Swim Cards Against Humanity

A few days back, Caroline asked about the Swim Speed Workouts card deck by Sheila Taormina that I’ve been using for the last 2-3 winters. So I thought I’d give a little review.

Swim Speed Workout #2-2

Swim Speed Workouts is a combination of 50 waterproof workout cards, a very small book, and some more laminated cards which describe the in-water and resistance tube drills the workout cards use. The 50 cards are organized into 16 weeks of three workouts: two workouts of 2,000-2,300 yards and one “She-Ra” workout of about 4,000 yards. I’ve never been badass enough to do any of the She-Ra workouts, which are transcriptions of Taormina’s training sessions during her Olympic training. There are also recovery and taper week workouts. (I’ve never actually used those either.)

Taormina is a major proponent in the high-elbow catch and pull, and she makes a really compelling case for it in her book Swim Speed Secrets. (The mini-book part of Swim Speed Workouts is a heavily abridged version of this longer book.) The fastest swimmers in the world use shoulder extension to grab water, a high-elbow catch leading to a vertical forearm early in the pull, a strong core in coordination with some body torsion to execute the pull, and a propulsive finish. The purpose of each session—which is clearly stated on the card—is to improve an aspect of these phases and coordinate them into a powerful, efficient stroke. Most workouts are broken down into a warm-up of about 300-500 yards, a drill set, a main set that usually includes shorter distances at higher intensities, and (frequently) a kick set, plus a brief warm-down. The earlier weeks involve more drills than the later ones, which see more strength building.

Winter has been a perfect time for me to use this workout card deck. By doing the two regular workout cards focused on form and strength-building—plus a third, continuous “long swim” of 2500-3500 yards—each week, I get four months of focused off-season training without too much volume. Due to pool closures and travel, I usually finish these 16 weeks in March, right around the time my 26-week plan for a 70.3 or Ironman is set to start. And each spring I’ve ended the off-season stronger and swimming faster than the end of the previous year. All of those drills pay off! Repeating the card deck has unexpected benefits, too: I don’t have to relearn the drill or its purpose. So I do them better each winter, which lets me focus on where I’m still inefficient. (This winter I’m hoping to better coordinate my core, kick, and arms.)

Come spring, I’ll return to my workout binder, which is more about building strength and speed through hard workouts than becoming a more efficient swimmer. Those workouts are longer (3000+ yards) and involve bigger blocks of continuous swimming. Basically, they’re more like what I do when racing. Until then, I’ll be working on the little things.

See you at the pool!

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