Swimming, Swimming, and more Swimming


February 27, 2013 by IowaTriBob

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve kept a pretty busy schedule at work, home, and on the training calendar.  One of the focuses I continue to have at the top of my list is becoming a better swimmer.  Not as much for the triathlon time improvements (I realize cutting my 100 time by 10 seconds doesn’t cut that much time overall in a sprint distance race) but more as a personal goal.

So I’ve done 5 things with some solid success in a short period of time.  These 5 things include:

1. Committing to a regular schedule with the local Masters Swim group

2. Purchasing the Total Immersion book and DVD’s

3. Learning a new swim drill – sculling

4. Purchasing a Finis Swim Snorkel

5. Focusing on my glide and counting strokes per lap

Masters Swim Group

If you have an opportunity to join a Masters group in your area, this should be at the top of your list.  I’m fortunate enough to have one here in Cedar Rapids, IA, (Milky Way Masters) and even more fortunate that the group is large enough to hold practices both in the morning and evening to accommodate almost any schedule.  There are swimmers of all levels from beginner to seasoned competitors so you feel at home regardless of your current swim level.

Total Immersion (TI) Swimming

After reading tons about this book and technique as well as hearing numerous recommendations, I broke down and purchased the book/DVD combo and added a TI swim drill DVD on top.  The purchase was less than $100 and after first read and watching the DVD’s I have to say I was less than impressed.  The DVD’s aren’t professionally made and just really didn’t excite me to continue with the TI experience much further.

However, after thinking through the concepts outlined and hearing them reinforced by the local Masters coach’s, I found myself continuing to go back time and again to review sections of the book and DVD’s.  Overall I think they have a place as a training tool, but I would find it hard to use these as my only source of swim instruction.


Sculling was a completely new drill introduced to me during one of the Masters swim workouts.  Its purpose is to create a better feel for the water during the pull.  The following link does a good job of explaining sculling as well as providing a short video on a mid scull technique.


In our drills we did sculling with our hands stretched out in front of us, then again with our hands straight out (as shown in the video) and finally with our hands behind us at our finish.  Each position gives you a great feel and in my case, a much improved pull from start to finish.

Finis Swim Snorkel

finis swim snorkelOne of the things I quickly realized with sculling is that I tired quickly and had to continue to breathe which made it that much harder to ingrain the feeling into memory.  Enter the Finis Swim Snorkel.  This is a center mount snorkel that came highly recommended on Amazon.com.

A couple of quick lessons learned – breathing with a snorkel is much harder than you would think it should be, invest in a nose plug so water doesn’t come rushing in when you breath in, and don’t panic if a little water gets down the snorkel as that only invites a lot more to come.

With those quick lessons and getting over the fear of looking like a complete dork in the pool, the Finis Swim Snorkel is another great training tool that I’ve now used in my sculling drills, my kick drills, and even in some practice of the Total Immersion drills.

Focusing on my glide and counting strokes per lap

I never really paid much attention to counting strokes per lap until my coach recommended that I try a swim golf game.


The concept is to experiment with stroke count and pace to help you maximize your efficiency and increase your overall pace in the water.  I instantly realized that my current stroke count per 25 meters (19-20) was too high and inefficient, creating more drag, and making improvements in speed that much harder.   When I focused on the learning’s from sculling, the form from Total Immersion, and the lessons from the Masters group, I’ve been able to reduce my stroke count per 25 meters to 15-16 (14 if I really get a good streamline off the walls) and my 100 time has dropped from an average 2:00 min/100 pace to 1:45 min/100 pace.

The biggest improvements with these 5 focuses have been a solid feel for the water during my pull, being able to complete my pull all the way through and rotating my hips to match my shoulders during each stroke creating a smoother glide in the water.  All helping me become a much more efficient and faster swimmer.  And if those didn’t help, maybe it was just the mere fact of swimming, swimming, and more swimming.

12 thoughts on “Swimming, Swimming, and more Swimming

  1. tootallfritz says:

    Great on the stroke count. Mine was high, like 25-27ish. :( I need major improvements.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thank you and now I just have to build up some endurance :-)… You’d be amazed at how much easier swimming is when you can get that down around (or below) the 20 mark!

  2. elisariva says:

    Outstanding improvement on your swim!!!

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thank you and it has been rather shocking for me as the improvement came about pretty fast with just a few changes in swim technique. It wasn’t because of increased fitness level but how to become more efficient with less drag.

  3. Great post – my swim coach was just having us count our strokes last practice! I found my first 25m of 100m to be 20-ish strokes then realized it went higher as the 100m went on, oops! Guess I have some work to do. I feel similar about TI; some of the info is good, but only to a certain point. You might check out http://www.swimsmooth.com if you haven’t already, it’s a good resource too.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thanks for sharing the site. I’ll definitely take a look through it. I still do exactly the same thing on my count as well. In our main sets last night I would start in the 15-16 range and past the 50-100 mark I would notice my stroke count was upping into the 17-19 range. When I asked the on deck coach why and asked him to watch he said it was because I was getting tired and trying to go faster by starting the pull too soon before I had finished the last one all the way (which in fact was slowing my down and making me work that much harder).

  4. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. After our warm up and before our main set, our coach always has us count our strokes. For 25, I usually get in the 17-19 ballpark, but I can’t seem to go sub-17. One day!

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Catchy tune isn’t it… For me it was all about rotating my hips (felt very unnatural at first) as well as finishing my pull all the way and gliding before starting my next stroke. My tendency is to stay flat in the water and start my pull to early because I don’t properly finish the previous one. I was absolutely amazed at the drop in stroke count when I was able to fix those…

  5. David says:

    Good post. I’m glad to hear someone else is doing 2:00/100 yards!

    I signed up for Swim Smooth’s “Mr. Smooth” simulator – it’s free – and now get weekly email tips. This link is to a post about stroke counts, and Ian Thorp’s stroke rate. Made me start looking at my count.

    Read more: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2013/02/75-reasons-ian-thorpe-was-great-swimmer.html

    I’m also working on getting accurate times for my 200 and 400 after reading this tip on what they call Critical Swim Speed. It’s an approximation of your lactate threshold speed.

    Read more: http://www.swimsmooth.com/training.html#ixzz2MD70MsL0

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Great article and info on Thorp’s stroke rate. Converting his numbers to a 25 meter pool and he averages 12 strokes – WOW. His race pace is 15-16 at a fast tempo! I guess it also helps to be 6’5″ vs. 5’11” (and that’s with a good thick soled shoe on). The TI material advocates something very similar in that once you can feel the glide (reduced drag) the next step is to play with your swim tempo without loosing the same feeling and form to help further increase your speed.

  6. Chatter says:

    Sounds like things are coming along for you. I guess I am one of the few people to benefit directly from the TI books/dvd, lol. I retaught myself how to swim the total immersion way by mostly book and a little by the videos, never really had a hard time. I also have a habit of watching everyone else in the pool and try to check myself on what they are doing right and wrong. I got up to a mile using this program: http://ruthkazez.com/ZeroTo1mile.html. Worked really well to build up the endurance. Keep it up and you will get there.

  7. You can scull on your back too. Try it feet first one of these days~

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