Feb 242013
 

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.

Dec 022012
 

Click pic for a terrific article on Dana Vollmer!

Today I want to share with you  some great drills to improve your dolphin kick. The dolphin kick is an incredible tool. Not only does it aid in butterfly, but it can also help you rocket off the wall in backstroke in freestyle. And for our breaststrokers out there, the single dolphin kick allowed on the pull down is a proven speed boost.  Like any stroke or kick, you need to perfect how you perform your dolphin kick. Many swimmers try to initiate the kick from the knees. Where you really want to initiate from is your abs and hips. Check this SwimTechnique video out for what good dolphin kicking looks like.

As you watch the video, note the things that make this swimmer’s kick so effective.

  1. He is perfectly still in his upper body from the shoulder blades and on up.
  2. He initiates his kick from high up in his abs and it travels in whip like fashion down his body.
  3. His knees never bend to 90 degrees.

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This first drill, AbBusters, is from Coach Stu Kahn, Davis Aquatic Masters. This particular drill will help you get the feel of driving the kick from your abdominal region.

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The second drill is from GoSwim. I like the idea of combining breaststroke kick with dolphin kick for those who struggle with getting enough oomph out of that dolphin kick.

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One of my favorites is vertical dolphin kicking. This sequence from GoSwim shows how to go from beginner level to mastering that tight compact dolphin kick. Here’s a key element to watch for. When you are doing vertical dolphin kicking in the deep end, look at the water around you. If you are throwing splashes in front and behind you, then you are not kicking correctly. Remember, we want to hold a tight core and keep the upper body locked down. Do so, and you will see rings of water around you. Keep that kick small, tight and fast!

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This Caterpillar Drill by SwimLabs is a great way to feel the torso press in fly along with the hip action. You can read about the importance of your torso in fly on one of our previous postings here.

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Lastly, I think kicking dolphin kick on your side is also a very good way to improve your feel for both the “up kick” and “down kick” in fly. Too often, when we kick with a board, we only emphasize the down kick (or feeling the top of your foot kick down on the water). When we kick dolphin on our back, same thing happens, we tend to feel the top of our foot kicking up and not feel the sole of our feet pressing down. Kicking on your side allows you to feel both sides of your feet press the water. This particular GoSwim drill has you doing a 360 rotation while dolphin kicking. If you find it too tough initially, try it with hands down by your side and then advance to the streamline position shown in the video.

Dolphin kick takes some work. Don’t try to tackle it all in one day. Take your time, do a mixture of these drills, and your dolphin kick will become one of your best allies!

Aug 182012
 

Here’s a great drill for mastering flip turns. It comes from our friends over at GoSwim. This drill uses the concept of a waterfall to teach the move where you drive your head to your knees. Pretty cool, and definitely something you can do on your own.

Step by step instructions that go with the video are:

Why do it:

Making sure the set up for your turn is direct, helps improve the speed into and out of the wall. Using the water as a substance, and your momentum to help you through the turn also saves energy and eliminates extraneous movements.

How to do it:

1) Push off the wall underrwater with your hands held down to your sides.

2) Very soon after your push, tuck your chin so the water hits you on the back of the head (like standing under a waterfall and leaning forward).

3) Allow the water to push you around without using your legs or arms. If you donapos;t make it all the way around, thatapos;s fine, this is just to teach you the initial sensation.

4) Move to directly on the surface, pushing off the same way, and tucking your chin to allow the body to flip around.

5) Finally, swim into the wall to gain some momentum, stop swimming a bit sooner than normal to allow both arms to be behind you, tuck your chin and roll into a flip turn.

How to do it really well (the fine points):

Make sure you never pop up prior to the turn, but submerge into the wall on each turn. Make sure you are not lifting your head as you approach the wall, but practice looking at the bottom to start building an awareness of turning without seeing the end. Most of all, when learning this, donapos;t muscle the first couple of steps, stay soft and slow, and feel the water pushing you around.

Coach Cokie’s note:

I would add one more “fine point”. When you flip, be sure and flip straight over, not off to one hip. On  the video, most of the swimmers do flip straight over onto the wall. However, a few flip slightly to one side and come out on one hip. When really trying to master flip turns, get yourself to flip straight over. You’ll use your dolphin kicks (or flutter kicks) to corkscrew you onto one hip and your first breakout stroke finishes straightening out your body. That comes in a future lesson!

Jul 012012
 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been brushing up on dryland training for core stability. As we all know by now, our core is vitally important in almost everything we do in life, and critical in all of our sporting adventures. Swimming is no exception. You want to master body line and balance in your strokes? Want to have quicker turns, better speed, and more endurance? One terrific start is to get working on your core.

I’ve got a few books on my bookshelf covering strength training and core stabilization. One that I really like is pictured below, Complete Conditioning for Swimming – a combination book with a DVD that contains all the exercises in the book. Why do I like this particular book? It is authored by famed swim coach Dave Salo (sprint coach extraordinaire) and Scott Riewald. Dave Salo has coached several olympic medalists such as Aaron Peirsol, Amanda Beard, Rebecca Soni, Jason Lezak, Eric Shanteau and Lenny Krayzelburg. He’s also the head coach of the USC Trojan’s Men’s & Women’s Swim Team.

Dr. Scott Riewald works with the United States Olympic Committee in its performance services division where he provides performance technology and biomechanics support for Olympic-level endurance athletes. Ok, we have some pretty impressive resumes on these two! The book is well written, easy to follow, and the DVD is wonderful. I’ve been able to burn the video to my computer, and now I have the exercises on my iPhone or iPad to use at the gym, or even just here at the house.

Let’s cut to the chase. I’ve found some terrific exercise videos on the DVD. Right now I’m concentrating on three categories on the DVD: Core Stability Exercises, Dynamic Warmups (land based), Flexibility Exercises, and Injury-Prevention Exercises. This week I’d like to a pool-based core stability exercise with you. This involves balancing on a kickboard.

Core Back Balance Drill in Water – Wi-Fi

Jun 172012
 

Ok, so we’ve been posting some drills to improve your timing on breaststroke. I’m doing some research for the USMS High Performance Camp that I’ll be coaching at in August (Greensboro, NC). I’m always on the hunt for new thoughts and ideas. While researching, I stumbled on this very challenging breaststroke drill for advanced level breaststrokers. I found this on SwimmingWorld. While it is dated 2004, it is still worthy of attempting!

Here’s a photo of Ed Moses doing the drill.

Here’s the write up from SwimmingWorld:

This is an advanced breaststroke drill, performed with only one arm and one leg. The drill will force you to use the proper timing of “Pull-Breathe-Kick-Stretch”. If you are not using the correct stroke timing – for example, you are not stretching long enough — you will receive immediate feedback from the stroke and go nowhere.

Begin the drill by holding your left foot with your right hand (or vice versa). Always begin a new stroke cycle in a streamline position, with your left arm extended out in front of you and your right leg straight. Pull as close to your normal pull pattern as possible. As you begin the insweep phase of the stroke, lift your head to breathe. During the breath, bend your kicking leg, bringing the heel of your foot toward your hip. During the power phase of the kick, place your head back down into the water, and straighten your leg into your “streamline”.

The timing of the stroke is a fundamental skill common of all successful breaststrokers. You will find this drill to be almost impossible to perform without proper timing.

Let me know how you fare. I’ve given it a go and can’t begin to master this – yet. My knee surgery has my right knee a bit challenged by that much bending back.

By the way, I had the pleasure of watching Ed Moses swim (and win) the 200 yard breaststroke at the USMS Nationals in Arizona May of 2011. He went out in a 24 on his first 50. Ahem, a 24?!?!?

Jun 102012
 

On May 20th, I wrote a post on a drill for breaststroke timing. You can read that here. That post also gave a link to an article by Swimming World on breaststroke timing. This week I show another application of the drill I call “Pull Stop – Kick Stop”. (If you need a review of what the Pull Stop, Kick Stop drill is, you’ll see that at the bottom of this post.)

This drill is relatively simple. Apply the Pull Stop Kick Stop drill to a 100 yard breaststroke. The idea is that you start with a big separation between the pull and kick on lap one, and then reduce that separation on lap two, further reduce it on lap 3, and then lap 4 is done as normal breaststroke. Try a series of 100 breaststrokes in this fasion.

Here are the specifics:

  1. On lap 1, count “1-2-3″ after the pull, before you execute the kick. Make sure you are in full streamline before you start your count.
  2. On lap 2, count “1-2″ after the pull (in full streamline) before you execute the kick.
  3. On lap 3, count “1″ after the pull, before the kick
  4. On lap 4, swim normal breaststroke. It is important that you allow your body to fully extend after each stroke. Finish your kick quickly and firmly, bringing your feet AND your legs together, and pointing your toes at the end of that kick. Get those arms fully extended and finish them close together up front (but not overlapping).

Some key points:

  • Work your streamline each and every stroke! You want to achieve that same type of streamline that your coaches ask you to do when coming off the wall. Arms full extended (although not stacked on top of each other), and touch your biceps to your ears. Eyes should be looking at the pool bottom.
  • Get your hips to come up by pressing your chest down when you are fully extended. Be careful not to point your hands or head down – just press your chest down. Pressing your chest down helps your hips to rise. Getting your hips up sets you up for a more powerful kick.
  • Start each pull with your thumbs down and palms facing the sides of the pool.
  • Keep your knees fairly narrow on your kick. Your first action of the kick is to bring both heels up to the side of your buttocks. Your feet should separate slightly on the draw up (of feet to butt) in order to prevent your knees from going wide.

 

Drill: Pull Stop, Kick Stop

This is a drill that can help in establishing timing between the pull and the kick. It also promotes “riding the glide” in breaststroke, driving the head down between outstretched arms, and finishing the feet before starting the pull.  

• This is a breaststroke separation drill where we separate the pull from the kick. Do a single pull of breaststroke with no kick at all (legs just hang out). At the end of the pull, dive your head down between your biceps into a tight streamline and stop or freeze in this position for just a moment. Without lifting your head or taking a breath now execute a single breaststroke kick with arms remaining in the streamline position. Finish your feet firmly and glide in this streamline position for a moment. Repeat the cycle through the lap.
•It is important to make a distinct stop after each pull and each kick. After you practice this for awhile, it should feel quite rhythmical. Once you have this drill down, begin to narrow the gap between the stops and eventually work it into a regular breaststroke. An accomplished breaststroker actually has a slight separation between the pull and when the kick starts. You’ll see that they initiate the arm pull first and about the time they are turning the corner to the insweep (from the outsweep) they begin to draw their heels up to start the kick. This requires a compact and speedy kick with a very quick heel draw.

 

Jun 032012
 

You ever feel like the top half of your body is disconnected from the lower half? Well, perhaps not. But as a swim coach, I can tell you that a whole bunch of you seem to suffer that fate. :-)

It’s true. One of the biggest flaws easiest to spot from deck is the swimmer who seems to have an odd ability to separate their torso from their legs. The two body areas seemingly work against each other instead of in sync. We try not to snicker too loudly. Truth is, we all remember feeling like that at one time in the water. Well, if you’ve been told you might suffer this  fate, then this drill is for you. For those of you who think you are oh-so-fine-and mighty…give this drill a whirl. Just may surprise yourself.

Ok, the drill is called the Sailboat Drill. Actually, I’ve seen this in all kinds of postings, but this particular posting refers to it as the Sailboat Drill. Pretty simple to explain. Maybe not so simple to do.

Hold a kickboard between your thighs. Make sure half the kickboard is sticking below your body when you swim freestyle. Use your core muscles to control your hip rotation. Beware, the board works against your efforts! Ah yes, one more tip. Have the board oriented vertically, not horizontally.

Now if you are a freestyler and can handle this drill with ease, flip over and do the same thing with backstroke. Aha! Gotcha.

Now go back and master the Sailboat Drill. Share it with your gutter buddies. Have fun laughing at each other as you work to hold those boards in place.

May 272012
 

As with breaststroke, butterfly is considered a “short-axis” stroke where you use your hips in a forward-backward motion to generate rhythm and kick. Most people try to power through fly, relying predominately on their arms and upper body and a kick that is just too hard with too much knee bend.

Butterfly is often seen as one of the more difficult. Yet, done properly, it is rhythmical and beautiful and the good flyers make it look effortless. They’ve learned how to minimize resistance and finesse the water. That is what we are trying to do with butterfly drills.

The foundation to a relaxed and fluid butterfly is the ability to undulate your body. Instead of relying too much on your arms or legs, you really want to rely on pressing your torso. Minimize the bend in your knee – try to keep it well under 90 degrees – maybe 45-60 degrees at the most. Work to keep yourself from diving down at the front end of your stroke. Keep your arms low and skimming right over the surface of the water.

One way to set muscle memory for your arms in fly is this dryland exercise. Stand in front of a mirror with your hands by your side. Raise your hands straight out from your sides as if you were going to make the letter “T”. Now continue to raise them up to your head. Do this now in one slow movement? Feel how easy and smooth that movement is? That is the same movement you will do in the water.

For the drills this week, I have a few that focus on awakening your torso to the role it plays in swimming quality butterfly.

Chest Press

This drill is designed to help you feel the press and release in fly.

Go face down in the water (no fins) with your hands at your side, and undulate through the water. Press with your head and chest as you undulate lightly through the water. Think of pressing your lungs down into the water. This is not about speed and you are not kicking – simply pressing the water.

A more advanced version is to try this face down in the water (no fins) but this time you will have your arms out in front of you, just outside your shoulders and with your pinkie finger up at the surface (thumb down) while you press your chest between your shoulders. This requires some flexibility, which is a key component to good butterfly. Remember, this is not about kicking, but about working your torso. Done properly, you will feel the shimmy travel down your torso into your legs. If you struggle, try this with fins. If you still struggle, return to the first version above.

Hands Down Dolphin Kick

This drill is also designed to help you feel the press and release in fly. 

Wearing a snorkel (a GREAT training tool), kick dolphin kick face down in the water with hands down by your hips. Keep your shoulders and head flat on the surface with very little up and down. Keep your neck long. Kick from your hips. This differs from the above drill in that you are kicking on this drill. But remember to continue pressing your lungs into the water and establish undulation of your body with your kick. Feel the shimmy!

Single-arm Butterfly

This drill helps develop timing and emphasizes soft hands. Key to all progressions of this drill is to remember that fly is not “up and down”. It is now swum low and flat across the water with just a little undulation of your body and not big dives down–because you just have to crawl back up to the surface!

In this drill, focus on staying as relaxed as possible, keeping your shoulders and head on the surface and your feet in the water. On your first run through of this drill,  you will keep one arm down by your side and you breathe to the side of the stroking arm. Keep your shoulders up and hands down on the front end of your stroke. Make your entry soft with your hands. Skim your stroking arm across the top of the water, keeping palms “to the sky” and dropping the thumb in first up front on your entry.

Do this again and pick up the tempo. This is now more like a racing drill. With the increase in speed, you should be even flatter. Remember, keep your recovery low, right across the top of the water instead of trying to power through it. Try to find rhythm in this drill.

For the second version of this drill, leave one arm stationary up front and stroke with one arm. To find your rhythm, you should have a kick on entry and a kick on exit. Both kicks are soft – what you really feel is that chest press and slight undulation in your body.

The next progression is to leave one hand stationary out in front. This will keep your line a little longer and prepares you more for racing. This progression allows for a bit more rhythm, and a more shallow entry. Concentrate on relaxed recovery and rhythmic kicking. You continue to breathe to the side as your stroking arm is back behind you. Get your face back down and eyes looking at the pool bottom before your hand strikes up front. Remember to stay low across the water with your stroking arm. Here’s a link to an example of this approach at GoSwim. 

An advanced technique progression is to incorporate front-end breathing. Leaving one arm out front, swim one arm fly and, using proper timing and your shoulders, lift up just enough to sneak a breath in front of you. Don’t use your head to lift for the breath (slide your chin forward across the water) and get your head down before your hands enter up front.

May 202012
 

One of the big struggles in breaststroke is the timing of your arms and the legs. Back in March, Swimming World published an article that is quite helpful on this topic. Check the article out. Then, try this drill to help fine tune the timing in breaststroke.

Article: Breaststroke Timing

Drill: Pull Stop, Kick Stop

 

This is a drill that can help in establishing timing between the pull and the kick. It also promotes “riding the glide” in breaststroke, driving the head down between outstretched arms, and finishing the feet before starting the pull.  

This is a breaststroke separation drill where we separate the pull from the kick. Do a single pull of breaststroke with no kick at all (legs just hang out). At the end of the pull, dive your head down between your biceps into a tight streamline and stop or freeze in this position for just a moment. Without lifting your head or taking a breath now execute a single breaststroke kick with arms remaining in the streamline position. Finish your feet firmly and glide in this streamline position for a moment. Repeat the cycle through the lap.                                          

It is important to make a distinct stop after each pull and each kick. Afteryou practice this for awhile, it should feel quite rhythmical. Once you have this drill down, begin to narrow the gap between the stops and eventually work it into a regular breaststroke. An accomplished breaststroker actually has a slight separation between the pull and when the kick starts. You’ll see that they initiate the arm pull first and about the time they are completing the outsweep they begin to draw their heels up to start the kick. This requires a compact and speedy kick.

May 132012
 

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our Mom’s out there! In thinking about what an incredible job that Mom’s do, and knowing how hectic life is these days, I thought a post on something soothing and smooth might be in order. I’m combining our Drill of the Week and Tip of the Week as one post. As you read through, you’ll see why.

Sometimes we have those days in our swimming where it all seems so easy and smooth. You sail through your workout and even contemplate that you just might be Olympic calibre.  Visions of Jessica Hardy and Ryan Lochte dance through your head.

Then there are those days that are quite a bit more challenging. You know what I’m talking about! You thrash, you splash and somehow, most unelegantly, you make your way to the other end. No matter what happens, you just can’t “get your groove on”. What’s up with that?

Ah mate…you just lost your rhythm. Thoughts of the Olympics are dashed and you think you just might need remedial lessons. The good news is that the loss is temporary, and you can work to get it back.

In an earlier write up, I posted about cylinder swimming. It isn’t something that just happens, you have to concentrate and be vigilant about your position, line and balance in the water. There is another component to your swimming, your rhythm, and it requires the same level of attention. You need to pay attention to your rhythm and cadence – in your breathing, in your stroking, in your kicking.

For me, backstroke and freestyle provide optimal opportunity to feel rhythm. Both are very symmetrical strokes. I often find myself counting some form of cadence as I stroke along – 1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3. It can be so mesmerizing and relaxing! Definitely my “Zen moment”. This is possible, also, with butterfly and breaststroke, just takes a bit more work to relax and get into the stroke.  Those two strokes can suck away the oxygen rather quickly, so establishing proper breathing is critical.

Alright then, so how do you find this magical feeling? Allow yourself to experience a practice session without a clock or timing device. Let go of that for the purposes of this goal to find and maintain rhythm in your swimming. Start out by focusing on your breathing. Do some very easy laps kicking on your back while you gently breathe in and out. Don’t kick hard (and fins are fine).  Keeping that breathing relaxed, focus on your streamline, and then your kick. Keep the knee bend to a minimum, kick from the hips, point the toes slightly. Is your kick even? Smooth?

Now try gentle and easy freestyle strokes, continuing to focus on keeping that breathing relaxed. If kicking isn’t your strong suit, for now, put on a pull buoy.

Breathe when you want – don’t worry about whether that is every stroke, every third, or some other cadence. Each time your face hits the water, be sure and exhale – gently and smoothly. Don’t hold your breath for even a second! Just let it flow back and forth. Continue focusing on finding a rhythm in your breathing – whatever your cycle of breathing may be.

When you have your breathing relaxed, swim a lap where you focus on noticing the timing of your strokes with your breathing. Can you find a pattern? Do you have a “hitch” in your stroke that you can smooth out so that it feels like it can match up to a metronome?

As you begin to feel that you’ve got rhythm at slow speeds, take it up a notch. Don’t work harder at your stroking or kicking, just simply increase the rhythm ever so slightly. If you falter, back up a step (or steps) until you begin to find the rhythm. Keep at it! Once you find that incredible feeling, it is addictive and you will want to find it again and again.

For you competitors out there, this is a great way to ramp up for meets or open water swims. Do sets where you first find the smooth rhythm, and then increase the tempo of that rhythm. Focus on those increases in rhythm more than effort in your stroke. You just might like those results. :-)

Once you can do a few laps “with rhythm”, up the ante. Can you do a 200? Can you hold this for a 500? If you cannot, a few things could be going on. One, your breathing may not be executed properly. Remember, no holding your breath when your face is in the water! Two, you may not have your aerobic conditioning down. Work to increase yardage and decrease rest. Three, other elements may be working against you. If you don’t have proper position, line and balance in the water, finding rhythm will be difficult. Return to some basics on stroke improvement. Use your core, work your catch, align your body.

Be patient with yourself and know that this magical transformation doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been working on this for over 5 years. I don’t find that sweet spot in every lap of my practice. But, I am now able to find it in almost every practice. Try it in backstroke. This is my most favorite stroke right now. Backstroke used to be my absolute worst stroke. My former coach, Sharlene, used to chuckle a lot when I tried backstroke. I flailed and was all over the place. I very much appreciate all the time she spent with me, because eventually things began to gel as  I worked on it, over and over. And when my best stroke, breaststroke, neeeded a rest due to injuries, I set my sights on dramatically improving my backstroke. Sometime over the last two years, I began to find the rhythm in the stroke and have fallen completely head over heels in love with it. Whether it is 50 back, 200 back or even 500 back (in practice), I just feel strong, confident and smooth, and oh so rhythmical.

Give it a go. Be patient and just keep at it. Once you “find it” you won’t be disappointed. So go swim smooth people!