It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

April 05, 2013

Swim Training with an Olympic Gold Medalist!

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a 2 day swim clinic with Sheila Taormina an Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming in the 1996 Olympics.

Sheila at the 2004 ITU World Triathlon Championship - yes she was that ripped in person!
Sheila is now a retired athlete but she has a pretty impressive resume.  She competed in four consecutive Summer Olympics all after the age of 27!  She competed in swimming (1996), triathlon (2000 & 2004) and pentathlon (2004 & 2008).  She won a gold medal in the 96 games in the women's 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.  She was the first and only woman to qualify for different Olympiads  in 3 different sports.  She also won the 2004 ITU World Triathlon Championship.  If that wasn't enough, she's also got a Bachelor's and Masters degree in Business!  This woman is a champion all around!!

So, it was awesome to even get to meet her.  But the swim clinic was amazing!  It was a 2 day clinic that consisted of a 2 hour lecture on Friday night and ended with a 2 hour pool workout on Saturday.  During her lecture on Friday night it was clear that she had a passion for swimming.  Her enthusiasm just poured out of her. 

So what did I get out of the clinic?  Here are a few takeaways that I thought were pretty awesome, especially if you are like me and have been struggling with your swimming for a long time.
  • The only way to swim faster is: 1) increase your rate of turnover in the water or 2) decrease the number of strokes you take to get across the pool and 3) a combination of both.
  • BEWARE:  Don't focus so much on decreasing the number of strokes or it could make you slower.  She totally disagrees with the whole "glide" technique that is now commonly taught.  Gliding only makes you slower. You might be taking fewer strokes, but you are taking them at a far slower rate, so overall you are slower.
  • 80% of what makes you a faster swimmer happens under water i.e. is your catch and your pull.  The high elbow recovery, your kick, etc can make you a little faster, but they aren't the things to focus on unless you have mastered the catch and pull.  Focusing here will give you the most bang for your buck.
  • Develop a feel for the water.  You should feel like you are moving water when you swim.
She has a book out called Swim Speed Secrets that I bought at the clinic (you can find it on Amazon for $13).  It's a very quick read and I would highly recommend it if you are trying to improve your swim.  She talks a lot about how to improve your catch and pull and the book has a lot of pictures for the visual piece of it.  I would love to share all the detail with you, but it would make this blog super long.  She also has a waterproof workout to compliment the book.

The second day of the clinic was 2 solid hours in the water pretty much doing nothing but drills, drills, and more drills.  It was exhausting and I logged about 2000 yards of swimming.  I could barely move my arms the next day!  The drills were very helpful though and are things that I can easily incorporate into my swimming.

I took a lot away from the clinic and I'm actually excited to get back in the pool and start working on some of the drills and hopefully start improving my swim times!

I know this sounds like a sales pitch from me and it's not in any way.  I just really enjoyed my time and wanted to share.  She travels and does clinics all over the country, so check out her website and see if she's coming near you....if not, beg your local triathlon club to bring her to your city. 

If you have any questions, I'd love to try to answer them.....but I'm not saying I actually can.


  1. Interesting perspective that we shouldn't focus on less strokes and gliding. She did leave one other "must" to get faster though. You must go to the pool and swim :-).

  2. Wow, that is so cool! And you got all that good advice to boot. Thanks for sharing. I was so inspired that I bought the book.

  3. I agree with Mike. The feel versus underwater pull is an interesting perspective. While I agree 100% that pull is going to be the spot to focus for speed, I would argue that glide is where you're going to increase your efficiency.

    Speed is great for swimmers or short course triathletes. But long course triathletes need to consider how much they can expend.

    Either way, she's an amazing person to learn from!!

  4. I think it's awesome that you got to meet this amazing world class athlete. There is literally no one else in the world that has done what she has. I'm not a swimmer, but if I were ... I would have no rebuttal to her any of her advice. But who knows, maybe the folks that disagree, or counter her teaching tips have won several world championships too. Carry on amateurs.

  5. Sounds like a great experience. I will go check out the book.

  6. That's EXACTLY what i figured out! The catch and pull. To me in my mind, I look at it like one of those old water mills where the water would drop from one section to the other. When I'm doing it right, it almost feel like a belt of water moving under me.