Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Faster Swimming? SURE!!!

So many people think swimming is complex. Swimming is all about the following:

  1. Technical Skill
  2. Strength and Fitness
  3. Mental Toughness/Focus

These are not necessarily ranked for importance in this order, because for many, one is so much more dominant than the others, that they have mixed-up the order. For example, I have heard many say Andy Potts is not a technically sound swimmer, but obviously he has some other skill sets which make him one of the fastest, (if not the), swimmers in the sport of triathlon.

I want to examine each of these items, and discuss what they mean, and how you can get better at each one. Today, we’ll start with Technical Skill.

The definition of Technical Skill is the ability to maximize strength for propulsion and to reduce drag. These two key concepts should be the basis for everything you do in the water, and try to do in your training.

How do we develop the ability maximize strength for propulsion? According to Coach Paulo, ( infamy), he claims the catch, (or the amount of water held) is the most important aspect. Certainly, if we look at the biggest difference between faster and slower swimmers, the catch is most visible by the position of the elbow, relative to the rest of the body. A high elbow holds a large amount of water in the carriage of the hand, forearm, upper arm, and chest. As soon as the elbow drops, this volume of water is decreased, and therefore the ability to maximize your strength with a large volume of water to displace yourself past, is lessened.

Though I agree this characteristic is probably the most common, this doesn’t help to address the problem effectively. If simply keeping the elbow higher was that simple, everyone would do it. The issue is the steps to the elbow position are not effective from the beginning in poor swimmers. This makes fixing the problem at the point of elbow position difficult, if not impossible.

The root of the poor catch begins before the catch even happens. Too many athletes do not understand, nor value, length in the water. First off, with length the swimmer gains lift, reducing drag. (This is why speedboats are long and fast, and tugboats are short and slow). Once an athlete has maximized their length, they naturally have a high elbow! Too many athletes enter the water with a goggle-line entry, (preached in some swimming camps). They end up shortening their stroke, never giving themselves much volume of water to hold on to, and/or end up creating a low elbow position to begin with. When they get tired, this shortened stroke is only exacerbated further!

Notice the length these two swimmers achieve? It puts the elbow high to begin with.

Notice the higher elbow, and length?

The longer the arm goes out in front, the greater size of the lever to catch water with, and better maximizing of strength with your catch and push/propulsion.

Alan Voisard, who in 2007 became the first person to successfully swim Catalina Island, the English Channel and Swim Around Manhattan Island all in the same year, told me recently when he swam, “75% of my energy is directed forward, while only 25% goes to actually pushing the water back.” Though some think distance swimming is not the same as what we try to accomplish in triathlon, (although he could make the front pack of nearly any triathlon in the world), his goal in long distance swimming is the same as ours, efficiency! (Show me a triathlete who wants to be dead coming out of the water, and I’ll show you a bad triathlete).

Length is your friend in the water, and if you focus on it, you will find many benefits, including improved elbow position to maximize your strength with a great catch, and reduced drag from increased lift.

The other side benefit you will find is a decreased stroke rate, and stroke counts in the pool, because your glide time will be increased from reduced drag.

So what can you do to improve your length? Good question! Here are some tips:

  1. Put your hand entry point much further out in front of you. Too many people enter the water shortened up, and as they get tired it only gets worse. Make yourself long by having the hand enter WAY OUT in front of you, with it ALMOST fully extended.
  2. Throw that energy directly forward! If your hand and arm are headed down in the water, your energy is going down. You don’t want your energy going down, you want it going FORWARD! Last time I checked, all swim races were forward, never down to a deeper depth. You want the hand and arm to be just below the surface tension of the water. Refer back to the pictures above, and look where their arms are relative to the surface of the water and their bodies. It's not deep!
  3. Work on your range of motion and flexibility in your shoulders and scapulas. If you can’t move them, your length is diminished.
  4. Practice lowering your stroke count per length in the pool, but able to keep the same time, by getting length. Once you see the result first hand, you will value it, I PROMISE!
  5. Don’t waste your time with drills. Doing a bunch of drills only makes you better at drills. Too few people understand how to connect drills to actual swimming. Most swimmers would benefit from simply swimming slowly and focusing on the aspects they need to improve on, which is probably LENGTH! Drills are just a tool, designed to help “turn the light switch on” for you to understand the concept the drill is stressing. I shake my head when I see people spending most of their practice time doing drills.

So that’s the LONG, (and short), of swimming’s Technical Skill. Certainly, there are all sorts of other technical aspects, specific to each individual, but this is the most common flaw, and I believe the most important.

Stay tuned for me to address the strength and fitness, as well as mental/focus aspects of swimming.

Coach Vance

1 comment:

ramon said...

Thanks for the article Jim. Its great review to what you have prached to me in the past.