Developing speed is different than developing endurance or learning skills. The training rules that follow apply for when you are aiming to work on the speed at which you can execute skills. If you’re used to a lot of ‘hard work’ or endurance training, some of these rules may seem pretty odd. They may feel wrong. That’s because the speed development game is different than all the other games. While it may be strange, it works.
Minimize fatigue. More than any other concept, remember to minimize fatigue as much as possible. Minimizing fatigue is so important because it allows you get a lot more practice, with a lot more quality. Speed is built in the absence of fatigue. To go fast, you need to stay fresh. While fatigue might happen, you want to avoid it as much as possible. You can do so by following the rules laid out below. If you ever finding much yourself accumulating fatigue, look to the rest of these rules to find out where you may be able to make adjustments that will make all the difference.
Short is sweet. How long should you go? While it depends on fast you are swimming, generally speaking, you want to stick for distances of 25 yards/meters or less, or times of ~25 seconds or less. As with all of these strategies, keeping the distances short allows you to minimize the fatigue you create. If you’re not sure how long you should go, simply pay attention as to whether you are able to maintain your skills towards the end of each repetition. If so, you’re on the right track. If not, shorten it up.
Now, some individuals find that they get into a better rhythm when they swim for slightly longer distances, and this can actually help their speed. This might be you. If that’s the case, it’s okay to play with slightly longer durations and distances. However, I’m talking about more on the lines of 30-45 seconds, or 50 and MAYBE 75 yards or meters. If you decide to pursue this path on occasion, be extra vigilant about taking the appropriate amount of rest, and limit the fatigue you create.
Accumulate repetitions rather than volume. As with learning new skills, more practice is better provided it’s of a high quality. The way to accomplish this objective is to think about getting more repetitions rather than accumulating volume. This is accomplished by keeping the repetitions short and performing a high number of those repetitions. More practice equals more improvement.
Less is more. While it’s important to accomplish a reasonable volume of practice swimming fast, you’re better off doing less than optimal versus more than optimal. When in doubt, do less. 8 really good repetition is a LOT better than 20 decent repetitions. While you want to get a lot of practice in, quality is a lot more important than quantity. Make sure the quality is high, and then and only then, can you increase the number of repetitions. However, make the increase small to ensure that the quality is still just as high.
Take more rest. Most individuals from the swimming or triathlon community are used to taking very short rest periods during their training. Quality speed work requires quality rest. It is the OPPOSITE of what most individuals are used to. In between repetitions, your heart rate should drop and your respiration should drop. While it may not drop all the way, you should not feel like you’re still out of breath when you start again, or that fatigue impedes your performance in any way. When in doubt, take more rest!
For many, this aspect of the technical change process can present the most challenge, mostly because it is so foreign compared to what they’re used to. You’re likely no different. Speed is great and practicing swimming fast is key for long-term progress. However, the focus needs to be on learning how to execute your skills at high speed. With practice, you can learn to do so, and how you set up your speed training will have a dramatic impact on your ability to create technical change at speed. Follow the training rules above and you’ll be well on your way to doing so.
Speed It Up!
Every race is ultimately a speed game. You need to swim faster, and this can become quite difficult to do if you’re always swimming slow! While the best swimmers over the longest races are undoubtedly fit, they are also fast. The only way to compete with these individuals is to work on your speed as well as your fitness.
Beyond the importance of speed, speed training is extremely helpful in stress testing your skills. Too often, swimmers see their skills fall apart once they begin to apply more effort. The only way to combat this tendency is to practice swimming faster and with more effort, all within the context of using great skills. The faster you can execute your skills, the more resilient those skills will be to the pressure of racing.
FASTER. EASIER. BETTER.