything in your life to benefit yourself as an athlete... ok... train once a day in the water. Wait.! What am I saying? Even if you DID everything that Dara did, with the SAME focus and intensity... had all the same benefits that Dara has in her training... you STILL wouldn't be like Dara. SHE'S AMAZING! SHE'S A SPECIMEN! SHE'S THE ULTIMATE ATHLETE! YOU CAN'T TRAIN LIKE DARA!

More than likely, if YOU want to get FAST you're going to have to do MORE! There WILL be pain. It WILL be uncomfortable. You WILL have days you dread standing by the side of the pool getting ready for what is TO COME.

But if you do it all, there is a CHANCE... just a CHANCE (there are NEVER guarantees in athletics... ask the Steelers), you will be FAST.

Remember, FAST isn't the only type of swimming there is. I recently started swimming Masters again, and train once a day for about 3,000 yards. Am I swimming FAST? No... but I'm swimming faster than I was a couple months ago, and guess what? I'm happy with that.

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