If you are like 90% of the people I coach, or have ever swam with, you will answer that you have exactly one speed. Except a woman I swam with in High School. She claimed to have 2 speeds: Slow and Stop. I’m here to tell you that you DO have more than one speed AND it’s also really important to work on developing different speeds.
Let’s say that you were running a marathon and the only rule you had to follow was that you could NOT stop – At all. I bet you would find different speeds at which to run. You might have your ‘race pace’ and you might have your recovery jog. You might even walk. Most likely you would do interval training before this race so that you could maintain some form or running the entire time to abide by the race rules.
Translate that to swimming, particularly open water swimming. There is no stopping during an open water swim except, perhaps at a kayak or lifeguard’s surf board. Most of the time you must rely on your swimming skills alone to get you from point A to point B. And often times in a race setting, we start off too fast. We’re excited or anxious, or both! And then we need to slow down, calm down and get into a pace we can maintain. That right there, is 3 different speeds: Fast, recover, maintain.
With that in mind, consider starting with adding a slower speed than what you have been typically swimming. Make your current speed your ‘fast’ and add another speed that is ‘easy’. And another stroke like breaststroke can count as your easy stroke. It doesn’t have to be only freestyle.
And now that you have 2 speeds, you can do speed work. Try pushing your fast even faster for short bursts knowing you can easily go back to your ‘easy’ speed whenever you need to. Over time, you will develop 3 speeds. Your original ‘fast’ speed will become your ‘cruise’ speed as you develop an even faster stroke. So now, you swim at cruise speed, push yourself to your fast speed with speed intervals and still have your go-to ‘easy’ speed for recovery. As with running, as you push yourself with speed work, your cruise speed will automatically get faster. And isn’t that what we all want – for our comfortable swim pace to get faster?
I had the privilege of assisting a swim clinic with the legendary Dick Schoulberg a few years ago. At this clinic, he told the swimmers the only thing that swimming ‘slow and steady’ all the time will help you do is swim slow and steady. If you want to go faster, you need to practice going faster.
To help you in your efforts to diversify your swim speeds and practice going faster, try this Active Recovery swim workout. There are 3 different yardage versions so you can choose the one that matches your current swim distance. Challenge yourself to try swimming different speeds in at least one of your swim workouts each week. Like all endeavors, it might take some time to become proficient but the gains will be worth it!