stop watch

If someone told you, “Hey, you got to go on line and read this article I just found. It tells you how to take two seconds off your 100 metres PB time”.

Would you read it? Of course you would!

OK – look down – because here it is.

Competitive swimming practice has one aim – to “find” time: to find ways of cutting time off your race PB.

You “find” time by focusing on improving technique, with consistent hard physical training, by improving flexibility, strength, speed, power and of course you find time by focusing on improving swimming skills – dives, starts, turns and finishes.

In sprint events, skills – dives, starts, turns and finishes – represent almost half of the race.

In an event like the 100 metres (short course), 45 metres of the race are skills based – dives, starts, turns and finishes.

The first 15 metres are almost totally reliant on your dive, start and underwater technique.

The last 5 metres into the wall and the first five metres off the wall are largely a product of your turning technique, “wall” power and underwater skills.

The final 5 metres of the race are dependent on your finishing skills.

That’s 45 metres of the 100 – almost half of the total race – which are skills based.

Yet, in spite of these facts, I’ll bet you don’t spend anywhere near 50% of your training on skills practice!

The typical swimming training session ends with a “token” five minutes (or around 4% of training time) of skills practice.

In a perfect world of course, every dive would be a race quality dive, every start would be a race quality start, every turn would be a race quality turn and every finish would be a race quality finish but…….it ain’t a perfect world.

So skills practice – or what we call F.F.A.S.T. (Fast Finishes Aggressive Starts and Turns) – is a critical part of enhancing swimming performance and should be a priority of every training session.

There is “easy” time to find in skills practice – that is, it’s much easier to find time improvements through quality skills practices than to try and find time by just swimming more and more laps.

For most age group swimmers, Masters swimmers and triathletes, there is at least 2 seconds improvement to be found by committing to daily F.F.A.S.T. practice!

Think of how many extra laps you would need to do to find those 2 seconds just in swimming practice. (And think of how much time you can find by working hard in both F.F.A.S.T practice and swimming practice).

Where exactly are those 2 F.F.A.S.T. seconds?

Here’s your first 0.5 second – it’s in your dive.

There is an easy half a second to be found in your dive.

The most common mistake made by swimmers when diving is they “flop” lazily into their “take your mark” position instead of taking a strong, powerful, “coiled spring” position and being ready to explode off the blocks when the gun goes.

This means that when the “go” signal comes, they must first get into the right take off position, before they can actually leave the blocks and this means a loss of at least half a second.

If you start with a “grab start” it is highly likely your hips are well back towards the back of the blocks. You can find time in your grab start by working on your flexibility in your lower back and hamstrings and aiming to have the centre of the outside of your hip, the centre of the outside of your knee and the centre of the outside of your ankle bone in one straight line and your chest flat on your thighs.

If you do a “track start” chances are you are not using the explosive power potential of your inner “elastics”. The muscles and tendons in your arms and upper chest are like big rubber bands. When you are in “take your marks” position, pull back on the front of the blocks and the tension and energy in your “rubber bands” will help to explode you forward when you “go”.

Here’s your next 0.5 second – in your “three kicks”.

Most swimmers lose time (as opposed to “finding” time) by losing momentum unnecessarily after hitting the water following their dive.

There are three “danger” zones in the first underwater kick – i.e. the underwater period following your dive.

Danger Zone one – kicking underwater: kicking underwater after the dive should be fast, strong and explosive: do not glide! The glide kills momentum and loses time.

Danger Zone two – kicking towards the surface: many swimmers run out of air and “pop” up to the surface, stop kicking and lose time. It is much faster to kick deliberately and powerfully towards the surface and maintain momentum.

Danger Zone three – kicking into your first stroke: without doubt the biggest danger zone. Many swimmers will stop kicking, start stroking, then start kicking again. This is the swimming equivalent of hitting the brakes at full speed in your car. Kick into your first stroke (breakout stroke) with speed and power – hitting the surface like a great white shark hitting it’s prey. It’s not only faster but it scares the daylights out of your opposition!

The next second will come from your turn.

You are never faster than when you are coming off a wall – “wall” stands for We Accelerate Lazy Limbsturns are an opportunity to gain speed and “find” time.

Walls are where you increase your speed, gain momentum and get a competitive advantage over your opposition.

Attack the walls with power, aggression and speed. In freestyle and backstroke, keep it simple and fast: chin on your chest, then kick yourself in the backside and flip straight over. In breast and fly, your hand touch should trigger the snap of your hips and knees to your chest and to get your feet on the wall as fast as possible (ideally well under one second from the time your hands touch the wall to the time your feet touch the wall – i.e. hand touch / foot touch time).

And the final 0.5 second is in your finish.

There are four key elements in every great finish:

  1. Finish with your head forward – i.e. pushing towards the wall;
  2. Finish with your hips high and legs driving towards the wall;
  3. Finish on a full stroke, i.e. with your arm (in back and free or arms in fly and breast) fully extended;
  4. Finish with your legs working at maximum speed.

So, there you go – an easy two seconds off your 100 PB!

Now turn off the computer, get to the pool and make it happen.

(Watch for a future article with drills and practices to improve each of the F.F.A.S.T. areas).

Wayne Goldsmith