Do I need to Progress my Swim Technique?

We watch swimmers a fraction of our age gracefully slice through the water or faster runners effortlessly stride round the track. Each movement looking precise, exact and deliberate. Are they naturals? Why do you have to keep re-visiting technique all of the time? Why is it necessary? For the purposes of this article let's specifically look at swimming, but understand that some of these principles can be expanded to your running and cycling, and other sports outside of swim, bike and run. 

Sliding Improvement Scale

The image below shows an illustration of how an athlete may develop over time. The red line depicting a change in focus on technique over time as well as reduction in swim times for (eg) 100m.

At Point A, the athlete is a novice swimmer and is at this point still familiarising themselves with the water, therefore, their focus is on 'how to swim' not 'how fast they swim'. As such much of the focus here is on understanding the basics of swimming and developing a consistent routine of getting to the pool and practising.

Over the next couple of years, they will swim consistently three to four times a week almost without fail. The red line therefore also represents an improvement in performance (reducing times) until they reach Point B, at this point, they reach a plateau, but why has their performance  also stopped or vastly reduced improving?

Unfortunately, technique will only get you so far, but that doesn't mean it goes out of the window forever to be forgotten about. It just means the volume and purpose of its inclusion shifts from "keep me alive" to "get me there faster...and faster".

What is the orange line about? Well, that is the gap bridged by hard work and consistency for another two years to get seriously fast. There is clearly a diminishing return and this is where there is a difference between good swimmers and great swimmers.

Technique Training Volume.2.jpg

Things change...

So why should you re-visit technique even when you have reached Point B? Well over time things change, things happen and ultimately you as an athlete change. Over time the following may occur:

  • Illness or injury leading to a gap in training, or some other training break
  • Increase or decrease in flexibility
  • Increase or decrease in strength
  • Increase or decrease in ability to train
  • Change in stroke length (due to the above)
  • Change in stroke rate (due to increase in swim speed)
  • Change in demands of target event

Spiral of Improvement

This description sums your improvement up nicely. It is not about passing or failing with any technique aspect it is about sensible review and refinement in perspective of and alongside all the other developments of an athlete. In other words doing the drill is only the first part, rehearsing and bringing it as part of your stroke is an almost endless process. For you specifically, you need to become fluent in your own technique of what works for you. What technical cues and reminders resonate for you and what are your 'tells'? What piece of physical feedback tells you that things aren't optimal or effective for you? 

It takes time to hone in on this target as you build your movement, efficiency and groove your neural pathways to become more literate in your movement or skill. By continually maintaining an awareness and active engagement in the movements you will continue to complete them at a slightly better level each time (to a degree). Whenever you go back to skills you found hard a few months, or even years ago and re-groove them, it will help many areas develop from that point on. The process is almost cyclical as you hone in on the ultimate target, but it takes time to improve and this is why you continually need to refine technique and even more importantly get to the pool regularly! 

You can't beat the fact that swimming is easier to work on when you are at the swimming pool, in the water, swimming nothing beats that golden rule! 

Alan WardComment