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One simple way to nail a faster swim time

What adult triathletes can learn from watching young swimmers train

Photo by: Getty Images

I like to show up early to swim workouts I am coaching. In addition to being there to greet athletes and answer questions about the workout, it means I often get to watch a youth swim team finish their session before the adult triathletes I coach can use the pool. I have learned something from all of that time watching, and listening, to these kids swim.

When I watch a youth swim practice, I don’t hear the swimmers talking about elbow angles, early vertical forearm or the difference between a 4-beat and a 6-beat kick. I also don’t hear the kids talking about the great workout they just got. Youth swimmers – especially those 12 or younger – tend to be focussed on a few things:

  1. Swimming faster than their friends
  2. Being lazy and working as little as possible
  3. Having un-self-conscious fun.

It might seem like only one or maybe two of these might be useful, but I’m going to argue that focussing on all three together can pay off.

Having fun in the water. Photo: Getty Images

Focussing on swimming faster is obvious, right? After all, one of the primary goals of a workout is to be able to swim faster. Unfortunately focussing on swimming faster is not enough by itself. This is because there are two ways to swim faster. You can either work harder, or you can work more efficiently. When adult athletes want to swim faster, they typically focus on working harder. This is natural because although it is less comfortable, it is easier to execute. The problem is that this is not sustainable, and doesn’t get us to our long-term goals of being better overall swimmers.

To become better swimmers we also need to focus on efficiency. Lazy + fast = efficient. In this way, athletes who want to beat their friends and simultaneously work as little as possible have created a natural incentive structure that drives them towards higher efficiency. This is how we can leverage the power of laziness to help make us better swimmers.

The final element that we can take from youth swimmers is the desire to have fun. This spirit of fun inspires a lot of play in the water. Children during a swim practice are rarely sitting around silently waiting for their turn to do a 50. They are doing flips, holding their breath underwater, making big waves with their kicks etc. All of these playful acts may be extremely frustrating for their coaches, but they are also great learning tools. They are figuring out all sorts of things about how to move in and interact with the water. Bringing that spirit of playful experimentation to your swim sessions can help boost your understanding of how to move in the very unfamiliar environment that the water is for many of us.

So, although I think that there is value to having a more structured and intentional approach to swimming, especially when doing a drill set, it can also be nice to mix it up and keep it simple sometimes – have fun, swim fast and be lazy. Put all three together and you might be surprised where your swimming goes.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian here or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.  You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.