I would like to make an argument for setting technique as a priority in your training. It’s a common theme in my blog. In other sports this would not be necessary, but for some reason swimming is dominated by people who think power is everything. I see signs of this misguided mindset constantly.
It is the secret of the elites, however, who are actually accomplishing their best, that technique is everything. It is not absolute power that wins swim race, but precisely applied power.
Previously, I have referred to [a study] comparing the power output of the Olympic 200 meter freestyle preliminary swimmers and finalists. The study surprisingly found that the finalists- those who were making it to the final round, and winning (including those setting world records) were using an average of 16% LESS POWER output than those who did not make it to the final round. In other words, the fastest swimmers use less power than the slower ones.
This result has spawned a few theories for this phenomenon. The obvious insight is that the best swimmers don’t need as much power to get the job done.
Doesn’t that sound appealing? How would you like to swim faster than ever with less force? Or swim just as fast with more energy to spare for your bike and your run?
I can only imagine this discrepancy between The Best Swimmer and The Common Swimmer is magnified in the lower ranks of competitive swimming and coaching. The great swimmers are thought to be great because of how ‘strong’ they are, while the slower ones try to emulate the grueling workouts. There are too many stories of dedicated swimmers, working as hard as their champion teammates, yet not making progress in proportion to their effort.
More and more studies, and even the admissions of the elite athletes themselves, point us to the fact that reaching your best potential, though giving it absolute best effort, depends more on giving it the most intelligent effort. Have you ever noticed how readily you can find samples of swimmer’s (or tough-minded coach’s) tough workouts, but so few technique-oriented ones? Perhaps, either they don’t know how to train that way, or they keep the most valuable secrets to themselves.
Train Smarter, Not Harder is the TI motto we use to set ourselves on the right path.
Power does not lead to Precision, but Precision leads to Power. Train for Precision first and foremost and you get both.
But don’t get the wrong idea- training for Precision is difficult, perhaps even more difficult for the swimmer (and certainly for the coach) than training for Power. A technique-oriented swimmer has to focus more intensely to make progress, and the coach has to keep a fine eye on every metric (and know how to use them). This may be a reason why Power-oriented training is more seductive- paradoxically, it is ‘easier’ on the brain to train for Power than to train for Precision.
Patiently training your body to hold perfect Balance and Streamline position will pay off.
In the next essay I will explain more about a Technique-oriented training strategy.