Top Swimming Coach Richard Stannard Talks Pool Power

Here are Richard Stannard’s swimming drills, training tips and nutrition advice to boost your swimming power and upper body strength

Q. What are the best tools for building swimming power?

A. 80% of the power for each swimming stroke is generated by your arms so you need to work on building arm strength to get more powerful. Using hand paddle drills to do front crawl can help with that. You hold your feet together so you can’t use them to drive yourself forward, and use paddles tied to your hands so each stroke becomes harder to make. This forces you to use more power to propel yourself forward, which builds stronger arms muscles. This means that once you bring your feet into play, you’ll have significantly more power across your entire frame. Swim cords – elastic cords with grips and handles that attach to doors or posts - can also help to increase power. You don’t have to worry about breathing, body position or kicking so you can really focus on arm drive and improving your technique.

Q. What kinds of swimming sessions should I do to improve my swimming power and strength endurance?

Lots of short interval sessions with short recovery periods will significantly boost power. A set might consist of 20x 100m, with you taking 80 seconds to do each length with 40 seconds to recover. To get fitter and faster from session to session, keep reducing the time it takes to swim a length and to recover.

Q. What’s the most common front crawl error that robs you of power?

A. Not creating a proper lever to pull your body over the top of. Most people try to pull the water, rather than pressing on it. The real way to swim is to create leverage by pressing on your forearms and hands and getting your body over the top of it. The more leverage you have, the more power you get.

Q. How can breathing patterns help with swimming speed and power?

A. Breathing to alternate sides every three to seven strokes means that you swim more symmetrically and are more likely to generate more power with both arms. It also puts less stress on the shoulders, so reduces the chance of injury.

Q. Are there any reliable ways to track lengths and maintain pace in the pool?

A. Most pools have a pace clock and you should learn to use these because they allow you to maintain a certain pace and keep track of your lengths. Let’s say, for example, you had a work set of 6x 50m to do, with rest periods of 70 secs and you’re starting with the second hand on 60 sec – what swimmers call on the top. You know that if you maintain the same pace, the second length starts at 10 secs, the third at 20 secs, the fourth at 40 secs, the fifth at 50 secs and the sixth at 60 secs. Length-counting devices and apps don’t force you to concentrate on what you’re doing, which means you’re not focused and don’t take in other data that might positively or negatively impact on your swimming – such as how you’re breathing or using your arms during each stroke.

Q. How should you fuel swimming sessions and recovery afterwards?

A. I tend to fuel shorter strength-based sessions with slightly more protein to carbs because of muscle breakdown, and then endurance sessions with more carbs because your body’s fuel supplies will be running low afterwards. If you’re doing super-long distance events in the sea, you want to put on weight so you have a layer of fatty insulation to keep you warm. On the other hand, if you want to be light and fast, say for a short-distance swimming race or a triathlon, you have fuel in a way the helps your muscles grow but not put on additional fat – so go for sources of lean protein such as steak and salmon.