Book Review: Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers & Triathletes by Shelia Taormina

A few weeks ago, I received a copy of the new book Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes by Shelia Taormina.  I read it very quickly, but have held off on writing a review about the book because I actually wanted to put into play some of the learnings I took from the book.  Like many triathletes, I’m not the fastest swimmer.  I’m always looking for a “silver bullet” to help me be a better swimmer.  Thinking that this book might hold the key to breakthrough swimming for me, I wanted to really want to try what I learned before I wrote about the book itself.

This book is actually not a “new” book – it was originally published by Taormina in 2010 under the title Call the Suit.  The title was a reference to Taormina’s favorite card game (Euchre) – specifically a portion of the game where each player can “call the suit” that will ultimately be the trump (or most powerful) suit.  Taormina basically was compelling readers to be bold and play the “game” (of swimming) with the most power.

In the case of swimming, Taormina asserts that the underwater pull is said silver bullet.

Before she gets to a ton of detail about the pull, Taormina spends a good amount of time talking about the Pareto Principle and how it applies to swimming.  As you may know, the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) says that a few aspects (20%) have the greatest impact (80%) on what we are trying to accomplish.  Another way of saying this is that 20% of a workforce accomplishes 80% of the work.  Or 20% of the people in a conversation do 80% of the talking.  You get the idea. In swimming, according to Taormina, technique is the most important thing. 

According to the text, there are essentially only a couple of ways to improve your swimming speed:  Reduce the number of strokes you take or turn your strokes over more quickly.  These concepts are actually counter to one of the prevailing swim methods that is taught to triathletes – the Total Immersion approach to swimming.  The TI approach advocates a longer glide and fewer strokes in a given distance.  Taormina asserts that rather than focusing on a long glide to drive down stoke cadence, the preferred method is to improve power, and hence, speed. 

The vast majority of the book is dedicated to Taormina’s core point – that the pull is the most critical area to improve in order to improve swim speed.

How does one accomplish a strong pull?  According to the book, the best swimmers (think Olympians) all have a common thread – they employ a high elbow position and have good hold of the water. 

The text does a wonderful job describing (and showing via numerous photos) the high elbow position.  Specifically, there is lots of information about what the high elbow approach looks and feels like.  There’s considerable space allocated to hand position, how to hold fingertips and your “paddle”, upper arm positioning, and how core & hip drive impact high elbows.  The book then goes on to give great tips at how an average swimmer can improve their elbow positioning and pull.  There are a number of exercises detailed in the text, as well as some recommended drills.  There are even QR codes in the book linking to online videos that fully capture the high elbow technique and strong pulls.

What I liked about the book:

So, the very first thing I liked about the book is the simple fact that the topics that Taormina wrote about aren’t new to me – in fact, the concept of high elbows and strong pull that Taormina advocates reinforces what my swim coach has been telling me for years, just in a more understandable (and visual) way.  My coach has been telling me that in the pull, arm position is much akin to reaching around a barrel.  The concept is the same – dropping the hand/paddle while keeping the elbow high.  I just never really “got it”.  After reading this book, reviewing the pictures and videos – now I do.

This book is a really easy read.  Again, I read it cover to cover in less than a weekend.  There are tons and tons of pictures.  To me, these are really helpful.  I loved the video links.  And here’s the bottom line – what Taormina advocates in her book makes sense to me.  Guess what?  It also works!

I’ve spent dedicated time in my swim sessions since getting this book really focusing on my pull and arm position.  I have done some of the exercises laid out in the book – specifically strength band/tube exercises and swim drills.  I certainly feel like I have a better hold of the water and stronger pull.  I’ve dropped a few seconds in my 100 free pace.  I am getting faster, and frankly, I attribute some of that speed gain on my pull improvement.

The Details:

Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes by Shelia Taormina.  141 pages + 3 appendices.  $18.95.  Available at www.velopress.com and other retailers.

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