If I had a pound for every time a triathlete asked me how they can improve their swim... I'd probably be able to afford my own swimming pool. (One day ...eh!)
So...if you want to know how to knock a hefty 20% off your swim time (potentially more) keep on reading. If you want to continue plodding up and down the pool quite aimlessly - then this is probably your exit point.
So, how hard can it be? You are in reasonable shape (hopefully!?) and you have confidence in the water, why can't you swim like you can run and bike? The answer is actually a very simple one.
Run lots and you will inevitably get faster. Structure your run sessions and you'll improve even more. Same goes for cycling. But swimming is a completely different beast. It's all about your technique.
One late summer's evening in August 2012 I was competing at Box End Evening series triathlon. I exited the water comfortably in 1st place, with a 40 second lead. I'm overtaken a little while later by a young Tom Stead. Tom came past at a completely different speed and went on to win the race by almost a clear minute. My thoughts...imagine what this boy is capable off if he improves his swim!
Despite Tom being a reasonably good swimmer to start with, the reasons why he improved so much in one year translate to every level of swimmer.
The 4 steps to improving...
Find your current level. Time yourself over 400m but if you can't manage that time yourself over 100m. Still struggling...okay 25m will do. Time isn't important here, everyone starts somewhere. This is a base reading so we can measure the awesomeness of your improvements.
October 2012 -Tom's 400m = 6:40
Second Step. Get a coach to assess your swimming, not just anyone, your mum/dad/know it all friend will not do here. You need to know exactly what YOU personally are doing wrong. This will vary massively person to person and won't be picked up in a group session. You may think in your head you are swimming along like Michael Phelps, in reality you might look like a drowning moose, but hey, its a starting point right. Your stroke issues will be unique to YOU. When I assess someone I like to give them the 3 most important issues to work on, we can address the next 3 issues when the first 3 are fixed! (keep it simple here guys!)
Few things I immediately picked up for Tom to improve: Head position too low, slight scissor kick, elbow dropping during pull. So... no drowning moose, but plenty to work on.
Third Step. Get a structured training programme that is specific to your swim stroke issues and your current swim level (we just figured both these in step one and two! Told you this was simple).
Fourth Step. (The easy part I think!?) Bust your ass training in the pool 3/4/5/6 times per week. Make an effort to actually correct the stroke issues, this is key. The people that correct the stroke issues are ALWAYS the people that knock off the most time. Continue your aimless plodding and you will continue to plod. Coached sessions with similar ability swimmers is your ideal environment.
Practice doesn't make perfect...PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
Repeat as necessary (Re-assess every 6-8 weeks ideally)
Need convincing some more?!
Snap shot of Tom's 400m times since we started this process:
October 2012 = 6:40
November 2012 = 6:04
February 2013 = 5:45
April 2013 = 5:27
July 2013 = 5:19
October 2013 -Tom's 400m = 5:15
Someone who has a slower 400m time than the above (most people!) should expect to improve even quicker than Tom with the right kind of coaching and training.
Its also important to note that any improvement over 400m soon adds up when you factor in the distance of your race. For example 1 minute improvement over 400m could easily translate to over 10 minutes if you are racing Ironman distance.