Improving performance in swimming: Technology and learning strategies
Rod Havriluk, Ph.D.
Swimming World, 2008, 49(3), 37-38.
Improving technique is vital to swimming faster. In fact, some coaches have found that a comprehensive program of instruction and analysis can substantially improve technique and performance. For example, the subjects in a recent study improved their technique more in one week than swimmers typically improve over a two-year span. The technique improvement, in turn, produced a significant increase in swimming speed (Havriluk, 2006).
The swimmers in the study made rapid technique changes because the technology and learning strategies most suited their advanced skill level. As one might expect, progressive coaches routinely implement technology appropriate to swimmers’ skill level (basic, intermediate, or advanced). After classifying the skills of a training group, a coach instructs and analyzes using technology critical for continued technique improvement.
With the speeds that swimmers have already achieved, it’s exciting to think about the potential when teams regularly use:
• classroom presentations of an optimal biomechanical model of technique;
• a system of visual and kinesthetic cues that complement the model;
• synchronized underwater video and force analysis;
• short swims at a slow speed with limited breathing;
• drills that isolate key technique elements; and
• reminders before a swim and feedback immediately after.
An evaluation of swimmers’ skill level (basic, intermediate, or advanced) makes the appropriate technology more evident. Complementary strategies expedite the learning process.
More time spent on technique means less training distance. However, this also means fewer repetitions of a less effective technique that would strengthen those less effective habits. Repetitions of effective technique will make changes become permanent sooner, resulting in faster swims.
A thorough emphasis on technique has benefits in addition to improving performance. A comprehensive program of instruction and analysis adds variety to the training environment, reduces the chance of injury, and puts a focus on one of the key reasons that swimmers join a team and continue to stay involved – learning skills. Although many teams include components of technique instruction and analysis, maximum performance gains will result from full use of technology and a variety of learning strategies.