Learning How to Swim Faster….Again.

Triathlon swimming is tricky.  I think it’s God’s way of leveling the playing field so that the strong cyclist or runner won’t totally dominate any given race. If you recall, last year I started my 2nd Ironman journey after about 5-6 years of really no triathlons of any kind.  I went back to the basics using the Total Immersion(TI) techniques I had used some 10 years earlier.  Oddly, after about 1 month, I felt like I was back up to speed, and really just needed to continue with drills and conditioning throughout the year.  My swim split from IMFL2010(1:05) vs. IMFL2000(1:09) was 4:20 faster than the first time. So these are all positives, except that I feel like I can go faster.  I plateau’d probably 4-5 months out from IMFL and just kind of maintained swim fitness.

I’m a big believer that swimming is ALL about technique.  I’m also a big believer that there is more than one way to swim fast.  So this year I sought out some further swim instruction from folks that can swim fast.  I went to the Triangle Aquatic Center(TAC) in Raleigh(since this is where all the organized swimming takes place) hoping to find a swim coach.  I asked around, and they pretty much all said, "Talk to Marty Gaal". Marty and his wife Brianne run One Step Beyond Multisport Coaching.

So that’s what I did.  I met Marty back in November at the pool so he could video me in my current swim state, and hopefully get some critical feedback so I could work on some things over the winter.  During my swim session with Marty, I realized that his approach is totally different from that of TI.  TI seems to focus on body position, hip rotation, and keeping your arms in the front quadrant.  Marty’s instruction(at least for me) focused on using the "high elbow catch" swim technique in addition to the previously mentioned focus areas. 

  • Important to note here that Marty swam(2.4 miles) in sub 52 min at IMAZ and 55 min at Kona(no wetsuits); so he knows his stuff.

Check out the video below.  This took place prior to Marty’s instruction:


So, I took all of the above pointers and critiques and worked on “high elbow catch” drills for the next 2+ months. 

Check out the video below.  This took place after Marty’s instruction:


If you’re a beginner swimmer, I think TI works really well and will get you through just about any swim.  However, if you’re looking to improve your swim split, eventually you’re going to get to the point where you need to be pulling more with your arms and back Lat muscles, and not just gliding through.  Everything is not without it’s price though.  When you pull with your arms and back using the “high elbow catch” it “costs” more. The more I practice the technique, the more normal it feels, and the less taxing it becomes.  Since November, my 25yd splits are 3-5 seconds faster, so these seconds really start to add up over the course of a longer race.  The goal is to be as fast/efficient as possible in the water without overexerting yourself for the bigger race.

Whatever you do, don’t blindly try and do everything by yourself.  The importance of having someone film you (above and below water) while swimming is huge.  You’ll see things in your swim stroke that you would never notice while swimming alone.  Marty does a really good job of breaking this down into manageable pieces so you can make needed adjustments.

Happy Swimming….Thanks for Reading!

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4 Responses to Learning How to Swim Faster….Again.

  1. scott says:

    Very nice… thanks. I have done 4 70.3’s, now training my first IM. I already bought resistance bands to teach/train the early vertical forearm. I just saw the TI video for the first time, and your opinions seem exactly right. TI seems great for energy conservation, and is a nice technique for the long swim, but wont make you faster…

    One thought I have is that swimmers in triathlon dont want to kick too hard to save their legs, but IMHO the type of muscles used are different between swim and bike/run (they come more from the hip, ie the flutter kick). It seems triathletes ought to be kicking harder as well and training that…

    Thank you for the website… watching your videos and the before and after is VERY HELPFUL for me!

  2. Pingback: Jordan Lake OWS Race Report | Jeff Greene

  3. Hi Peter, I found this post googleing for some swim stuff to see what folks are writing about. I see you learned with TI and then focused on additional measures. I just thought I’d share this video of an Army guy that I worked with using Total Immersion techniques that DID focus on the catch…Sam set a PR of 1:17 the next session in the pool after this lesson. I share it here so that you (and your readers) might pick up a few tips so I hope you can publish it!


    It’s not that TI can’t help you swim faster, it’s just the the current self-coaching materials make it difficult. A good TI instructor can help you get as fast as you want or need to be!

  4. Jeff says:

    I like that. Thanks for sharing the great video analysis!


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