Our resident Olympian answers your swimming questions
With so much advice on front crawl technique available online and in books, should I try to find as much information as possible or stick to just one source?
This is a question that I get asked a lot as a coach. The sheer amount of information that you can find when googling front crawl technique is mind-boggling: from scientific articles on the specifics of drag versus propulsion, to videos of seemingly non-swimmers trying to explain the finer details of the catch phase. When trying to learn or perfect a new skill it is important not to get bogged down by trying to absorb all sources of information.
There are some very good swimming technique companies, who can explain the fundamentals of technique in a learner-friendly way. But unfortunately there are other companies and coaches that are not so learner-friendly.
I am not saying that I am the only person who knows how to coach technique. On the contrary, I’m always learning myself. As sport is so closely linked to science, new and more efficient ways of swimming are continuously being discovered.
I believe that a good technique coach should understand not only the stroke, but the way people learn. Everybody learns in a different way, and this should be catered for. Some people learn better through visual demonstrations, others through descriptions.
Finally, it all boils down to personal preference. If your coach is succeeding in helping you become more efficient when swimming, then stick with them. But don’t be scared to move coaches if you feel that your needs are not being met.
What can I do to keep myself motivated to keep training when I don’t really feel like it?
The way I stayed committed and dedicated to training was to break each week down into single units. I would look at each session as a means to improve. So instead of looking at one eight-week cycle of training, I would break each week down and look at each swim as a single unit. This tricks your brain into focusing on the short-term and ensures that each session is as good as it can be – rather than getting daunted by the whole eight weeks’ training.
I believe it is important to set yourself goals and targets. I used the SMART system of goalsetting: I would set one very short-term goal, which would be for the next training session; one medium-term goal, which would cover a training cycle; and one long- term goal, which would normally be for the end of the season.
SMART stands for:
Specific – something really personal to you that is going to help improve your swimming. For example, if you are working on your catch phase, ensure that on each stroke you focus on ‘elbows high, fingertips low’.
Measurable – something that is easily measured. For example, a medium- term goal would be to drop your critical swim speed by one second per 100 metres.
Achievable – There is no point setting a goal so hard that you will fail.
Realistic – To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective towards which you are both willing and able to work. For example, if you know you are only ever going to start a race from deep water, there would be little or no purpose in improving your dives.
Timely – A goal should be grounded within a timeframe. With no timeframe there’s no sense of urgency. So an upcoming race is perfect as a focus around which you can set your goals.