May 252013
 

Warning! Your hips may be out of control!

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 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.

Freestyle Posture Line Balance

Hips Up!

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.

Check out the full article and supporting video that Swim Smooth has on body rotation and why it is essential to good freestyle: http://www.swimsmooth.com/rotation.html#ixzz2UK4UVkl4

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.

Make the connection!

 

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

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

Oct 282012
 

Kaity and Susie with her sleek kayak

The idea for today’s post comes from a presentation on freestyle that I attended at the 2012 USMS High Performance Camp in Greensboro, NC. It was given by Coach Stu Kahn, Davis Aquatic Masters and 2012 USMS Coach of the Year. Not only is Stu one heck of a coach, he is also one great friend! 

Did you know that water is roughly 800 times more dense than air? Yup! What does that mean to us swimmers? Our speed in the water is dependent on two forces that act simultaneously. Those forces are resistance and propulsion. According to Coach Stu, up to 91% of a person’s energy is lost through drag. Whoa! Ok then, drag equals resistance. That means to be efficient in the water we need to really work on minimizing our drag, because resistance is the force that holds us back. Propulsion is the force that pushes us forward.

Think of propulsion as a bigger engine. Think of resistance as the hull on a boat. A long sleek hull moves faster through the water. I know this well because one day I went kayaking with fellow coach Susie Powell. She has an incredibly sleek kayak (in the photo for this article), and I had a rental kayak. My body is bigger than Susie’s and stronger. Yet, for every stroke she took, I took 3-4 strokes. Hmmm, I quickly had kayak envy! I had propulsion, but she had minimal resistance and that made her faster in the water.

As Coach Stu says, “Increasing propulsion is building bigger motors. It is time consuming.” Decreasing resistance is your best and fastest way to gain speed in the water. It is about reshaping your vessel. Susie’s kayak was long, narrow and very light. My kayak was short, wide and heavy. We need to learn how to make our bodies long, sleek and narrow in the water. This can be done, no matter what shape you have. So no excuses!

The way to do this is to work technique over training yards. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you keep your focus on your technique, and work to minimize resistance in all phases of your stroke. You can still get some decent and even extreme yardage in, but at every practice you should “sweat the small stuff” and find ways to combat resistance.

One way to reshape ‘your vessel’ is to minimize the surface area of your body as it travels through water. Take a look at this drag coefficient chart of different shapes.

You definitely don’t want to be the cube! Maybe that’s why we all liked those high tech suits. They, uh, reshaped our vessel! Seriously though, if I work to smooth out my torso by drawing in my ribs (or pulling in my belly button), I flatten the back and trim resistance in that one spot – and it works for any stroke, start or turn. If I reach long in my stroke and enter straight out from my shoulders (free, back and fly), I help the water draft around my body with less drag. If I keep my legs kicking inside my hip line (flutter or dolphin) instead of splaying that can happen on freestyle and backstroke, or bending my knees too much on butterfly, I’ve found another way of lengthening and reshaping my hull.

Head to the pool and become hyper aware of how you line up and move your body through the water. Think about the concept of the cylinder that I brought up in a previous post. Work to minimize resistance first, then build a bigger engine and find that propulsion.

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 162012
 

You don’t have to compete in swim meets and officially sanctioned open water swims to call yourself a masters swimmer. While I love competition, not everyone does. Did you know that it is fitness swimmers that make up the bulk of the near 60,000 members of U.S. Masters Swimming? Well Fitness Swimmers, stand up and take a bow!

With that in mind, this post is dedicated to the fitness swimmer. Give a big round of applause for those who come out to the pool (or open body of water) and swim on a regular basis to stay fit. It is one of the best forms of exercise and these fitness swimmers are impressive with their dedication.

If you don’t like competition, or just simply can’t fit it into your schedule, there are abundant opportunities to challenge yourself in a wide variety of ways. U.S. Masters Swimming has steadily grown their web segment on Fitness  Swimming throughout the years and they list a few of the postal swims/fitness challenges on their site. You can catch it here.

Many of the fitness challenges allow you to sign up online (generally a very nominal fee) and give you something for attempting or completing the challenge – sometimes a pin, a hat, a t-shirt, etc. Other fitness challenges are sometimes reserved for a club or specific to a region.

It is incredibly fun to try some of these challenges, some of which are zany, and some are more serious. Check some of these challenges out!

The February Fitness Challenge

In this challenge, you are rewarded for swimming at least 5 days each week in the month of February. There are special awards for those who amass 100,000 yards of swimming. Whoa, that is a lotta yards!

The S.W.I.M. Fitness Challenge

This swim “Streamlining Weigh Loss In Masters” was hosted by Illinois Masters. It was a 10-week weight loss challenge that started on Super Bowl Sunday.

The Independence Day Challenge

This was a challenge to swim an 800 I.M., time yourself in each 200, and send your results in on the USMS Discussion Forum.

The Brute Squad Swim

Ah, this is a toughie. Swim a 1650 free (or 1500m if long course), a 400 IM and a 200 Fly. Events can be swum in any order with as much rest between as desired. All three events must be swum in the same 24 hour day.

Davis Brute Squad

Now these guys really put the challenge on the Brute Squad Swim. (And, Davis, after all, was the originators of the Brute Squad.) In their version, you swim the 1650 Free, 400 IM and 200 Fly in any order and back-to-back. You submit your total time to complete the three events (rest time is included). The challenge is to try to keep the rest at minimum. If you are really a brute, you don’t take any rest at all!

The 12,000 Yards of Christmas

Trying to get ride of those holiday calories? Look no further than this 12,000 yard challenge! The goal is to swim 12,000 yards in one week, the week between December 24th and Jan 1st. Sweet! Eat the sweets, do the sets, and perhaps you can meet your quest to burn those calories off.  Of course, better yet, don’t eat the sweets and still do the 12,000 yards and you come out ahead. :-)

The TAM 1650 Postal Challenge

Swim 1650 yards in the month of January or February, have someone catch your splits each 50, and that’s all ya gotta do for this Fitness Challenge which is hosted each year by the Tamalpais Masters in San Rafael, CA.

The Turducken Workout

A turducken is a turkey that is stuffed with a duck, which in turn has been stuffed with a chicken. Uhm…Yuck? It helps to enjoy IM if you are going to do this set which involves

4 x 350 @ :30-:40 rest interval

1st 350=100 FL/50 BK/50 BR/50 BK/100 FL

2nd 350=100 BK/50 BR/50 FR/50 BR/100 BK

3rd 350=100 BR/50 FR/50 FL/50 FR/100 BR

4th 350=100 FR/50 FL/50 BK/50 FL/100 FR

On each round do the middle 50 at 200 IM pace; the 50 before it as build and the 50 after it as recovery, and the turkey 100s at the front and back at basic aerobic pace.

 The Butternuts

Now, these guys are nuts. This is a club for anyone who can swim 500 yards of butterfly without stopping. Yikes!

The Check Off Challenge

Our Swymnuts will recognize this as we did this one here in our first year. Basically, you swim every event in a short course yards meet + an open water swim. You can do this in practice or by attending meets and “checking off” the events you swim. For the ultimate challenge do it all in one workout. For the ultra challenge, do it straight, with no rest between sets.

July Swim For Distance Month

Hosted by the Dallas Aquatic Masters, this one involves swimming as much yardage as you can in the month of July. Walnut Creek also has a version of this that they do in March and they title theirs, March Madness. I know a few swimmers who have gone over 300,000 yards. O-M-G!

Those are just a few of the challenges I found while poking around the USMS Discussion Forums. If you know of more, let me know! If you’ve got an idea for a challenge we might undertake as Sywmnuts, let’s hear it. After all, we are NUTS, right?

Jun 032012
 

Yeah, yeah, you’ve seen my write ups on “early vertical forearm” or “high elbow”. But have you heard of Coach Emmett Hines? This guy is a legend in the coaching world. See what he has to say about dropped elbows – the cause and effect. He has a wonderful writing style – you’ll laugh as you learn! When you click the link below, if it doesn’t take you directly to this article, you’ll land on a page with all of his articles in alphabetical order. Just look for this title.

In Search of the Dreaded Dropped Elbow, Coach Emmett Hines

 

 

 

May 062012
 

Last week I posted on different freestyle forms (see TOW April 29-May 5). While there are a variety of styles in freestyle, all should share one common trait – Early Vertical Forearm. Are you like me when you first heard that term? One big “HUH?” It really took me a bit to understand first what they heck the term meant, second, how I was supposed to apply  “EVF”, and third, what the benefit would be to my freestyle.

Early vertical forearm – EVF – is actually simple to describe, and harder to attain. A simplified definition is that when your hand enters the water up front and begins to catch the water, you want your fingertips and forearm – as one unit – to go vertical. Your fingertips need to point down to the pool bottom. But, you want to hinge at the elbow! If you don’t, you are pulling through with your shoulder and not getting enough grab on the water. I like to think of my fingers, wrist and forearm as the main fulcrum in my pull. I bend at the elbow (or pretend my elbow is a hinge) to get that position early in my pull.  That means my elbow stays high all the way through as my hand catches the water and pulls to my hip.

How do you know when you have achieved it? Well, ideally, with someone watching from underwater. Even so, you can feel the difference. When using EVF, I feel the use of my lats and the shoulder muscles near my arm pit. It feels as if I am vaulting over a barrel and my stroke definitely feels more powerful. I am able to cut my stroke count down by 1-2 strokes per lap when I do EVF properly. So there is your benefit! You will be more efficient in the water, taking less strokes per lap. That means it is good for all levels of swimmers – fitness, triathletes or pool competitors. An added benefit? Employ the proper muscles in your freestyle pull and you have a lot better chance of avoiding some serious shoulder injuries.

EVF is not a simple transition. It will take you a lot of practice time to train your body for the adjustment. To really grasp EVF, you need to watch different videos of swimmers using EVF, try it out yourself, and supplement that with some isometric exercises that strengthen the muscles needed for this action.

My suggestion is that you focus on some one arm swimming to start. Leave the non swimming arm up front, keep your stroke wide (remember – out from your shoulder – don’t cross into your center line). Try a 25 with one arm, really focusing on pointing the fingertips to the pool bottom while keeping the elbow high. Now try a 25 with the other arm. If you are like me, one arm seems to handle it easier than the other arm. A good visualiztion is to picture yourself paddling on a surfboard. The elbow can’t drop (because of the board) and your fingertips, wrist and forearm, all grab the water and push through to your hip.

After doing some 25s one arm, try a 50 swim where one lap you concentrate on the right arm, one lap you concentrate on the left arm. Just keep focusing on this and you’ll get where you need to be!

Here is a great write up and collection of EVF videos and drills that I found. If you Google “early vertical forearm” you’ll see quite a collection of materials.

http://www.breakwatersportstraining.com/drill_videos_arms.html