Tips from a blossoming teen swimmer

Madisonswimrelay

Madison, second from right, and her teammates in the 200 freestyle relay won that race by more than a length in their last meet of the season at Norwell last week.

Last year at this time my niece Madison was a reluctant athlete, grudgingly going out for swimming because she knew her mom would gripe at her if she didn’t.

But somewhere along the way she’s become a competitor. Her relay team just missed setting a middle school pool record this past week. (She thinks they would have if their last home meet hadn’t been canceled due to snow.)

Picking Madison’s brain over the weekend, I realized she now knows a lot of drills and tips that could help her mom and I become better swimmers. Here’s what she had to say:

Q. What events do you usually swim, which is your favorite, and why?

A. I have swam the same events all year: 200 medley relay ( I swim backstroke.), 200 free (8 lengths) , 400 free (16 lengths), and the 200 free relay. My favorite is the 200 free relay. We have placed first against the hardest schools with that relay. The only time we didn’t place first was when one of our members was out because of a cut eye. I normally place in the top 3 with my other 2 individual events.

Madison swam 35 lengths in 15 minutes at Saturday's indoor team triathlon. It was the second-best distance turned in among all swimmers on the day.

Madison swam 35 lengths in 15 minutes at Saturday’s indoor team triathlon. It was the second-best distance turned in among all swimmers on the day.

Q. What are some of the things you’ve done this year to become a better swimmer?

A. To become a better swimmer this year I have pushed myself a lot harder. I got tired of not placing the other years and I really wanted to place this year. It was all mental, though. Before I always told myself I couldn’t do it; this year I told myself I could. I worked hard at practice and I pushed myself at meets. I would spend any free time I had in the pool in the mornings and at night practicing my flip turns since those are a major part in racing.

Q. What is your favorite workout?

A. My favorite kind of workout would have to be doing sets. Sets can be done however you want to do them. I personally like to do them as 10  50s at 40 seconds. You do a 50 free and whatever time you have left over at the end you rest until the clock hits 40 then you start your next one. They really get tiring after a while and you really have to push yourself so you don’t get behind.

I also enjoy in and outs. Those are where you dive in and swim as deep as you can and swim underwater until you get to the other side (without breathing, of course). As soon as you get to the other side you climb out and dive straight back in. No breaks. You usually do that for 5 minutes at a time. They are just my favorite because they are hard and it makes you have to push hard and also think that you won’t drown.

Q. What about that tennis ball drill you were telling me about? How do you do that, and what’s the purpose?

A. The tennis ball drill makes your arms a little heavier in the water and it’s hard to get your elbows out. It helps improve your stroke. Also it really improves your flip turns. It is very difficult and annoying to do. It places your arms exactly where they need to go during a flip turn. It is really a good thing to try.

Q.  What are some things your mom and I can do to improve our breathing?

A. Well, the in and out drill, which I explained above. But also just swimming free style with your face in the water. It’s a lot easier to swim. When you do that, though, make sure you take a big breath before you dive in. As you’re swimming hold it for as long as possible and then when you can’t hold it no more breathe out very slowly in the water by mouth. It helps a lot. But when you take your breath make sure you barely take your mouth out of the side of the water.

The in and out drill trains your muscles to swim without much oxygen. Swimming is the hardest sport I’ve ever done, and it’s all because of the breathing. It really trains your muscles to go longer/ faster without breathing. It really helps. With that drill I can now swim a 25 and half of another 25 without coming up for air once. I can hold my breath for a very long time now.

Q. Any other workouts you think we should try?

A. Just swimming lengths. Or do a 50 fly. It’s just as bad as doing the 400 free. You can feel how hard it is on your arms. It builds muscle and takes a lot of strength.

Q. What’s your favorite pre-swimming and post-swimming snack — or do you not think about nutrition much at your age yet?

A. Oh, I think about nutrition. If I eat just one wrong thing before I go swim I puke. I usually try to eat pasta the night before. But I eat some granola bars before. I get Subway a lot. Afterward I just eat any thing that I see. Our coaches are constantly telling us to go home and eat a lot. So afterwards it doesn’t matter that much I guess. You never stop eating during swimming, but that’s ok because you just go burn it all off the very next day.

Q. Do you think swimming has made you a better runner?

A. I do think swimming has made me a better runner. Because since I swim mostly distance, I’m used to having a hard time breathing and pushing myself. Plus it has just made me stronger and more in shape. I don’t really know how to explain it.

Q. Does this mean you might do the Fox Island Triathlon?

A. I really enjoyed the triatholon we did on Saturday. I definitely want to try the Fox island one. They are a lot more fun then I thought.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. One thing I want to add is to not count the lengths but to make the lengths count. Counting the lengths make you think you can’t go any farther once you get past the highest you swim. When you don’t know where you’re at but you have a good upbeat song playing in your head it makes it that much more easier to beat the person next to you.

In swimming everyone becomes best friends. I could hate the person yesterday but be best friends with them as soon as the season starts. It is an individual and team sport. I think that’s why I love it so much. Plus there isn’t as much drama. And I have lost lots of weight with it. It is the best workout there is.

Now Madison, shown here with little sis Monroe, says she's going out for track for the first time.

Now Madison, shown here with little sis Monroe, says she’s going out for track for the first time.

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3 Responses to Tips from a blossoming teen swimmer

  1. It’s the breathing. I try to inhale before I’ve exhaled. Then I either stop to catch my breath or I swim with my head up the rest of the way and my feet drag and I start to sink. When I finish 50 yards, I’m beat. That’s if I finish 50 yards.

    • tischcaylor says:

      Oh, I never breathe under water — though that’s something I hope to improve on this season! Last year I did two sprint triathlons, and in the first one I swam sidestroke the whole way and the second one part freestyle with head out of water and part sidestroke. I was a definite straggler, but once you get out of the water there’s nowhere to go but up!

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