Pearl Harbor Masters Coach Ernie's Tips

Coach's Goals

  Basic Coaching Goals and Objectives

1.  To encourage and promote improved physical fitness and health.

2.  To offer the military community an excellent opportunity to participate in a lifelong fitness and competitive swimming program.

3.  To encourage Pearl Masters swimmers to participate in Master's swim meets.

4.  To enhance fellowship and camaraderie among our swimmers.

Are you a Triathlete who wants to improve swimming ability?

Here are some swim coaching tips to improve the swim portion of your next Tri:

1.  Swim like a swimmer.  That means you need to swim with swimmers.  It is also important to surround yourself with people who already swimming at the level you want to be at.  You can then hold yourself to a higher standard and learn what makes these athletes go faster.

2.  Develop a kick.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard athletes saying, "I don't need a kick - I'm a triathlete".  I challenge you to ask these people when the last time they came first out of the water in a race.  Many confuse low-beat kicking for no kicking.  Even if a top swimmer in a race has a low-beat kick, they still are creating good propulsion from it.  A strong swimmer has a strong kick. Develop one - it is the key.  Kicking not only make you a better swimmer, it is essential for core body strength, a requirement for all components of a Tri race.  Kick from the hips and minimize knee flexation.  Do kick-specific sets every swim session.  We devote the majority of one workout a week to kicking and kick sets.  A ‘secret’ to doing more kicking is to do more drills that require a strong kick to do properly.

3.  Keep your head down.  Many triathletes like to look forward and up when they swim.  This puts stress on you neck, and will slow you down.  Look down at the black line on the pool floor or into the open water below you.  In fact, a tip to help you look down is to focus on the tiles (or area) you just swam past, not the one you are swimming toward.  This does not mean you should tuck your chin, just use your eyes.  A proper body position should be very much like the position you are in when you are being measured for height.  This will keep your head in a proper position.

4.  Keep you hand and forearm as one.  Imagine from you middle finger to your elbow is a flat metal rod.  You must have no wrist or finger flexation.  This will help you feel the water better.  A good drill for this is swimming with your hands in a fist.  This will teach you how to grip the water with your forearms.  For open-water swimmers, try to avoid putting sun screen or Vaseline on your palms or the bottom of your forearms as this will allow feel the catch of the water much better.  The same holds true for the top of your feet (kick).

5.  Build upper body strength.  The November 2008 issue of USMS Swimmer has an excellent article on upper body strength.  The best approach to building upper body strength is to do exercises that specifically target the same muscles you use when swimming.  This is difficult to do in a gym.  For a very small investment, pull cords provide great benefits.  Sets of high repeats (perhaps a minute at a time vice certain number of repeats) done in a controlled manner avoiding fast, whipping motions with the cords will provide a workout that will surprise many.  If you have access to a Vasa swim trainer, use it.  These machines are excellent. They will really teach you how to grip the water well. Be sure when using them to concentrate on looking down and keeping a high elbow.  Also, be sure to follow all the way through on your stroke.  Keeping a bent elbow will enable you to be more efficient in the water while expending less energy.

6.  Swim Backstroke, Backstroke and more Backstroke.  Swim backstroke NOT to be a better backstroker, but to be a better freestyler.  Too many triathetes hit the water refusing to do anything but freestyle.  Swimming is an art, a science and a skill.  Swimming fast does not result from building strength alone.  Body position, balance, and feel for the water are all enhanced while doing backstroke.  Backstroke, like freestyle, is a long-axis stroke and most of the balancing and propulsive principles of backstroke are applicable to freestyle.  It’s easier to regulate your heart rate while swimming backstroke, allowing you to swim longer distances in a given set.  Mixing a set of backstroke swimming with freestyle drills is a great way to increase aerobic base and endurance while working on freestyle.  It’s surprising how a set of 4x400 (every 4th length freestyle); 4x200 (alternating back/free by 25); and (4x100 every 3rd 25 free), will change one’s perspective of this stroke.

7.  Finally, Drill, Drill, Drill.  Far too many swimmers, including age group, high school, college, and masters swimmers, do not devote enough time to basic, fundamental drill work.  Every category of swimmers forgo drills in the mistaken belief that it will deny them training time necessary for strength.  Masters swimmers (and especially triathletes) try to fit swimming into a very busy schedule making every minute in the water very precious.  At Pearl Harbor, we’ve found that devoting entire workouts to drills, on a regular basis (2 times/week in summer and 1-2 times/week in winter) makes a big difference in improving swimming.  We incorporate kick sets (12x200 w/fins) into these days, and use fins on a regular basis.  A workout will be devoted to short axis or long axis.  Keeping drill workouts isolated from the regular training workouts, swimmers are able to accomplish training goals from a ‘hard’ workout while developing perfect form and technique on ‘drill’ days without losing the ‘feel’ by following a short drill set with a long anaerobic or aerobic set.

None of this will come overnight.  It takes time as your body learns how to adapt to these new neural path ways of movement.  The great thing about triathlon is it rewards persistent training over time.  If you are committed to improving your swimming, it will come.

Top Tips from Top Coaches

The Beijing Olympics may be over but the lessons live on - in this short video, three world-class coaches share their top 3 tips for swimming success. Ben Titley, head coach of the British women's team, says it's all in the details while Stephanie Rice's coach Michael Bohl gets back to basics. The Canadian National Team coach, Pierre LaFontaine, is a little more philosophical saying above all, enjoy the ride and make a point of helping someone else in your club be better.

Check out all the tips at