Erica Sutherland has made the centerfold of the November-December 2013 issue of SWIMMER Magazine! The center of the magazine has the technique article, and this issue was on Backstroke Starts. When I was asked to write an article on this topic for USMS, it didn’t take but a second to realize who I wanted to do the modeling. Erica has one of the most amazing starts that we all want to emulate. Incredibly graceful and flexible, Erica launches like someone half her age.
Along with the article, we were privileged to have USMS film a segment on Backstroke Starts. That video is embedded here. Enjoy!
This was our second Swymnut taking centerfold status this year, with Jimmy Nam appearing in the July-August issue. That article was on 5 Missteps in Breaststroke Arms and the accompanying video to that article appears here.
Thank you to both our swimmers for doing such a great job and representing Swymnut Masters in THE magazine for U.S. Masters Swimming.
Did you know that you have a secret compass on your body that can help guide you to success in each of your four swim strokes? Yup. It’s true. That secret compass is your middle finger. Now before you go getting all high and mighty, or extending certain body parts toward me, hear me out. Freestyle is probably the best example of using your middle finger to guide you all the way through the pull sequence. I kid you not.
When reaching out front to enter your hand into the water, let the middle finger be the first entry point into the water. Use your core to rotate slightly onto your side (about a 30 degree rotation) to extend your reach and have that reach be straight out from your shoulder. Slip your hand in and let that middle finger (all fingers) point straight to the other end of the pool.
Click here for a great SwimSmooth article on Freestyle Catch and Feel for the Water
Now, guide your middle finger from there to the pool bottom early in your underwater pull – keeping the elbow high and forward as long as you can. This helps you engage your largest muscles in the upper body, your latissimus dorsi (lats) and gives you lots of Superman powers on your pull.
An example of proper hand alignment and good early vertical forearm
Use these puppies – you won’t regret it.
Get your stroke looking like the above graphic, not these gentlemen in the next two graphics.
The swimmer here is pressing down from the surface with a straight arm (no early vertical forearm). This motion pushes his head and torso up, causing his legs and hips to drop, all of which creates drag. He is also not able to use his big muscles, the lats, and is using shoulder muscles that aren’t as strong and well equipped as those big lats. This is a set up for a potential shoulder injury!
This angle really demonstrates what that straight arm can do to change the balance in a bad way!
Once your fingertips have reached “vertical” (fingers pointing straight down), now drive that middle finger straight back to your hip (not into or inside your body line). In the below graphic, this would be sequence C & D.
All that is left is to recover your hand over the top. Exit with the middle finger again pointing toward the pool bottom with your elbow high and hand relaxed.
Relaxed recovery, high elbow
For other articles on freestyle technique on this Swymnuts website, simply enter “freestyle” into the search engine in the upper right of this website. Some specific posts that might help you are:
Well, ok, if not totally out of control, I’ll lay odds that they could be inhibiting your freestyle. And no, I’m not talking about the size of your hips. I would not dare to tread there.
Your hips are an integral part of any of the four strokes. In this posting, I’ll concentrate only on the role your hips play in freestyle. Otherwise you’d be reading on forever. And you do have a life, right?
Center of Buoyancy vs. Center of Gravity
First a note about center of buoyancy vs. center of gravity. The center of gravity (what pulls us down), for most of us, lies near our hips – as seen in this graphic.
The Physics and BioMechanics of Swimming
The center of buoyancy (what makes us float) is our lungs. Our bodies are in a a constant tug-o-war between buoyancy and mass. In essence, your lungs want to lift you up, your hips want to pull you down. If you let this happen, you swim “uphill” with your hips below your shoulder line and your ankles well below your hip line. That creates massive resistance. Your first objective should be to find your “posture, line and balance” in the water (thank you Richard Quick). You want to ride a very horizontal line in the water, with head, shoulders, hips and heels on or near the same plane, as you see in this graphic.
Keeping your hips near the surface will help you in your quest to keep the rest of the body line on the same plane. From on deck, what I see happening with a lot of triathletes and masters swimmers is that, while they might manage to keep their shoulders and hips on a pretty okay horizontal line, their feet are often sit well below the line. That is because they are either 1) not kicking enough; 2) creating too big of a kick; or 3) improperly kicking. Your kick needs to be soft and steady (unless you are sprinting and then it needs to be rapid and steady) and it needs to originate from your hips, not your knees. Work to keep your kick going and to keep your feet close together in your kick — especially when you breathe. I often see swimmers splay (separate) their legs far apart when they go to breathe. This is because they are out of balance and are using their legs, not their core, in a desperate attempt to find their balance. As you can see, a lot of factors go into finding and holding that perfect posture, line and balance. This short video shows you some common mistakes swimmers make in flutter kick and ends with a clip on proper kicking technique.
Ah yes, but I digress. Let’s get back to the hips.
Connect the Body Parts
We coaches will tell you that in freestyle and backstroke, you rotate off the “long-axis”. What that means is that you don’t just rotate from your hips. If you do so, you’ll actually wiggle or snake across the top of the water, creating drag instead of minimizing it. One of my favorites sites, www.swimsmooth.com, covers this body roll or body rotation topic quite well:
For good efficient swimming technique, the shoulders, torso and hips should all roll together as one. For your kick, this means you kick on the side slightly as you rotate.
Ok, so you need to connect your shoulders, torso, hips, and (I’ll add) your feet into one long line as you roll slightly side to side. Note that your head should stay still when the rest of your body rotates. Check out this series of pictures of three Olympic swimmers: Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin (upper right) and Lindsey Benko (lower left). Look at the amazing line each of them has and you can see the connection of shoulders, torso, hips and feet.
Now watch this GoSwim video clip of Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce. She has such an amazing freestyle with probably one of the best “early vertical forearm” strokes I’ve seen! Feel free to study all aspects of her stroke here, but pay close attention to her kick, especially in the opening series. See how compact that kick is? She keeps her feet fairly close together and in a tight cylinder behind her body. Now take note of the connection she has with her shoulder, torso, hips and heels aligning as she rotates or rolls from side to side.
Roll Baby Roll?
Finding the perfect amount of rotation is admittedly tough. We coaches usually see severe over rotation or almost no rotation. Geez, gang do you always have to go to extremes? When you are in the water, it can be tough to know exactly how much body roll to give, let alone whether you meet or exceed that. Ah ha! Well for a definitive answer, we turn to Russell Mark, High Performance Consultant for USA Swimming. In studying elite freestylers, Russell noted that:
The best freestylers rotate their shoulders to either side about 30 degrees from the surface, meaning that they never even rotate halfway onto their side (which would be 90 degrees).
Think about it. 30 degrees is not very much. Check out this graphic from Mark’s posting on USA swimming. What we have seen in freestyle is a significant decrease in rotation as the science of swimming has evolved. Just a few years ago it was common to see rotation in the 45-60 degree range, now we’ve seen it drop to around 30 degrees. If you are rotating above 60 degrees, you are probably over rotating, and most definitely over rotating if you are closer to 90 degrees.
Click to read full article at USA Swimming
To make sure you are not over rotating, you’ve got to embrace and implement the concept of connecting that long line on your body – hand, shoulder, hip, feet. When you go to stroke–let’s say with your right hand–take your right hip and let it slide forward and let it press just slightly down on the water. It should lead the right hand into the water. Just remember to engage your core and connect heels, hip, shoulder as one long line.
Hey, there is no doubt that swimming is incredibly complex and technical. It seems like a zillion factors go into swimming a “correct” freestyle that will eventually be faster for you and save you energy. We touched on a few of them here, but those for a future posting (or past posting on this website) are: head position, breathing, pull, early vertical forearm, arm recovery, and hand strike. Aligning yourself in the water to find the optimum posture, line and balance, is key to an efficient freestyle.
Stop exhausting yourself by muscling through in your freestyle. Learn to finesse the water. Minimize resistance everywhere you can. Keep those hips up, align yourself fingertip to toe, keep the kick small and compact, and visualize swimming in the cylinder. Continue to “sweat the small stuff” in your freestyle. Focus on all of these little details and it will add up to huge improvements in your freestyle.
I focused on a previous post last week about the importance of Turns. Here is a pretty cool clip from Swim Technique covering turns for a 100 IM.
In the video, you will see that the swimmer shows two different back to breast turns. The first such turn is a Back-to-Breast Bucket Turn where you go straight over. The second turn is a traditional Back-to-Breast – touch the wall, spin the knees up, and get off the wall on your stomach. Which, I might add, he does very well. If you watch this movie in QuickTime, use your arrow keys to proceed through the video frame by frame. That is a great way to slow it down so you can see every nuance.
The Bucket Turn is an older version that can be fast. I have a variation of that style turn where I make my flip go over one shoulder instead of straight over. For some reason this is definitely faster for me. The Bucket Turn and the Crossover Turn below are ways to significantly speed up your Back-to-Breast turn once you master the technique. However, you need to make sure you set up with a good breath going into the wall as it takes some explosive energy to execute. I’ve got this mastered for a 100 IM, but for a 200 IM, I feel a bit more winded and therefore do a standard Back-to-Breast open turn.
Here is a clip of Ryan Lochte doing the Back-to-Breast Crossover Turn – also known as the Suicide Turn. Click Turn Back To Breast Crossover Locthe. A GREAT turn and now THE common turn among elite swimmers. But it is also known as the Suicide Turn. Why? Because there is a high risk of getting disqualified. When swimming backstroke, you must finish the lap and your touch on your back. The touch on this turn is driving the lead arm up and over across your body on that final touch. The danger is that it is incredibly easy to wind up touching on your side. As you can see on Ryan’s clip, Ryan dives his left arm over across his body lifting his left hip to air. He then tucks his chin, folds at his waist, spins his knees to his chest, drives his head to his knees (getting incredibly compact), and leaves the wall at a slight angle on his right hip.
Here is Eric Shanteau with the same turn.
For a step-by-step guide to the Crossover Turn, this is one of my favorites.
For a more detailed look at a Fly to Back turn check out this clip.
For a Breast to Free turn, check out this clip.
And finally, this clip from GoSwim has some very sage advice about how to work turns into your practice. Some solid technique is shown in this one.
That should keep you all busy and out of trouble. Now go practice those turns!
Having had a chance to watch and compete in a masters swim meet today, I was again struck by the importance of turns. This meet was a sprint meet – the USF March Madness Meet that consisted of 50s and 100s. Starts and turns are a HUGE part of races that short and you want to make sure you are absolutely solid on your turns.
In practice – attack those walls and do so at race pace. Set aside a couple of 25s at the end of practice that you do from mid pool. Build yourself up to an all out sprint into and out of the turn. You’ve got to practice them at speed so that you are on auto-pilot on race day. Be aggressive! You’ve got to take momentum into the wall to get momentum off the wall.
On open turns (fly, breast, fly to back, back to breast) the first bit of speed comes from staying low and compact going into the wall. The second bit of speed comes from spinning your knees up hard and fast to get those feet planted on the wall. The third bit of speed comes from getting into (and quickly) the most efficient streamline you can establish. The fastest you will ever be is off the dive. The second fastest you will ever be is coming off the wall on your turns. It is worth every bit of time you have to “sweat the small stuff” and practice, practice, practice.
For specifics on turns, see my post on Open Turns from February 3, 2013. You can find that article here. There is also a freestyle flip turn drill from August 2012 here.
Anyone else out there with knee problems? They can be nagging, irritating, painful, and downright harmful! My arthritic knee now moves funny on my breaststroke kick, causing me groin pain as well as strained muscles on the inside of the knee. Tired of the nonstop issues, today I tried out a series of exercises from WebMD. What did I think? Well, the skeptic was wowed! They seem underwhelming when you look at them one by one. But, give these a try and you may find yourself awakening some new area. You’ll strengthen your hips, knees and leg muscles in general with these. Give ‘em a try!
This week’s video drill is for the backstrokers out there. From GoSwim, this video helps develop hand speed on the exit. To speed up your arm stroke tempo, you need to develop fast hands as you pull underwater to your hip. Check out the video for complete instructions.
Time to brush up on those open turns we do so many of in practice. ”Why coach, why?!?” Hmm, well because “I told you so” just isn’t going to fly with you masters swimmers, let’s give you a few “whys” behind how open turns can be your best friend, just like Fido here.
It is really easy to get sloppy in doing your turns. Sometimes it is fatigue, sometimes it is laziness, sometimes it is inattention or sometimes it is even because you just don’t know how. Whatever the reason, it is the simplest thing to stick with once you nail down the mechanics. Here are some benefits of fine tuning those open turns.
Be faster than the lane next to you!
Feel and look like a pro! We know what that means to you…
Prep yourself for competition – you know you want to
Spare an injured body party – say your back – from the load it takes from flip turns and do so without sacrificing too much efficiency!
This post at Swimming World has a pictorial step-by-step guide for freestyle open turns.