by Carl O’Donnell: Former New Zealand Swimming Champion and 2012 London Olympian
The phrase “I only have one speed” is thrown around by a lot of swimmers, and many of them come to me with the goal of getting faster. A common approach to improving swim times is increasing kilometres in training. While this improves fitness, raw speed is just as important and is often overlooked by those competing in longer events. If you’ve ever watched the start or finish of an open water race, you’ll understand how important speed is. The following are my reasons why speed is important and a few tips to help you crank up the gears to use speed to your advantage.
The Banana Boat Ocean Swim Series events range in distance from 500m up to 3.5km. No matter the distance, dropping a surge of speed is useful at many stages of the race. At the start, a sprint effort will help to place you amongst a fast group to swim with. You may need to throw in a few faster strokes to help get you into a good drafting position throughout the race. What if you’re stuck with someone on your feet? Leave them in your wake with a quick change of gear. At the end of a race you might find yourself needing extra speed in a sprint finish against your rival. Responding with speed in all of these situations will improve your results and help you achieve your goal of getting faster times.
So, how can you get faster? Practice swimming fast! This means swimming shorter distances at your maximum speed with plenty of rest between repetitions. At first, I’d recommend trading in one of your long sessions for a speed session every week. Try not to worry about losing out on mileage. You’ll be surprised by how much of a cardio workout you can get from some intense speed work and you’ll also notice your cruising pace will feel much easier once you start to get faster. In the pool, I’d recommend 12.5m and 25m sprints resting long enough to breathe comfortably and get your heart rate down. Do as many as you can give maximum effort to and then try upping this number as you get used to swimming with speed. In the ocean, you can start off doing repetitions of 15-20 strokes max and then rolling on your back and gently kicking in between. Finding friends to race against is a great way to make sure you push yourself in speed training. Try challenging someone to a set of 25m sprints, loser buys the coffees!
Add in some speed work over the next few weeks and before you know it, you’ll be throwing down a sprint and swimming faster at the next Banana Boat Ocean Swim Series event!
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Carl was a competitive swimmer for 20 years. He was number one in New Zealand in the 100m freestyle for 3 consecutive years and represented New Zealand at the London Olympic Games in 2012. After a break from swimming, Carl was challenged to an ocean swimming race by a friend. He has been hooked ever since and now competes in the Banana Boat New Zealand Ocean Swim Series each year. Carl’s passion for swimming has lead him to start his own swim coaching business, SWIM360. SWIM360 offers swim coaching and squads to swimmers of any level looking to improve their swimming.