Layering as a method of swimming improvement
One of the first questions I am asked by new swimmers is ‘what is wrong with my technique’. As a swim coach the technical floors of beginner and intermediate swimmers are clear and glaring however to fix these issues becomes a long process. I have come to call the system we use for swimming progression as layering.
From a macro viewpoint there are only two things to improved in any swimmer:
- The engine
- The technique
If we choose to improve the cardio/ engine in isolation of any technique a swimmer will not develop efficiencies and feel for the water. Simply they will be able to go slow, for a very long time. Conversely, if we exclusively work on the technical issues of swimmers, they will always struggle to have the strength to execute technique changes or make them in the first place, lack the dexterity and body awareness to control the fine movements and will not improve overall oxygen carrying capacity, or the recovery post session, necessary to improve.
So layering is a process that happens both within sessions, weeks and also or phases of our athletes year.
How it works is that athletes primarily need to put a quality amount of initial work in. On average we have two sessions a week, both of which are over 3km long, and I feel this is an absolute minimum to form a swimming foundation. Ideally, base improvement will require 12-20km per week of quality swimming. By focusing first on the base athletes will:
- Gain confidence they can do the distance and keep up with the squad
- Over time develop better feel for the water and their body position in the water. Due to this they will start to feel what is going right and wrong
Ideally with miles in the water of the correct sessions, an athlete will develop both the ability to have power through the back of the stroke and relaxation through the recovery
With a strong foundation set, the focus then moves to technique work. An ideal time for this could be in the off season (not all sessions) or simply changing one of the three sessions per week to be totally technique focused. The goal of technique work can be twofold:
- To zone in and work on a specific issue
- Simply to increase a swimmers body awareness by working on a wide range of drills
Sometimes the focus does not have to simply be on ‘fixing that main issue’ the drill could be simply increasing overall awareness.
Drills also can be used for developing other aspects of your stroke:
- Strength development - ‘long dog’, head up swimming, swimming with a band or elastics
- Feel development - all of the very slow skulling drills, doing other strokes like butterfly, breastroke and backstroke which will impact your freestyle, and working on key body positioning in the water
The key to remember is, although swimming is a highly technical sport, without doing huge amounts of work, creating layer upon layer as a foundation, you will continually find it hard to integrate technique work into your race day swimming.
Give yourself time. This is a many year process. Focus on the big wins and simply get in the pool and swim more!