History The term originates from Johnny Weissmuller playing Tarzan in the movies of the 1920’s. He was one of the World’s best swimmers who swam with his head out of the water. Johnny was considered the “Cadillac of swimmers” during his era. Sam Freas, who coached at LSU had a lot of success using Tarzan and dryland in the 1980’s. Who does this benefit ? This is for everyone who wants to develop speed and power in their swimming at any age. This is a great drill to spike heart rate in short spurts if you don’t have lots of time to work out. Why do you need Tarzan? This drill develops speed by forcing the swimmer to maintain a controlled small and fast kick. The kick must be behind the hips in order not to increase drag and fast! Keep the hips square, head still and out of the water while focusing on equal rotation of the shoulders. The arm stroke needs to be shorter to work on speed. This is a drill and used for speed and power so don’t worry about efficient long strokes. Correct form is priority! When do you add Tarzan to your workout ? Always fit Tarzan into your workouts, even if you do a few 25’s or 12.5’s at the end of a long distance oriented practice. You want to avoid retraining your fast twitch muscles to slow by swimming at the same pace which is usually slower than any race pace at meets. The more sprint oriented you are the more you need to work this in. If you need any help deciding how to use Tarzan or other sprint sets please email [email protected] .
1. Racing – The drive to win close races to recover from
2. Race Pace – This isn’t sprinting to exhaustion but creating the speed that will be needed to achieve goal times for each event. Let’s take the 100 free for our example: John’s goal is to swim a 48.00 in the 100. In order to achieve this swim we must create and instill muscle memory in john to help him achieve this goal. John will need to maintain 12.00 while swimming 25’s and 24.00 speed while doing 50’s. You can eventually work up to 75’s and broken 100’s (breaking them at different distances) and finally a 100 from the block before he actually swims his big race. This will give John the confidence he needs for his big race. Start the season with enough rest at each desired distance to achieve race pace speed and as the season continues change the rest interval and achieve the same result. If John is tired on a given day that you want him to do race pace then you must give him enough rest to achieve race pace. This doesn’t have to be the main set but just the last 10 minutes of a desired workout. Please remember to do race pace during the aerobic phase of the season and during holiday training. Race pace develops muscle memory and helps create speed and power. Remember that your dryland program is important and must coincide with this type of training. You will do more race pace as the taper progresses. Recovery and over-speed sets are as important and must be incorporated in workouts with race pace. Training with speed and power in the water and during dryland will enhance everything you are trying to achieve in your program.
3. Over-speed – Creating and enhancing muscle memory with the possible speed of a time not yet achieved in a race. Creating speed in short spurts helps train the fast twitch muscle make-up of every swimmer. Cords is wide spread example usually incorporated during the taper or resting phase of a season and should be used thru out. Over-speed can be achieved off starts and walls and during very short distances or with correct Tarzan swimming.
4. Tarzan for speed purposes – Swimmers that do water polo use Tarzan to see the ball. They are strong, have arm speed, upper body strength and usually are great at kicking. Wow, everything you need for sprinting!!!!! Sprinting doesn’t always mean short distances. 200’s are now in the sprint category. If you have ever seen Diana Munz swim she has great kicking skills that were evident in her swims off each wall and at the end of distance events. She shows variable speed and power in the distance events with her upper body and legs…………..
5. Recovery and dryland – These two categories make most coaches nervous. I understand the thinking of overtraining, as I have to constantly trust what I believe and not slip into the way I was trained to over train. Proper recovery must be part of each workout phase and the dryland program must match recovery and must constantly change body part emphasis to ensure recovery. Hard work should alternate legs, core and upper body. That doesn’t mean if you are recovering the legs you can’t work the arms, etc…. You can even alternate upper and lower body between dryland and swimming as well as in each set! You can alternate within each set, from set to set from work –out to workout, week to week. Add a true recovery workout once during the week and see how your swimmers respond the next day. Maybe recover for an hour and surprise them by sending them home early, you have now added MENTAL RECOVERY.
6. Each set should include distances as well as the repetitions, mechanics emphasis, and what to do on each part of the swim. For example: 6 X 400’s on 5:00 free with 4 fly kicks off each wall breathing to one side of the pool (to insure breathing n both sides and even shoulder rotation) and make-sure the swimmers know why. Odd swims are variable speed 75% – 95% by 50, with numbers 2 and 4 pace holding 1:02 and number 6 being timed with sprint kicking each wall and last 200. Write it down for them to read and repeat it to them verbally as you know it’ll take many times to get it thru their heads.
7. Make sure your swimmers can read the clock and understand negative, even, ascending, and pace terminology for splits in races and practice. Swimmers should constantly be using the clock even during warm-up and warm-downs so times and speed can be inherent. They must understand when you tell them they need to go out in a certain speed for a race strategy or tell them next time to go out faster or slower. Most swimmers shake their head OK but actually have no idea how to actually physically do it. They understand the concept mentally so you must incorporate this in your training sets. Simple example during warm-up 4 X 200’s with descending send-off tell swimmers to just make the send off as it descends with a goal time on the last 200 that is easy to achieve with some effort in order to reinforce feel of that speed in the water. 4 X 200’s 2:40, 2:30, 2:20 and the last one go a 2:15.
8. Just FYI and my opinion about certain types of equipment: Paddles – I like paddles but it does take away the feel of the water temporarily from the swimmers. Please incorporate a longer warm-down after a paddle set to give the swimmer time to regain feel. Pull-boys – They are made with different styles that fit each person differently and usually result in bad body position during a set. Please watch for this, as pull-boys don’t promote streamline body position. Kickboards – again different styles and sizes. Please don’t do all your kick sets with boards as this takes the body out of proper streamline position. Kickboards are good for isolating the legs. Cords for dryland and over-speed – Good for cross training as talked about previously. Please check the cords as chemicals do eventually cause the cords to snap and that’ll hurt!
9. Coaches flexibility: Stay flexible and evaluate if the swimmers are getting what you wanted out of each set. Don’t force the issue if motivation isn’t the issue. Change the set to achieve your goal, scratch the set if needed, adjust it or use it later in the season. If you change the set explain why and try to get them to understand the reason. If you can’t explain it you’ll never be able to teach it. If too much info is written for the set slowly increase the stimulus over time. Flexibility is hard as a coach feels the time constraint to get it all in. Fight that urge and back up, as that’ll help the swimmers more in the short and long term.
10. IM (Individual
11. Old school breathing – Have you ever been told to only breath 3 times each lap in the 200, hopefully not. Breathing is your friend in events longer than a 50 and helps the body alleviate the pain you feel in your body by exhaling and eliminating the lactate acid your muscles are producing as a by-product of the work you are demanding of them. Breathing too much or poorly (mechanically incorrect) in the 50 can slow you down. Breathing is important in the timing or the breast and fly and essential to the backstroke. Breathing is covered in mechanics of each stroke. You can’t expect a swimmer to change or do anything different is a meet that you don’t train at practice. Please keep that in mind ……… Breathing should never compromise streamline position especially before and after each wall or flags to flags.
12. Heart rate is a great tool to see if your swimmer is sick, stressed, over worked, needs more rest or is out of shape. You can measure this many ways by creating a set that helps the swimmer with maxing heart rate and measuring how long it takes to recover. Remember that I am not a doctor nor should you diagnose a swimmer from this, it is only a tool and can be used to help you at each phase of training. This tells you about aerobic conditioning, fatigue during the holiday training and the amount of resting needed to create race pace or sprinting and definitely during taper and resting before meets. Consult a doctor or read up about heart rate, as there are plenty of studies and info on the subject. This will help you with flexibility and changing your workouts when needed.
The first item I would like to talk about is Tarzan. Tarzan is used for speed purposes. The proper body position for Tarzan is with the head and mouth out of the water. Keeping hips in line with the shoulders with a controlled fast kick. Tarzan is used for developing arm and leg speed. Leg speed drives the arms so begin by emphasizing the kick. The arm stroke needs to be shorter and faster than the normal freestyle stroke with an emphasis on equal shoulder rotation. There are many variations of Tarzan to train. Two of the main drills to use are just quality Tarzan sprinting and Tarzan to easy as indicated on the outline. “Tarzan to easy” is where the swimmer will work on increasing arm speed until they are unable then drop their head and finish easy to the wall. When the athlete is broken down this will be very hard to do but as the swimmer recovers he or she will be able to increase arm speed for longer distances of 25’s or 50’s.
Please go to Youtube and search “USAswimcoach” or Facebook and search “Faster Swimming” for the Tarzan video. You can also find it on Viddler
I’d like to show a few different drills of Tarzan. First I am having my swimmer do a 25 of Tarzan where he is holding a constant rate of speed, keeping his head out of the water, shoulders square with hips in line and a small fast kick. The next drill is 5 Tarzan strokes sprint up followed by 2 freestyle strokes down easy. The swimmer will just drop his head on the recovery strokes. Make sure the swimmers count their strokes to ensure that they start each new cycle of 5 up 2 down with the opposite arm. This will help ensure equal rotation of shoulders and help the swimmers work with both arms to start swimming. This will translate to their breakout strokes also. Please vary this drill as desired for example 7 up sprint Tarzan strokes then 4 easy strokes, etc.. We are always trying to prime the fast twitch muscles by using Tarzan. We do a lot of Tarzan during taper as well as throughout the season. It is easy to train your fast twitch muscle fibers to move at one speed with long sets, making it more difficult to retrain muscle fiber later. Always throw in some Tarzan or speed work into your workouts. The last 25 of the video is Tarzan where the swimmer is working on increasing arm speed throughout, working on equal shoulder rotation as well as proper mechanics. A variation of this is on the Faster Swimming 23 week outline is called Tarzan to easy. The only difference is that I want the swimmers to start off at a faster pace and when they can no longer increase arm speed they will drop their head and finish the set distance easy.
Let’s talk about Variable Speed
We all know that racing is the drive to win close races to recover from mistakes and overtake your competition at all costs. Some swimmers have that desire and others we must try to teach. This is why adding Speed work should be very important to us as coaches. Each swimmer needs the ability to start and stop speed with their upper and lower body and I call this Variable Speed. Training an athlete and enhancing his or her ability to change speed at any time of the race is key to teaching and giving the swimmer confidence that they can race. It is a big part of our designed workouts throughout the season. You will need to change the variable speed distances and intensities as outlined weekly. Variable speed work in sets is difficult for the swimmer because it spikes heart rates when a swimmer would normally train at one speed.
A basic 8 x 200 swim set descend by 2 on 3:00 can be adjusted with variable speed work by 100. For example on the first 2 x 200’s have the swimmers work at 70% on the first 100 and 80% on the second. Descending the 200’s by adjusting the variable speed effort. Variable speed work can be similar to Negative split as I just described in this set. The hard part is getting them to understand the actual percentage of intensities and still descend the 200’s. You can mix it up by making the swimmers go out in the first 100 @ 95% and the second 100 back in a controlled 90% by either giving them their splits, doing open turns or breaking the 200 at the 100 for a short rest interval. This will make their set more difficult and train their muscle fibers at variable speeds. You don’t want to get in the habit of training your swimmers at one pace thus making it harder to get into sprint work later in the practice or season.
Using Heart Rate
I am using the measurement of heart rate in this set to get a basic feel of how my swimmers are feeling today. There are a lot of factors that affect heart rate so this is just a guideline. I have created a set where the swimmer must maximize heart rate and created the speed work I wanted to have in today’s workout. This set was given a week after one championship meet and week before another. Prior to this workout, they had two hard weight and dryland workouts and one longer aerobic swim practice. They were sore and a bit tired as they should have been.
This set is all freestyle starting with 2 x 100’s on a 1:30 send-off. The first 1:00 holding a minute pace and descending the 2nd 100 holding a :56. They are to take their heart rate immediately after the 2nd 100 for a starting point. They are taking their heart rate for 10 seconds. I want them to take their heart rate again after+/- 45 seconds to see how fast they recover. Once the heart rate drops below 20 (for :10 seconds) they will finish the next part of the set which is, 50 sprint kick followed by 2 x 25 sprint Tarzan with :20 seconds rest then a 100 recovery swim.
They will repeat the same basic pattern two more times.
Second time starting off with 2 x 50 on a :35 second send off just making the send-off immediately followed by a 100 free holding a :54 or faster again taking the heart rate immediately after the swim. Their heart rate should be above 30 or elevated from the last time taken. Once the heart rate drops below 20 finishing the set with a 50 sprint kick and 2 x 25’s sprint Tarzan with :20 rest and a 100 recovery swim. If their heart rate doesn’t drop you can assume that they need more rest or they are completely out of shape. This is very individual and knowing your swimmer will help you answer that question. If their heart rate doesn’t drop below 20 for a couple of minutes then just have them finish the set or warm down, your call.
Third time thru they will begin with 4 x 25’s @ 100 Race Pace on a :20 second send-off. Each swimmer should have an understanding of the effort needed to maximize their heart rate on this set. Then finish the set once heart rate drops with 50 sprint kick and 2 x 25’s Tarzan then a 100 recovery swim.
Tarzan, Variable Speed, and Heart Rate sets are some of the important items included in the Faster Swimming program. We discussed Race Pace training in the last Journal. If you have any questions please email [email protected] or [email protected]
Effective freestyle that utilizes the mechanical advantage (law of levers etc) and the kinesiological principles (anatomy of muscular movement) and especially the first and second laws of motion dictates the hands should always be opposed to each other throughout the full arm cycle allowing for the most efficient application of muscular force, thus eliminating any stop and go movements that are created with an inefficient catch up stroke (the worst technique ever developed!)…Dara Torres has a very efficient freestyle. Check it out. Rule of thumb – apply any of the ridiculous swim drills to walking, and you will get the idea!!
Remember to account for body position in your analysis… posture dictates execution and effectiveness, more than lever action. Tarzan places added emphasis on full hip extension and a tight core that can transmit force. Try swimming freestyle with your chin on your chest even if you have great oppositional arm force. Tarzan doesn’t replace efficient swimming but adds great cross training that develops core strength, shoulder and leg speed.
Another email about Tarzan, great story!
This is the first time I’ve seen your email letter and I got a kick out of the Tarzan article. I used the Tarzan drill a lot earlier in my career in the early 1970s. I first saw it used by Don Gambril at Phillipps 66 Long Beach A.C. in 1969. Assistant Coaches were Ron Balatore and Flip Darr.
But here is one of my favorite memories of the Man, Tarzan. In 1967-68-69 (can’t remember which year) I was swimming in an East/West College meet at the Hall of Fame Pool. One evening there were some festivities at the pool and I was in the stands along with a few hundred other swimmers. In the late 60s all of those swimmers were baby boomers. There was a featured sprint race between some of the best sprinters in the country and Johnny Weismuller. Tarzan still looked great and was in good shape. But, none of us could quite figure out what was going to happen. Weismuller was about 65 years old. He dove in, flew down the pool, beat everyone (and they were swimming fast), climbed out and gave the Tarzan yell.
They had laid a rope on the bottom of the pool- at night it couldn’t be seen- and Tarzan picked up the rope on the dive. There were about 5 guys on the other side of the fence at the Hall of Fame Pool. As soon as they got the signal that Tarzan had the rope, they took off running.
The interesting thing to me and I didn’t quite comprehend this until years later, was the tremendous almost instant togetherness type of yelling that went through the crowd of male swimmers who were kids born between 1945-1950. I think there was sort of a group epiphany. A lot of us had grown up watching Tarzan movies, being swimmers, and thinking we were unique or alone in all these little towns across the USA. Many of us dreamed of being Tarzan, swimming like Tarzan and loving the Tarzan movies and being swimmers.