Change Is Good
Photography by: Ian Logan
In the pool, two of the most tried-and-true workouts are swimming for one mile or 30 minutes nonstop. Back and forth, back and forth, lap after lap. While this is good heart-pumping stuff, it doesn't really make you a better or faster swimmer. Plus, your body adapts fairly quickly so the workout becomes less challenging.
If that's your style, you need to change things up. Devise a plan before you get wet, suggests Rachel Komisarz, an Olympic swim- mer, personal trainer, and swim coach in Louisville, Ky. "Don't confuse improvising with slacking off when you're tired--you need to go into a workout with a plan and stick to it." Komisarz recommends interval sets, such as swimming 100 yards (four lengths) in two minutes, five times in a row. "Even if you're just a beginner, you can push yourself."
You can also work on form and technique. Doing swimming drills allows you to hone a specific part of your stroke. "Drills are the fastest way to change any pattern and swim more efficiently," explains Terry Laughlin, head coach of Total Immersion Swimming. (For examples of drills, check out Laughlin's DVD, Freestyle: Made Easy, at www.totalimmersion.net.)
Also consider varying your stroke every so often: Backstroke, breaststroke, even a lap or two of butterfly can break up the monotony of staring down at your lane's black line. Using equipment can do the same thing. Swim with a Styrofoam pull buoy between your legs to work your upper body more or grab a kickboard to isolate your legs, suggests Komisarz. "These are good ways to get a little more strength in those areas and get more power when using your whole body." You can also try kicking without a board, says Laughlin.
If you're feeling adventurous, leave the pool behind and try the open water. Swimming in a lake or ocean can be a liberating experience, free from flip turns and defined distances. From June to September, Laughlin swims almost exclusively in a lake. He finds the change of environs is invigorating: For the last five years, he's returned to the pool in the fall a faster swimmer. "I can achieve a more subtle awareness of the water when I'm not counting laps, racing a person in the next lane, or looking at a clock. By removing inessential things, I get in better touch with the water."