Road to Improvement Swimming vs. Running (Read 1599 times)

    Sorry for the length of this. This is a call for help or at least some insight on my swimming improvement (lack of) and ideas on turning it around. As a runner for 20+ years, I know a little about training and how to improve. As many have said on these forums, it’s not that complex. Run more miles and more often and you will get faster. Do some fast running in training and you will get even faster. I have lots of personal experience to draw from. When I increase my training volume and within reason, increase my intensity, I see real results: lower race times as well as lower effort required at all paces. Make no mistake, I am not a top runner, but am comfortably a mid-packer. I race 5 miles in under 40 minutes and my ½ marathon PR is 1:48 (8:19-mile). I recently ran a marathon in a little over 4 hours. I guess like many others here, my running mileage is not consistent year round,, so when I do ramp it up, I see almost immediate improvement. The same can not be said for my swimming. After running my marathon earlier this year (Ocean Drive on 3/30/08), I felt a little banged up and wanted to start swimming again. I’m 47 and while I love running and always will, I like to take a break once in a while. Over the years, I have spent a good amount of time lap swimming for fitness. I never swam on a team as a youth, but I have decent strokes (I think). Having decent cardio fitness, I swam a mile at the Y’s 50 meter pool. My time was 38:20. That is pretty slow, but I was not discouraged because I haven’t swum much in the past couple years. Since then, I joined the Masters group and have been swimming regularly. But my time doesn’t get any faster. My kick is useless; I’ve been told I have a runner’s kick. I go nowhere on kick sets. I’ve read that in distance swimming, your kick really ought to be to just get your legs out of the way and don’t try to get propulsion from them. I know about Total Immersion and it makes sense. Although, I must admit, I have not spent the time to do their drills. My running mentality takes over and I would rather spend my time getting a workout than laying on my back in the pool learning balance. I am also not sold completely, on TI. The skeptical side of me views it as a way to sell DVD’s and expensive swim camps. After all, I don’t need to go to camp to get faster on my feet. I just finished one of Terry Laughlin’s book and once again, what he says makes sense, but do you need to commit to drills 75% of the time to improve the TI way? But I am trying to put the principles of TI into my freestyle stroke and body position. But I don’t get much improvement. So this experiment has only been going on for a couple months. I am wondering, should I just start doing more intervals and hope that through better conditioning, I’ll get faster. Or should I really take the time for drilling? IS there a middle ground? The TI literature eschews swimming faster until you have mastered all of their balance drills and front quadrant swimming etc. Have you ever met anyone, who has decent form and conditioning, but just is a slow swimmer? Maybe that’s me? I want to get my mile time down to 30 minutes, at this point I'll settle for 35. Any advice on how to get there? Thanks for reading this wordy post.
      Well technique is huge in swimming so I would say spending more time on it is going to help. Even Olympic swimmers who you would think have it down spend time working on technique. We have a former competitive swimmer who almost made it to the olympics at my gym. He's clearly not in shape now but he can cruise much faster then me without working as hard cause he's got better technique. All the fitness in the world isn't going to make you fast if your not following through on your pulls or lifting your head to high, etc... That said training for swimming fast is not like training to run fast. Volume is less important that quality. Doing a mile at 60% effort is not going to help you get faster. I've been talking with this former competitive swimmer about my training and he stresses keeping your heart rate up high like 90% max during intervals and then only resting between intervals till it drops to 80% or so. He basically suggests the opposite of running where most miles are easy and only a small percentage are hard. You also have to swim farther then the distance you are training for. If you are training for 1 mile, swim 2, etc.. Since I've been listening to his advice my times dropped to well below 30 minute miles and I wasn't even able to swim a mile non-stop before.
      Son, when you participate in sporting events, it's not whether you win or lose; it's how drunk you get. -- Homer Simpson
        Thanks, I'd be curious to know your swimmer friend's opinion (or yours) on the value of time spent drilling? and what types of drills. Sounds like he is a more traditional believer in intervals,, train fast to swim fast.
          He really only talks about drills when he points out something I'm doing wrong. For example when I first met him he was suggesting reducing the number of pulls per lap. He had me counting the number of pulls and then trying to reduce the number by gliding more and fully extending and finishing the pull. He also worked with me on my turns and push offs. When he swims I see him use the kick board and pull buoys a lot. I think once you get the basics down just swimming more laps is the best. Right now I only do a couple simple drills at the very end of my workout as a cool down.
          Son, when you participate in sporting events, it's not whether you win or lose; it's how drunk you get. -- Homer Simpson
            Swimming is probably 80-90% technique. I used to swim competitively in high school and college and have also coached HS swimming and very little of the swimming practice is spent on long slow distance. So it is not exactly like training for running faster by doing a lot of long slow miles. At any given practice there would be 20-40% spent on technique drills, and the rest spent on intervals of some sort. Probably one a week we did long slow swimming for real endurance. If I were you I would work on your kick first off. Because if you arent kicking right, it not only doesnt do you any good, but can hinder your progress. I used to have a friend who was a runner and wanted to do a triathlon. She got in the pool and tried a kicking set and she actually somehow managed to move backwards. Next, work on your arm form. I havent used it but have heard great things about Total Immersion, so YES, spend the time on the drills - even if you dont spend as much time as they dictate, doing a couple of the drills every day before swimming could help.

              Andre, I started out in swimming as you did, and was at a place where you are now. I was training for tris and at first, only swam alone. I actually read Total Immersion and did the drills for a while...probably a 2 to 3 month period. My stroke count...a huge measure of efficeincy was like 13 or something in 25 yds when I really focused. However, I could not put it together on longer swims. My stroke count would go back up and I'd be screaming for air at the end of the set. The change for me came when I joined a masters program. We had a coach that was a college swimmer and was very knowledgable about what makes an efficient stroke. On top of that (and extrememly crucial to being a good coach), he was very good at observing an critiquing his swimmers. I swam one competitive masters season and ended up improving so much that I felt like I'd been a swimmer my whole life. That's my experience. I needed a coach that could see what I could do better, and then also have the ability to explain it in a way that I could understand. One thing we did that helped a ton was getting our swim stroke on film. Then we compared it to films of elite swimmers. It's so much easier to correct something when you can see how it should be done, and exactly where you're falling short. MTA: I'm not saying Total Immersion will not work. It just didn't fit my style of learning. One plus about the program is that Terry Laughlin (the program's creator) is very accessible. Or at least he was in 2001/2002. I was able to get in touch with him via e-mail to get some feedback on things I didn't understand.
                I self-coach myself in swimming, though I really only swim when I'm injured or running-tired. (It's my backup plan in case all those naysayers are right and I actually do destroy my legs.) Here's a site that I've gotten some drills from: http://www.goswim.tv/

                Speed my steps along your path, according to your will.

                  I agree with the above posts about swimming being 80-90% technique. I never really was a swimmer. I started swimming laps last december and was barely doing 50m before catching a breath. In January, I joined a triathlon club where we do two swim drills a week working technique and some endurance. I definitely swim faster and longer than I used to and I owe it to the coaching at the pool and a lot of perseverance. Sometimes I have periods where I feel I'm going nowhere with my swimming then something clicks and I see a jump in performance and ease in the water. It takes time for me to figure out a technique, from 1) understanding what it is, to 2) getting working in practice to 3) finally having it come naturally. Often the first two sometimes get frustrating because you need to break bad habits you don't even know you have. When you get to 3), that's when it clicks for me. I definitely enjoy running more since I've been swimming. I feel I can focus my running on quality workouts, tempo runs, long runs, etc, and fill the rest with swimming and cycling. My running has actually improved this year more than it ever has when I was only running even if I'm running fewer days a week.
                    Thanks for the replies, they are helpful. I re-read the last sections of one of Laughlin's TI books last night. For swimmers like me, they really do suggest 75%-100% of your time spent on their drills. Furthermore, they claim that if you do spend time swimming, you will only make your bad habits more permanent. I can't reconcile that with my desire to get some conditioning in return for the time spent. I suppose, I can't have it both ways and ought to try to develop my own middle ground mix of drills to help improve, while also swimming the traiditonal 100's, 50's intervals etc.

                      You also don't have to look at it as drills vs. swimming. If you want to get some conditioning out of the workout, but at the same time, not reinforce bad habits with your stroke...grab a kickboard. Kick until your vision gets blurry and you get a funny taste in your mouth. Rest 20 seconds and repeat.

                      Run like a kid again!

                        Wow what a great subject. For you swiming guru's, how do you get your leg kick to do anything for you. I'm not a horrible swimmer but when I stop using my arms and just tried kicking alone I go no where. How are you supposed to be doing your kicking. Is faster better? Should your leg be straight or slightly bent. Confused Confused Confused Confused Confused Confused
                          2011 Goals:
                          Sub 19 5K (19:24 5K July 14th 2010)
                          Marathon under 3:05:59 BQ (3:11:10 Indy 2010)
                          Like I said up top, I almost go backward during kick sets, so I am no expert. But, I'm going to try a Total Immersion drill that calls for vertical kicking. In the deep end, you put you arms across your chest and get the feel of a compact flutter kick that starts at the hips. For people like me, when I kick horizontally while swimming, my legs churn and my hips sink. I was told I kick too hard down and not enough up??? (a runner;s kick). The vertical kicking drill is aimed at trying to teach your muscles how to keep the kick going evenly in both directions of the kick (back and forth). If you can keep your body upright and vertical in this drill without your using arms for balance, you are beginning to learn the feel of the kick. The legs should be slightly bent, but that is hard to control. I'll let you know how it works.

                            I wish I had some thoughts to offer on improving the kick. That was one thing I did fairly naturally when I first started swimming. If it were something I needed to work on, I'd probably work on some sort of visualization technique...the tail fin of a dolphin maybe?
                              The kick is also my weakest point. It improved a lot over the course of the year. I had trouble doing 25m of kick and I can now do 50m. But still, other swimmers still zoom by me when they are kicking. Recently, we've been doing some dolphin kicks (or butterfly kick) and I sucked at it even worse. I have a feeling both are linked. Actually I heard that, in essence, the freestyle kick is pretty much the same thing as a butterfly kick except you do one leg at a time. For both kicks, the movement needs to come from the lower body and whip down your leg. I might get myself some fins. I heard it helps for getting the feel of it. - R
                                Kick often. Not to fast. Mostly with the hips. Actually when you are swimming for long distance you are not supposed to kick much. The legs are big muscles and use a lot of energy and kicking is not the main source of thrust. Kick just hard enough to keep your feet from dragging. You want to be level with the surface to be streamlined.
                                Son, when you participate in sporting events, it's not whether you win or lose; it's how drunk you get. -- Homer Simpson