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How to Improve The Most Difficult Skill In Swimming

While improving alignment and increasing propulsion aren’t necessarily easy to improve, the process of doing so is relatively straight forward.


It’s easy to understand what needs to happen and it’s pretty easy to see these skills.


That’s all goes out the window when it comes to timing.


Stroke timing is one of the most difficult skills to improve, and it’s one of the most ignored.


It’s also one of the most important.


I’m sure you’ve coached swimmers that had all the pieces, but they just couldn’t put them together.

That’s timing.


I’m sure you’ve coached swimmers that show up on at a meet and proceed to swim in a way that you’ve never seen before.



Timing can be very frustrating because it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and it’s even more difficult to describe what’s wrong and what swimmers need to do to fix it.


It also changes depending on how faster swimmers are going.


Needless to say, it is very difficult to consistently and reliably improve timing.


While there are a very select number of drills that can actually improve timing, most drills make it worse.


When attempting to isolate certain skills, they disrupt the rhythm of the stroke.


While we can use the good ones, more strategies are going to be necessary to help swimmers improve their timing.


And not only do we have to help them improve their timing, we have to help them learn to control and maintain their timing.


That’s a whole new level of challenge.


I’ve long recognized the importance of timing.


However, I definitely haven’t always been able to improve it.

Through a lot of trial and a lot of error, I’ve gotten better at it.


Here are the basic strategies I use to help swimmers improve their timing.


The name of the game is variation. 


The more relevant variations you can come up with, and the more swimmers can shift back and forth between those variations, the more likely it is that they will be able to achieve great timing and be able to control it.


All the strategies below apply to both timing drills and full stroke swimming.




There are some drills that can help swimmers improve their timing.


They will almost always be some version of full stroke swimming to ensure the essential components are present.


Underwater recovery in freestyle tends to help swimmers lock in the timing of the arms and the rotation.


Underwater breaststroke tends to help swimmers learn to time the arms and the legs together.


While there are other examples that apply, they are few and far between.


However, even when you have drills that do help swimmers achieve better timing, swimmers still have to be able to adapt and adjust their timing based on the circumstances.


That’s what the following strategies are for.


Speed Changes


Timing changes with speed.


To help swimmers improve their timing, expose them to speed changes.


Change speeds through builds, descends, negative splits, positive splits, and alternating speeds within repetitions. 


Have them hit specific times, trying to be as close as possible, using a range of speeds.


Use full stroke swimming and use effective drills.


The focus is on HOW swimmers change speed, and their ability to manage their timing to make it happen.


This helps swimmers learn how to change how they swim to create performances.


Stroke Rate Changes


This is similar to speed changes, but with a different focus.


Have swimmers swim and perform timing drills across a range of stroke rates.


Go high, go low, alternate between the two, and do everything in between.


Can swimmers achieve effective timing at different rates?


Can they make the shift between different rates?


They’re going to have to shift their rhythm and timing to make it happen.


With practice, they’ll be able to do so smoothly and effectively.


Stroke Length Changes 


Swimming really long is going to require a different stroke timing than swimming with a higher stroke count.


Exploit that to get swimmers to explore their timing.


What’s powerful about stroke counts is that they’re objective. 


Swimmers HAVE to change, and they have to do something different.


If you want them to explore their timing, ask for different stroke counts.


Further, when swimmers can consistently hit specific stroke counts on demand, say alternate between 10 and 13 strokes, that means they have control of their stroke and control over their timing


That’s what we’re looking to develop.


Change Breathing Patterns


The breath can create a major impact on timing, especially if it’s off.


To help swimmers feel the impact and learn to alter the breath, have them use different breathing patterns, even in breaststroke.


By switching up the breath, swimmers can learn how their breath is impacting their timing.


They’ll also become more aware of how they can modify their breath to improve their timing.


Change Kicking Patterns


Changing the kick is going to disrupt swimmers’ rhythm and their timing.


For swimmers that are struggling with their timing, that can be very valuable because it forces them to change.


It gets them out of their current timing and forces them to find a new rhythm.


For swimmers that are stuck, and they’re stuck in ways they can’t break out of, changing the kicking pattern is powerful.


Training Aids


Perform all the options above with different training aids.


The specifics don’t matter.


By performing the same activities in the slightly different ways, you’re challenging them to achieve and control better timing.


They’ll figure it out sooner than later.


Take Action


Timing matters and it matters a lot.


And it can be challenging to improve because it is complex, individual, and ever-changing.


By using the right strategies in the right way, it becomes easier to help swimmers discover the stroke timing that will work best for them.


By implementing just one of these strategies, you can take the necessary steps to help your swimmers improve their timing.


If you’re looking to make this even easier, and you want to know the most effective strategies for helping swimmers improve their timing in all the strokes, I lay it out in Stroke Fundamentals


Just as importantly, I provide you with the details about the alignment skills that swimmers need to master.


If you want to improve your swimmers’ skills, consider grabbing a copy here.




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