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Most of us are taught that to become a better swimmer we must train harder and train for longer. This was true 20 years ago when not a great deal was understood about how we move in the water. The reality is swimmers of all abilities (especially beginners) need to focus on the correct technique more than anything else. Thrashing out lap after lap doesn’t make a person faster. The key is in reducing the amount of drag. This is where huge leaps of improvement are found.

Here is a list of five tips to help you swim like an Olympian:

  1. Don’t train to get fit, train to achieve perfect technique: Everyone must start out by first getting technique right, and then progressing on to improving fitness. If you’re focus isn’t on swimming with correct technique from the beginning, any training you do will not help you for the long-term.
  2. Find a coach or mentor: An unwritten law of swimming is ‘whatever it feels like you’re doing in the water, you’re probably doing the exact opposite’. The quickest way to get better at swimming is to have a qualified person give you feedback on your technique. Coaches can be found locally or found online. Many online coaches can give you feedback on your technique if you email a video of yourself to them.

  3. Educate yourself: Just like a doctor studies medicine to become a good doctor, to become good at swimming you must study it also. It is much cheaper than a college education though! To achieve correct technique you need to watch the DVD’s, read the books and buy the programs which teach it.

  4. Find a training partner: Training with a partner or a group of people makes swimming a lot more enjoyable. It also increase how hard you train and how far you swim because time will go by much quicker. It has been proven that running with another person increases your pace by 18% compared to when you run alone. I’m sure it is no different when in the pool. Find someone who is faster and fitter than you, as this will help you rise to their level rather than take the easy road.

  5. Never quit: Becoming a good swimmer doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a few weeks to really change your technique, and many months to see a noticeable improvement in your fitness. The key is to be consistent and train regularly. If you train for 3 days in a row and then take a week off, you can’t expect to see results. You must be consistent with it and always focus on practicing the right technique.
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How important is the head position in swimming?

Take for example the picture below, which I’m sure many of you have seen. It is a photo taken from the bottom of the Beijing pool, and
it shows, on your left, Michael Phelps, on his way to his 7th gold medal, and on your right, Milorad Cavic of Serbia, on his way to a silver
medal in the 100m butterfly event.Had you not seen this race, however, you’d be tempted to tell me that I’ve mixed up my right and left. There is no way, surely, that Cavic,on your right, can lose this race. He has led for 99.5 m of a 100m race, and is centimetres from the wall. But Phelps touched first, by 1/100th of a second, in one of the moments of the Games.

It is against this backdrop, where gold and silver, history and anonymity are separated by millimetres, that sports sciences and the value
of attention to detail become apparent. If you look at Cavic on your right, you’ll see that as part of his early reach for the wall, he has begun
to hyperextend the neck, and the result is that his head is starting to rise out of the water. Phelps, on the other hand, has made a call to get
one last stroke in. His head is down, his arms are making one final sweep for the wall, and he is about to pip Cavic on the line.What this race comes down to then, is Cavic’s head position, which may have increased his drag (this is according to Phelps himself), and the timing of a lunge for the wall. Such are the margins between gold and silver. Phelps goes on to become the first man in history to win 8 gold medals at a Games, Cavic may never again be so close to an Olympic gold and a place in history as the man who denied Phelps the perfect Games.


Phelps - 100m fly @ Biejing 2008

I’m often asked about the different kinds of training aids for swimmers and which ones are the best to use. Here I’ve put up a brief guide to the different training aids and what they’re best used for:

1. Freestyle snorkel

This is my favourite toy for the pool. I first bought a freestyle snorkel 4 years ago and since then I haven’t looked back. It took a couple of tries to get used to breathing with your mouth in the water (believe me it goes against everything your body wants to do!) but once I got around the learning curve they are really fun to use. To start out I had to use the snorkel with a nose clip so that I didn’t get water up my nose. Depending on how well you can control your breathing you might not need to use a nose clip at all. I’ve now got to the stage where I can use the snorkel by itself.

What it’s best used for: Kicking with a board, some freestyle drills and long slow freestyle.

Why: The snorkel is designed so you can keep your eyes looking to the bottom of the pool without moving your head and throwing your body out of line. It’s really good for people who don’t have a great technique because it can get them to practice what it’s like to swim with a straight body line. I love using the snorkel when doing kicking with a kickboard. It allows you to keep the head down and work your legs harder because your not always coming up for breath. I know most elite swimming clubs use a snorkel when doing kicking with a board.

2. Kickboards

I must admit, I used to hate kickboards! They were awkward, they slowed me down and they were plain uncomfortable! When I was growing up we would always do kick on the side without a board. This served me well as I was still able to develop a strong kick but it was only 3 months ago which I learned why the best swimmers use a kickboard. I had always ignored the fact that swimmers like Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps used a kickboard in training. I didn’t want to believe that it was the best way to kick! Finally after 17 years of swimming I’ve come to my senses…

My father who is also a coach was speaking to Rohan Taylor, the coach of a number of Australian Olympic swimmers such as Leisl Jones and Shane Reese and he learned why kickboards are used. It’s to strengthen the core muscles (the stomach muscles) because thats where a lot of power is generated in swimming. Since I’ve found that out, I ‘ve been using a kickboard every session and it’s starting to become an enjoyable part of training.

What it’s best used for: Freestyle, breasktroke and fly kick. Strengthening your stomach muscles (guys who want a six pack and girls who want a flat stomach then eat your heart out!).

Why: Working on the fundamentals is crucial and it doesn’t get much more fundamental than kicking. Kicking is like the propellor on a boat, it’s where your speed will come from. It may not be much fun to work on at the start but after 2-3 weeks of solid training, you’ll find you might start to enjoy it…

3. Swim Paddles

Warning: only use if you’re a strong swimmer.

All the time I hear “I just bought a new pair of paddles! I can’t wait to use them!”. This is great if the swimmer is experienced and has strong shoulders and a good pull through in freestyle, but too often than not it’s a new swimmer who has gone out and bought a set of paddles because they look like a fun toy to use. I don’t blame them, I’d be exactly the same. Paddles look like fun to use but unless you can control them in the water they aren’t much use.

What it’s best used for: Strengthening your shoulders and developing a freestyle catch.

Why: Paddles are like a double-edged sword. They are great for working your shoulders and feeling a good catch in the water, but used incorrectly they can trigger a shoulder injury and send your swimming backwards. For beginners I recommend finger paddles.

4. Finger paddles

These paddles are my favourite. Beginners can use them and they force you to focus more on catching with the entire forearm and not just the hand. These paddles are used a lot with sculling drills. I’ve even seen some swimmers wear these paddles without hand straps and perform sculling drills, and the pressure of the water allows them to keep the paddles on their hands. Very cool.

What it’s best used for: Adding a little bit of power to your stroke. Sculling drills. An introduction to paddles for beginners.

Why: Finger paddles help you focus on pulling through with the entire forearm with the added power of a paddle on your fingers. For sculling drills it forces you to think about putting pressure on the water in the right position.

5. Pull buoys

Just like the name suggests, these bad boys are used for improving pull. They should only be used for freestyle and in some rare cases, breastroke drills. Pull buoys are popular among triathletes because it gets them to work on their pulling while conserving energy in their legs wich they need for the bike and run leg. For swimmers, pull buoys are a good toy to use but not too often. Some swimmers use a pull buoy for 2/3rds of a session and become reliant on a pull buoy. You don’t want to become reliant on a pull buoy. Used too often, they make you mentally switch of your abs and hips which are crucial to body rotation.

What it’s best used for: Raising your hips if they sink or are too low. Working on freestyle pull. Sculling drills. Triathletes.

Why: Pull buoys assist in having a good body position. They raise the hips which reduces drag and can help even the most average of swimmers achieve a correct body position. If you’re wanting to work on your freestyle pull in a particular set or session, pull buoys are a good way to single out your arms and a get you working on just your pull.

Hopefully that’s helped a bit with explaining some of the dozens of training aids out there. If you have any questions about any of the aids or if you’d like to know more about an aid I haven’t mentioned yet don’t hesitate to post a question in the comments box below. Happy swimming!