In an earlier thread about how to improve a 100 yd Free from 56 to 52, there
were a number of well-intentioned responses most of which boiled down to
suggesting that the answer is to
1. Work harder.
2. Get stronger.
Scott Lemley was the only respondent who recommended focus on stroke
I'd like to suggest consideration of a different method for maximizing sprint
speed. For more detail on the sprint program I'm about to describe, please
visit the Total Immersion website at http://totalimmersion.swim.com to read my
complete article on how Alexandre Popov managed to become the world's fastest
and most efficient human swimmer. (This article will be published in the
April/May issue of Fitness Swimmer with some wonderfully vivid photo's). The
basic thrust of his program is that stroke efficiency not training speed,
hard work or power is the #1 goal of nearly everything he does and that speed
is a product of that. In fact, his weight lifting program is rather modest,
particularly in comparison to many US collegiate swimmers who he basically
beats at will in 100m races. He swims much faster despite a power output
estimated by sports scientists to be from 25% to 40% lower than most of those
he races. (Similarly Rick Sharp and Jane Cappaert of ICAR have reported that of
all the men's 100m freestylers in the 92 Olympics, the finalists averaged a
power output 16% LOWER than everyone else in the field who FAILED to make
finals.) The point is, his training in stroke efficiency has been so effective
that he doesn't NEED much power to swim fast.
Popov and Touretsky have devised a program that focuses on the following core
1. Popov's workouts place primary emphasis, not on how MUCH or how HARD, but
how RIGHT. The emphasis on technical perfection and stroke length was
all-encompassing. Where most other swimmers engage in a daily race with the
clock to prove their speed and fitness, the rule with Popov is "if you can't do
it exactly right, don't do it at all." His training VOLUME is dictated by how
FAR he can swim while meeting rigorous standards for technical excellence and
his training SPEEDS by how FAST he can swim while meeting those standards.
During ihs developmental period prior to becoming world class, mileage and
intensity were increased only as Alex demonstrated the ability to maintain his
stroke length and efficiency while swimming farther or faster.
2. Two of Touretsky's principles for fast swimming stroke length and
relaxation are immediately useful to swimmers of all levels and can be
practiced even without the aid of a coach. While Popov now makes them look
effortless, it took him years of consistent and disciplined application to make
Here are five suggestions for using the Popov model to improve your own
1. Swim slowly. Conventional sprint training doctrine dictates large doses of
fast, intensive repeats to simulate the lung-searing, chest-pounding experience
of top-speed racing. Touretski and Popov put little stock in it. Coach Bill
Sweetenham, the swimming development director for Australian Swimming, told me
that Popov "does a huge proportion of his training at [what are for him] very
slow speeds. And he does very little hard' swimming."
Be willing to spend far more of your pool time swimming slowly and with more
ease. And while swimming slowly, here are the things you'll find yourself much
more able to practice:
2. Stroke length and efficiency. Popov prepares for his world-record attempts
with practice repeats on which he takes up to 10 fewer strokes (for 50 meters)
than he will use while racing. He does a huge amount of his training volume,
taking only 23-24 strokes (hand hits) per 50 meter pool length. He practices
doing that at a whole variety of speeds. you can practice "stroke deprivation"
yourself. Challenge yourself to swim for several weeks
3. Slippery Swimming. Bill Sweetenham noted watching Popov swim for hours doing
little more than tuning in acutely to feelings of where and how the water was
resisting him and creatively seeking ways to avoid that drag. Since drag
increases exponentially as you swim faster, if you can establish a very
low-drag style at lower speeds, the energy savings also increase exponentially
as you swim faster.
4. Be "Water-Friendly". Whenever you do speed upfrom your concentrated
slow-swimming practice, be very sensitive to when you begin fighting the water
or yourself. Avoid, at all costs, ever "practicing" struggle. Swim at all
speeds with as much economy as possible.
5. Practice "fishlike swimming." In watching Popov's commercial video of him
swimming at both race and practice speeds two things are apparent in his style,
both of which contribute greatly to his stroke efficiency and economy.
Hide your head. Popov carries his head MUCH lower than you do. To swim as he
does, look at the bottom, not forward, as you swim. When you get it right,
you'll feel as if the water is just about to flow over the back of your head.
Ask a friend to watch as you swim. Ask them to let you know when only a sliver
of the back of your head is showing. Then remember how that head position
Lengthen your body. Popov extends his hand MUCH longer than you do before he
begins stroking. As you swim, feel as if the most important thing you do with
your hand is lengthen your body line, not using it as a paddle to push you
In addition to teaching these habits at Total Immersion workshops on weekends,
during the past 2 seasons, I've also applied these principles to coaching the
sprint group (10 men and 5 women) at the US Military Academy - West Point.
While I coach them only 2 to 3 times a week, they have had a dramatic impact on
the performance of this group. Our weight program is a very moderate program (1
set of 15-18 reps at each station twice a week) focused far more on balance,
proprioception and strict form than on how much weight is lifted. The object is
to train the whole body as a working system with no particular focus on "major
muscle groups for swimming." We do very little "hard" swimming. We do no
"lactate tolerance" sets (in fact we never train "energy systems" ALL of our
work is geared to biomechanical excellence energy system training "occurs",
but it is never the object of our set design). We NEVER use a kickboard or buoy
or paddles. We DO use Fistgloves and Speedo Stroke Monitors and Slim Fins
(almost exclusively for underwater work). We focus on strict form and great
stroke length at a variety of speeds. And the swimmers have emphatic
instructions never to go so fast that they feel themselves losing control or
Anyway that's my two cents.
Total Immersion Swimming
Army Men's & Women's Swimming