There are three basic tips to improve swimming that every beginner swimmer will hear, read, and learn: join a group, work on technique, and swim a lot. But what does that actually mean in practice? And how do you put those tips into action to see results? THEMAGIC5’s Laura Siddall might be a professional triathlete now but her swim story only started at the age of 29. Now, after a decade of experience, Siddall is swimming alongside the world’s best long distance triathletes. At the recent Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, she had a career best swim and finished 10th overall. Siddall knows what it’s like to swim with the best and walk into a pool as an adult beginner so she knows first hand the standard swimming tips and tricks for beginners only go so far. Siddall clarifies the classic beginner tips—from technique to mileage— and explains how she put them into useful action and saw results.
1. Join the Right Group
For anyone who wants to get started or get faster, one of the most common suggestions is to join a swimming group. When it comes to joining a group, Siddall confirms it is a great way for beginners to meet other swimmers and learn, not just the strokes, but how to go about practicing. Anyone looking to improve their speed will also benefit from chasing other swimmers. However, Siddall says it’s about joining the right group. “If you’re a swimmer, find a swimming group; if you’re a triathlete, find a triathlon swimming group; if you’re an open water swimmer, find an open water swimming group,” she says. Joining the right group is more likely to put you in a group where people have “similar abilities and goals” and that will make a positive difference, not just on your stroke but on your level of enjoyment and motivation.
2. Focus on Technique—But Measure Progress on Efficiency
Beginners (and even experienced swimmers) are repeatedly told to work on technique and, Siddall agrees, it is a fundamental part of swimming because “it is such a technique-based sport.” However, with limited time and the often slow pace and progress of technique changes, Siddall says it is always hard to choose drills over speed work and mileage. “There are different arguments in swimming and one is just ‘don’t worry about technique just practice, practice, practice,’ and, yeah you will get a level of fitness,” Siddall says from experience. “I can train the house down and I’m strong and powerful but that doesn’t make me the best swimmer. In other sports that might make you the best but it doesn’t in swimming. It’s how you’re using that strength in power.” Siddall says you might not initially see the payoff in speed or time goals, but holding the same speed might feel easier because you’re more efficient and that shouldn’t be underestimated. As Siddall says: “Hard work doesn’t always pay off but intentional practice does.”
Sid Says: Use the warm up to really focus on swim technique.“If everyone is going past me in the warm up, that’s fine. Have the confidence to focus and set up your stroke for the rest of the session.”
3. Get a Swim Analysis — But From a Coach that Speaks Your Language
Even if you decide to focus on technique, making changes on your own can be extremely difficult. It is commonly accepted that the best and fastest way to improve technique is to have a video swim analysis or to have in-person coaching. But putting a swim analysis into practice or translating what a coach says into actual improvements isn’t as simple as it sounds. Siddall says she spent years doing the standard swimming drills and even worked with several coaches but it wasn’t until she met one coach in particular that things really clicked. “The main thing for me was getting someone to explain it in the terms that made sense to me. I had a few people help and previous coaches who had said stuff, but because I didn’t come from lessons
or a background in swimming, it didn’t really make sense to me,” she says. When she finally found a coach that “spoke her language”—using key words that resonated to her personally— that she was finally able to translate feedback into positive stroke changes.
4. Swim A Lot...More Often
Swimming a lot is part of the tradition of swimming. The rigorous training of swim clubs and professionals has made mileage something every beginner swimmer looks to target. Siddall says, however, it isn't necessarily about volume and kilometers in the pool. “It’s more consistency,” she explains. “Staying in the water to keep ‘the feel’ that everyone talks about.” While “feel for the water” is elusive, habit and routine exposure is something more concrete, she explains. “As a beginner, going in the water more often is better because it just keeps your body used to it,” Siddall explains. “Shorter swims more often can be better than two big chunky five kilometer swims.”