Photo by Daniel Smith
Recently I attended a swim clinic led by Sheila Taormina, who just happens to be a four-time Olympian. And a gold medalist. And the only woman to ever go to the Olympics in three different sports. Oh, and she was an incredibly dynamic and talented teacher as well. Not only did I learn about swim technique, I felt as if I got a glimpse into the mind of what it takes to be a champion athlete. The clinic was a great experience, and had me wondering why, in five years of doing this sport, I’ve never gone to a swim clinic.
Whether or not you’ve come from a swimming background, maybe you’re asking yourself whether you’d also benefit from a swim clinic. If so, here are some things you might want to look for in such a clinic.
Taormina’s clinic, as an example, was what I would consider a perfect blend of lecture, dry land exercises, and in-water drills to reinforce the freestyle stroke technique highlighted in her book Call the Suit. Taormina started by explaining the rationale behind the propulsive technique she teaches, while demonstrating the positioning and motions of the body and arms. Next we moved to stretch cord exercises where we could ourselves try to mimic the positioning while Taormina was able to watch and correct our movements as needed. In the water we were again critiqued on our form, and Taormina gave us several simple and useful drills to reinforce what we had learned. Finally, we were videotaped while swimming (and later given the video footage) so that we could visualize any mistakes we were making with our own eyes.
Whether as a refresher course or learning technique for the first time, being forced to be aware and think through your swim stroke is never a waste of money or time. Not only that, but the winter off season is a great time to do this; a reduction in training volume at this point of year allows athletes to focus on drills and form versus piling on additional yards. In addition, having a skilled teacher to critique your stroke in the water and on video is a priceless benefit for anyone looking to improve their swim.
Once you’ve decided to take one, what shoudl you look for? I would start by seeking out an instructor knowledgeable in both swimming and triathlon—more than a perk in Taormina’s case, as she was an Olympian in both sports. Someone solely focused on swimming may not understand the challenges faced by triathletes in their training and racing, and someone focused on triathlon may not have the swim technique base needed. I found it incredibly helpful, for example, when Taormina explained to us that as triathletes, learning to streamline off the wall properly held the key to success in open water swimming. I also found her help with sighting technique extremely useful.
In addition to seeking out the right instructor, I would also recommend look for a clinic small enough in size to allow for one-on-one attention. A clinic that promises underwater videotaping is also an incredibly valuable tool.
In the end, I was very pleased with the large return I got on my small investment in time and money. And even better, now I have no excuse for sloppy streamlines in the pool.