Winter = Pool Time


Maybe I'll just have one of these installed in my garage

The temperatures have gotten into the 30s today here in Dallas and that means that most of my training will be indoors.  With 70.3 Puerto Rico coming up in March there is no time to wait for the weather to improve so that I can go open water swimming.  It’s also a great time to use the pool to practice technique.

In the past year I have been able to knock my easy swim times from 2:05-2:10 per 100 yards to 1:50 per 100 yards.  I have learned through all of 2011 that power will not get me through the water faster, but instead technique.  Each swim set that Coach gives me starts with an easy swim followed by drills.  I am doing catch-up, fist, single arm, finger tip, zipper drills all week and it has improved my technique but there is still tweaking going on.

I have learned by reading and then trial and error that when I rotate my hips and reach that I lessen the number of strokes per 25 yards but I go faster because of my glide.  I also noticed that this helped me improve my sighting at the end of the open water swim season.  Continuing to improve this technique will allow me to take my 1.2 mile swim from 40 minutes to 32-34 minutes.  I know I have a 34 minute 1.2 mile swim in me, and believe that I can even knock that down to 30 minutes with the proper focus and practice. has provided me with some additional swim drills/tips that I will be incorporating.  The article Breakdown Your Freestyle To Boost Efficiency written by Matt Fitzgerald and Lance Watson for Triathlete Magazine can be found here.

Here are some highlights from the article:

Stroke Rate
Just as there are some elite pro cyclists who time trial at 85 RPM and others that do so at 100 RPM, there is also a wide degree of variation in the stroke rates that work best for top triathlon swimmers. Shorter athletes with more aerobic power than muscle power tend to swim better with a higher stroke rate. Taller, lankier triathletes with great feel for the water tend to prefer a slower stroke rate.

  • When I started training my stroke rate was between 24 and 26 strokes per 25 yards.  This tells you that I was swinging wildly and not gliding.  After a year of training I am now at 22-24 strokes per 25 yards.  I know there is still improvement to be made and will use some of the tips from the article to do so.  My goal is to get down to this incredible stroke rate:     Katie of Run This Amazing Day

Kick Pattern

The kick is perhaps the most variable technique element. Some athletes achieve success with a strong, patient two-beat kick. Others find more speed with a fluttering, efficient six-beat kick. A two-beat kick is more common among triathletes, but even within the two-beat tempo there are several possible variations in rhythm.

The best kick for each individual is the one that interferes the least with body position and stroke rhythm. While it’s nice to have a powerfully propulsive kick for fast starts and surges, the main job of your kick is to help lift your body into a high float position, aid in body rotation and boost the glide between arm pulls.

  • Each and every swim has kick sets in it.  I was able to go 50 yards in nearly 2 minutes and now regularly finish in 1:45, and if I really push can finish 50 yards in 1:17.  Getting to that 1:17 and maintaining it will be my goal throughout the winter swim practices.

Arm Recovery
Arm-recovery styles vary from straight-arm to sharply bent elbow. Janet Evans made the straight-arm recovery famous in showing off her windmill arm cycle en route to winning five medals in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. At the other extreme is five-time triathlon world champion Simon Lessing, who nearly drags his fingertips along the surface of the water during his arm recovery. Most swimmers fall somewhere between these extremes.

  • My arm recovery is a sharply bent elbow.  I use the Simon Lessing school of arm recovery where my arms are bent so much that I am practically dragging my finger tips or doing the zipper technique.  I do this because it slows me down and allows me to glide without trying to hard to get to the other end.  This helps me stay focused and keeps me from hyper-ventilating.

Arm Cycle

There are three basic arm-cycle rhythms used in freestyle swimming.

  • In the traditional 90-degree rhythm, the pulling arm is pointing directly toward the bottom of the pool just as the hand of the recovery arm enters the water (such that the two arms form a 90-degree angle).
  • In the rotary rhythm, the pulling arm is already past the midway point of the pull as the recovery arm enters the water. This is used primarily by sprinters.
  • The third arm cycle rhythm is known as front-quadrant swimming, where the lead arm is left extended in front of the body until the hand of the recovery arm has come as far forward as the head. If you’re familiar with the catch-up drill, front-quadrant swimming is like a partial catch-up freestyle stroke. This rhythm works well for those who have good hydrodynamics, and when done well it is an excellent energy saver for long-distance swimmers.

This is one thing I have never looked for and so I have no idea what I do.  What I do know is that because of the tendinitis in my left shoulder my left arm swings out wide before coming down and through so that my thumb glances my left thigh.  My right arm goes straight down but I just don’t know where the other arm is but I do know that when I get out of breathe I resort to the catch-up drill to slow me down.


Breathing patterns are widely accepted to be a matter of personal preference. The most common breathing patterns among triathlon swimmers are every two strokes and every three. The two rules of breathing technique are:

  • Breathe as often as you need to, and not more
  • Breathe in a way that does not negatively affect your overall stroke efficiency

As I have pointed out I breathe to my left at all times except during my one-armed stroke drills.  I will be working this winter on breathing to my right more often to improve any imbalances and work the rotation of my hips through the water, which will also help my kick.

What Are You Going To Work On This Winter?

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  1. Zero swimming… but thanks for the tips… Hudson River current is going to support front quadrant swim stroke and I will practice this in April when I can get outside

    Luckily my winter will all be outside and I plan on starting 100 milers in January and by March two a weeks on the bike with many many BRICKs so I can get my 4:20 marathon at IMNYC.. I figure the biking will take care of itself and I should be in the neighborhood of 5:30 / 5:45
    OneHourIronman recently posted..Black Friday Ninja ShoppingMy Profile

  2. Jeff Irvin says:

    What is this “swimming” you speak of?
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Turkey Trot TimeMy Profile

  3. misszippy1 says:

    You know, I am so lazy about drill and technique work. I’ve gotten to a point where I am pretty content w/ my swim ability, plus I don’t do triathlon very often, so I’ve become a slacker. However, with the potential of the bay swim coming up, I’ve been training w/ a friend and she makes us do drills at the beginning of our workouts. I’ve actually seen some pretty fast improvement with that, so I’m glad she has kicked me into gear.

    As for what I’ll be working on this winter–in addition to that, just getting myself into enough shape to run, not race, Boston this year!
    misszippy1 recently posted..Turkey day highs and lowsMy Profile

  4. Bev says:

    Swimming is the necessary evil to get to the bike and run. That said, I have found super helpful. The animated Mr Swim Smooth is great for actually seeing what you are supposed to be doing. You can watch him with or without water, from just about any angle, and at very slow speeds. I also get their e-mails for beginner swimmers and have found them to be full of helpful tips. I still suck at swimming, but not as badly as before. Baby steps….

  5. katie says:

    I don’t know why my stroke rate is what it is. But I also used the Mr Smooth when I got started!
    katie recently posted..the fire is outMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      I watched Mr Smooth last night and used some of the tips I saw today in the pool and I could immediately see the difference and what a big help it was already. I did not count my strokes but I feel like I went from 22-24 to 20-22. I will have to count when I get back in the water.

  6. Beth says:

    I guess everyone has already told you about Mr Smooth. That site has some great info! I was a sprinter in a former life and have a very fast kick and high turnover rate, but it works for me. Everyone is different!
    Beth recently posted..Thanksgiving Week RecapMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Yeah, that Mr Smooth is something. Just watching it last night for 5 minutes was a huge help in the water today. I can’t wait to keep reinforcing what I see there and the tips that I will be getting from it. Why was everybody keeping this a secret from me?

  7. Bev says:

    Hooray! I’m glad you are finding it helpful. Wait until you get the e-mails – there is usually at least one good tip in each one. I look forward to reading about your improvement in the water and to some smokin’ times next tri season.

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