If you’re an experienced swimmer and have ever given advice to a beginner, chances are you stressed the importance of stroke mechanics. And you would have been right. But if you spent the winter avoiding the swimming pool, you should consider yourself a swim beginner all over again and heed your own advice. Restarting by plowing through hard workouts will reinforce bad stroke habits that can haunt you all year. Masters swim and USAT-certified coach Tim Edwards recommends spending at least the first month back in the pool relearning good habits to set yourself up for a successful season.
Knocking out a 3,000-yard set with good technique may be doable mid-season, but you aren’t there yet. Your stroke will fall apart once fatigue sets in. “Start out with 1,000–1,600 yards and then build from there until hitting the volume you were used to in the previous year,” Edwards recommends. “If your form collapses and doesn’t return with a good rest period, the workout should come to an end.” Integrate non-freestyle strokes into your workout to get an aerobic workout without exhausting your freestyle muscles.
Use training aids—for specific purposes.
Put on a pair of short fins such as Finis Zoomers for drill sets. The additional propulsion will let you focus on the drill instead of moving across the pool. Always do part of your drill set without fins to keep from becoming dependent on the additional boost.
Swim with a snorkel to focus on rotation.
“Snorkels should be used to isolate the body roll and take the breathing out of the equation,” Edwards advises. “Using a snorkel allows you to keep form and focus on rotation and proper pull.”
Forget these pool-deck favorites.
Save the paddles until you’ve regained your stroke. “They should be used as a form of strength training,” Edwards says, not to get a feel for the water or boost speed. Plus, adding resistance before the stabilizer muscles in the shoulders have regained their strength can lead to injury. Kickboards are also better for building fitness than relearning your stroke. Edwards suggests doing kick sets on your back to refine your streamline position.
Do drills, drills and more drills.
As a reborn beginner, you need to relearn the fundamentals of a sound freestyle stroke. Do the Catch-up Drill (glide for a beat with both hands outstretched between strokes) to get feedback about hand position while streamlining. “If you hit your forearm with the recovering hand, you are crossing over,” Edwards says.
To rebuild a tight, powerful kick, wear short fins for several 20- to 30-second sets of high-cadence kicking. “If you’re kicking slowly, that means your amplitude is probably too high,” Edwards says.
Put on a pair of fins to do the Fist Drill. Swimming with a clenched fist reinforces a strong catch by quickly getting the forearm into a vertical position. This will translate to more power with an open hand.
Finis Freestyle Snorkel
Aaron Hersh and Jené Shaw contributed to this article.