Winter Swimming Fundamentals


Some simple tips to improve your swimming this winter

In two past articles I’ve covered topics on cycling and running that cover some basic fundamentals you may want to focus on over the winter training season. In the third part of this series I’ll be talking about the same with swimming, and tips and techniques to work on early in the year to set you up for your best summer of racing. As with those two other articles, here we’re also talking about small changes in your training to produce big results.

Swimming is, in a lot of ways, like golf. If you play golf – or have at least tried to play golf – then you probably have an appreciation for just how difficult a game it is. What could be so hard about hitting a tiny, still white ball down a grass fairway before tapping it into a little cup? Well, it’s a lot harder than it looks, and the pros on TV make it look easy. Those pros have worked on their stroke and technique for thousands of hours over several decades. Pro triathletes are the same. They make swimming fast look easy. And like golf, swim is a sport all about technique. The more you practice, the more you refine your stroke, the better you become. There is a long list of swimming drills you could do to help improve your technique and you can find those drills on any number of websites, but today I’m going to talk about a few other things that will help you improve your swimming over the winter.

Swimming With A Snorkel
Swimming with a snorkel completely takes the breathing out of swimming and allows you to focus on proper technique and body alignment. Just keep your head down and swim. As the focus is no longer your breathing, focus on all the finer points of your swim stroke, such as body position, body roll, long arm reach, high elbows, pulling more water, etc. I try to include snorkel swimming in warm ups for all of my athletes, and if they don’t have a snorkel I always recommend they get one and start using it over the winter.

Pull With Band
Most of us will already have a pull buoy in our arsenal of swimming tools, but very few of us will have a band. A pull buoy is excellent for developing swim-specific upper body strength, and a pull buoy focused workout is a great break if you’ve wrecked your legs the day before while running or on the bike. However, a pull buoy still allows you to swim with poor body position, and using a pull buoy on its own doesn’t take away your kicking 100%. By simply wrapping your ankles in a sturdy elastic band or tube (old inner tubes are perfect!), your feet become useless and kicking is eliminated. If you’ve never used a band, chances are your feet will sink and drag along the bottom of the pool. Swimming with a band forces you to catch more water; the more water you catch, the faster you move through the water, and the more your feet will rise to the surface to their proper position. It’s a tough drill to get the hang of, but it’s effective. Your feet won’t come to the surface by continuing to swim with a poor body position. Everything has to come together when swimming with a band to get you from one end of the pool to the next!

Monthly Endurance Swim
I’m a fan of shorter sets over the winter, maxing out at 400s or 500s, usually focusing on paces faster than your goal race time. Workouts will almost always be a combined total of close to twice the race distance you’re training for (if you’re training for a 2k swim in a half-iron race, your typically swim set would be 3000-4000m), but broken up into several shorter sets. However, I do like to add at least one long, steady state endurance swim once a month over the winter. This is one of those small things that can have huge benefits mentally. On race day when you’re standing at the water’s edge, knowing you completed several long, uninterrupted swims that were almost twice the distance you’re there to race will go a long way.

Frequency vs. Duration
This is something I get asked about a lot. Several athletes have told me they can only swim 2x week for 1 hour per session because they can’t fit any longer swim sessions into their schedule. When I ask them if they can swim 4x week for 30 minutes per session, suddenly they realize, “Yes! I can swim that often!”. Getting in the water more frequently is more important than making sure you swim several thousand metres in fewer sessions. As long as you’re at least swimming the equivalent distance of your goal race (500-2000m for most) per session then all is good. Getting in the water and swimming more frequently is one of the easiest ways to improve your swimming.

All of the above tips can help you become faster and more efficient in the water. This has been the theme for this series of articles (read the cycling article here and the running article here), and with making a few small changes to your training you can expect some big payoffs. Drills are definitely an important part of your swim training, so be sure to include drills into most of your warm up sessions. Get yourself a snorkel and band, do at least one long, steady state swim per month, and get to the pool as often as you can! Combine these with drills as a part of your warm up and you’ll be swimming better than ever at the end of this winter’s indoor training season! Good luck!

Tommy Ferris
Head Coach

Read more from Ignition Fitness.