What gives you an edge (part 1)

As any other swimmer, I always want to get better. Which basically means getting faster. And I am always looking for “something” that can spark even the tiniest of improvements. It can be some newly published research result, some new training program, or some piece of equipment. In my quest for improvement I realized a couple of things, and this is what I want to share with this post. In the first part of this post I deal with some basic principles that I (try to) apply to my training.

I am not going to disclose any well-kept training secret (I don’t have any and I am not a coach). I am not going to reveal any revolutionary stroke technique (I still have doubts on mine). I am not going to suggest any supplement (I keep my use of supplements limited to vitamins and fish oil). I don’t mean to endorse any particular swimsuit (although I really like my new briefs). And I am not reviewing and giving marks to newly developed pieces of equipment (I already give marks as job, and that’s enough). So if you were waiting for a secret weapon, this post is not for you.  But if you want to realize what you can do to improve, then keep on reading.

The two most universal training principles (for me)

When I plan my workouts, or consider to buy gears or equipment for the pool or the weight room (which is actually my living room), I always try to stick to two basic principles. This is because I realized that actually work.

Principle 1. Stick to the basics and keep it easy. My father often told me “don’t turn easy stuff into complex staff by using unuseful stuff”, which I often translate as “why would you connect two points with a curved line when you can draw a straight one?”. When you  complicate things too much you progressively find yourself inside the process of complicating nothing but the process itself, until you get completely distracted from your goals. The process is important until it helps you reaching your goal, but if the process becomes the goal then you are doing something wrong. You can try to devise a highly sophisticated undulated periodization training scheme, but I suggest you to experience first the amazing results you can get from the old, plain and simple linear periodization. Build your aerobic threshold and work on technique, build your anaerobic threshold, build your speed, build your strength in the meanwhile, add volume little by little and slow down before an important meet. If you never tried this, give it a shoot. On a first instance, I believe that nothing (no device, no supplement, no swimsuit, no equipment) will boost your performance as much as a simple, linear and well planned training program. You have the permit of thinking about more complex stuff at the elite level.

Principle 2. To be good at something, you must do it. Again and again. I think that everybody agrees on the fact that if you want to learn swimming, you must get wet. No shortcuts. If you want to swim faster, you can try all the dryland strength training routine that your mind can devise, but if you don’t spend your good time in the lane, no magic will ever happen. Everything can help, but nothing can substitute thousands of actual strokes. I know that it’s nice to have some equipment to help you with buoyancy, pull, strength, breathing, technique or whatever else; me too I like gadgets and trying new things. But remember that swimming is an ongoing discussion between your body and the water. Nothing is allowed to interfere. Thus, if you want to be good at swimming “raw” you have to swim raw. I always read that if you want to get strong, you must lift. I remember that my overhead press was under the par, less than half my bodyweight, with a regular barbell, from the rack. Then I started doing overhead presses and handstand push up three times a week. Guess what happened? Now I can strict press almost my bodyweight with a thick bar, after cleaning it from the floor. Easy. So you want to swim faster? First thing to do: show up more often at the pool.

In my opinion, summarising these two principles, simplicity and practice is what gives you a real edge, on a first instance. In the second part of this post I review how these two principles apply to widely used swimming equipment.

(go to part 2)

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