7 Workouts Mistakes Causing You To Plateau In Your Swim Speed

There’s seven common workout mistakes that cause you to plateau in your speed and stop improving. Let’s look at what you can do to avoid them and to continue getting fitter and faster.


Hi, Brenton here. In today’s video, I want to share some common workout mistakes that people will make that cause them to plateau in their swimming. If you are currently plateauing and you’re not sure why, yeah, it can be technique, but it can also be the type of things that you’re doing in your workouts. Let’s take a look at them.

The first one is swimming continuously, every single session without any intervals, without breaking down your session into smaller components. If you’re doing two K straight every single swim and there’s no change in speed, there’s no change in time or pace, then you’re really limiting your ability to swim faster and also improve your technique. What we would normally recommend is if you want to keep it simple, warm up, main set, cool down. Now in your warm up, the structure that we normally like to have is just some easy swimming just to get the blood flowing, and then with a lot of our swimmers who have come to clinics and follow our drills and our progression in the video membership, is that’s typically when you’ll do some drill swim work. After people come to a clinic, what we often recommend is do 300, 400 meters of some drill swim work in your warmup, work on those things that you’re trying to change in your stroke, and then that’ll set you up really well for the main set.

When you warm up, some easy swimming, some technique work can be very good, and you can also do a little bit of speed work and pace work to get the heart rate up. You know when you jump in the water in the first time you put in a bit of effort, you feel pretty exhausted and you’re tired, but after that, you generally don’t feel it as much? You want to make sure that you’re doing that first part where your heart rate comes up and you feel a little bit exhausted. Get that in the warmup, so for the main set, you can just get into it. We normally like to follow that sort of structure, which is easy swimming, some techniques, some skill drill work, and maybe some pace work to get the heart rate up and the body ready for the main set.

Then in the main set, it’s good to do a couple of things. I like to make sure that obviously depending on the session but do some speed variance work. If your whole set is at one single speed, it’s fine for aerobic training, you want to keep it there for aerobic training, but two, three swims a week you need to be doing some speed variance work. Now, a simple example of that is let’s say you did 12 one hundreds and all of those are at the same pace. That’s fine for an aerobics set, but if you want to have the ability to change speed, have different gears and know what effort you need to put in to swim at a certain pace, then that speed variance work is really key. Those 12 one hundreds you could do instead as building one to three, which would mean one’s easy, two’s medium, three is fast. The third, sixth, ninth and 12th one hundreds would be the fast ones there.

Now the first time you do it, if you’re not used to doing this kind of stuff, the first time you’ll do it, you’ll probably find that you go too hard on the first one and your speed might even actually drop off as you go through it. The goal is obviously to get faster as you go from one to three, but that can take a little bit of practice. Make sure you start the first one really comfortably. The second one, go a little bit quicker, and the third one you might need to put in a bit of effort there. Just check your pace as you’re going through it so you actually know whether you’re getting faster or not, but it can take a little bit of time, at least a number of weeks to develop that ability to change paces and to know how much effort you need to put in to swim faster.

But with that sort of speed variance work, when it comes to race time, you should have a pretty good sense of how hard you’re going and what pace you’re going. With the top swimmers, they can pretty much just swim a 200 or 400 even a K, and know roughly within at least a couple of seconds where they’re at with their pace, because they’re just so used to it and they know how it feels compared to what pace they’re doing. You want to be able to develop that as a skill over the coming months and over the coming years. Doing any sort of speed variance work is really key to that.

The other mistakes that I see people making is doing no top end speed work, so no sprinting at all. Now, a part of your training, even if it’s one session a week, you want to be doing some sort of short sharp swimming in there, at full speed. That can be some twenty-fives, that can be some fifties, where you are really going for it and you’re trying to hit top speed. One of the reasons for that is your threshold pace is a percentage of your top end speed. Let’s say your best 50 is 60 seconds. Over the next couple of weeks, if you can get that down to 50 seconds, then that will mean that your threshold pace, your aerobic pace, will be much less a percentage of your top end speed than what it was before, and that will help you actually bring down your aerobics or your threshold speed there.

It’s good at least once a week, but it doesn’t take a lot, just doing one or two sets where you’re working on that top end speed. It could be something like eight twenty-fives with 30 seconds rest in between, where every 25 you are going for it and you’re working hard, or you can do it as fifties. You can go something like eight fifties, where one is fast, one is recovery, but you’re just looking to go as fast as you possibly can there. That can help you develop overall. I find it helps with technique as well, because with your technique you’ll get a really good sense of the things that are slowing you down when you are swimming at top speed, because you’ll feel, all right, I can feel my legs dragging, I can feel that my arm is out too wide, because at that top speed you become a lot more aware of what those things are that are creating extra drag there.

It can help you just overall with your technique as well. We want to make sure that we’re breaking up our workouts into different segments, want to make sure that we are doing some sort of speed work. The other thing we want to make sure we’re doing is tracking times and tracking pace. Doesn’t have to be every session, but at least in some sessions. If you’ve got no benchmark, if you’ve got no real idea of where your pace is for different efforts and different distances, then you haven’t really got anything to benchmark against. You want to make sure that, at least in some sessions, that you are checking where your pace is.

Now, I’m a big, big fan of just using the stop clock, the 60 second clock that is at most pools. I find too many people get distracted by stopping and starting the watch, and it’s a big distraction from your technique and your feel for the water. I’m a little bit old school with this, and that’s because we grew up never used any watches or anything like that for training. But if you currently wear a watch, what I would recommend, or what I’d suggest is give yourself two weeks where you don’t wear your watch at all. You just use the stop clock, the 60 second clock to get your pace. Now look, you won’t be able to sync it to Strava and get likes on there, and you won’t be able to show people how far you swam, but my guess is you’ll probably swim that little bit faster, you’ll get a better sense of your feel for the water and your technique, and really just take your mind off starting, stopping and watch and seeing exactly what pace and what speed you’re going.

I’ve tried swimming with a watch a couple of times, and it’s okay, but I find I’m too distracted by it and I find that my technique suffers as a result of it. If you currently wear a watch, try going without one for two weeks. It might feel a bit weird at the start, might take you a bit of practice to learn to use that 60 second stop clock at the pool, but I’m a big fan of moving away from the watch and I don’t know, I can’t think of any top swimmers or top triathletes that I know that actually use their watch when they’re training. See how you go. Yeah, it might throw you off, you won’t be able to sync it to Strava. Your coach may not be able to see what you’re doing in the workouts, but you can just put that in manually. I find it is a really good way to go, not only improving technique, but just getting an overall sense of your feel and your pace there. See how you go with that. Learn to use that 60 second stop clock.

The other thing that can help you with your workouts and a mistake that I see people make is that they become too worried about what their times are for one single session. If you look at your overall progression from now to the next six months, ideally we want that to be an overall upwards progression there. Along the way, you’re going to have some spikes and you’re going to have some dips, because you’ll probably find that some sessions you’re swimming great, your technique’s great, you’re feeling good, you can swim all day, and then it could be the next day that you get back in the pool and you feel like you’ve forgotten how to swim. Well, that’s normal. Everyone’s going to go through that. Don’t judge how your swimming is session by session. Look at it at least two, three, four months down the road. You want that overall upwards progression, but session by session you’ll go up, you’ll go down.

I’ve had times where I can just comfortably hold 113 pace and then the next day might not have got much sleep, I might have been up too late or I might’ve been working quite a bit, and I struggled to hit even 120 pace. That’s a seven second difference, almost 10%. It doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes it happens, and it can be what you’re eating, it can be stressful, it can be sleep. There’s a number of things that can cause it, so don’t judge your swimming session by session, look at it in the long run, at least across a couple of months time, but sometimes even six to 12 months. Don’t dig too deep into the numbers session by session.

The last mistake that I see people making is not being consistent enough with their training. There’s a general rule that coaches like to follow, which is however long you spend out of the water, let’s say it’s two weeks, it’s going to take you four weeks to get back. Double how long you were out of the water to get back to where you were. Now, it’s not 100% true, but it gives you a rough guideline on how quick you lose feel for the water. With swimming, more than probably any other sport, you need to be consistent with it. For whatever reason, that general feel for the water and your technique and those swim specific muscles, they need to be worked regularly.

If you do spend two or three weeks out of the water, you probably know that if you’ve done that, you feel very average when you get back in. What I’m trying to do is be consistent with it. Even if you’re sick for two weeks, just get in the water, go to the pool. You don’t need to do anything hard, but just keep that feel for the water. It could even just be an easy K or two, where you’re just making sure that you’re still getting something done and keeping that feel for the water.

Make sure that you’re consistent, and my general rule of thumb is if you want to improve your swimming, three sessions a week or more is ideal. If you’re doing two a week, you can generally maintain what you’re doing and yeah, you might be able to improve, but you’re a lot more likely to improve if you can do at least three sessions per week. That is a good benchmark for most people I find. If you can do more, obviously four or five, you’ll probably see a pretty significant improvement over that time. I’ve had swimmers who have only been swimming for a couple of months who have progressed pretty well because they’ve been consistent with that swimming and they’ve gotten in regularly.

That’s a good way to fast track it. They’re the main couple of mistakes that we typically see when it comes to workouts. Now, if you don’t have a coach, if you’re not sure what a good workout looks like, inside our video membership, we’ve got 12 months of workouts there that you can print off and download and take them to the pool with you. It follows that structure, warm-up, main set, a bit of swim down, and we’ve got different types of sessions there. We’ve got speed, technique, aerobic, a number of other different kinds of sessions. If you’re looking for some sort of workout plan to follow, then inside the membership, we’ve got those workouts alongside all of our video courses in our step-by-step progression for improving your swimming.

Check out the Effortless Swimming video membership. There’s a link below if you would like to find some workouts and download them, print them off, and take them to the pool with you. Thanks for watching. Like and subscribe if you did enjoy today’s video. Please share it with someone who you think might be making these mistakes in their swimming, and I’ll see next week.


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Brenton and Mitch were great to work with at the clinic, Good to get video analysis to work on straight away, practice some new drills and go home knowing what you need to work on.

Alex McFadyen