We are smack dab in the middle of the open water season, so it seems a good time to share some tips and tricks. Check out these two articles, one on the language of open water (you’ll be surprised at what you might not know) and one on what to expect in an ocean swim. Click on the titles below.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Even though it is only January, it isn’t too early to start thinking about the open water season. Triathletes and open water swimmers need to establish good technique and build their endurance in these winter months.
If you’ve got a wetsuit, and a strong constitution, you can even head to SF Bay and start the year with some Bay swims. Water temps are generally 50 or so in January and warm up to 61 or so in September. Brrr!
There are two terrific training groups that work out of SF Bay. One is SwimArt led by Leslie Thomas. Check them out at Swim-Art.com. I’m sharing with you today a video she has posted on You Tube that has a few very useful tips on open water swim. You’ll find that at the end of this post. As of this date, Swim-Art has not yet published their 2013 calendars. They do have a note that due to America’s Cup, they will have some limits to their normal activities from July to September. I have to tell ya, I’ve been on one of their bay training clinics and it was outstanding!
Another is Water World Swim led by Pedro. They currently have open water swims with Pedro, 10am on Sundays at Aquatic Park. And from March-September, they have “Swim with Pedro” on Thursday nights at 6pm. Fee is $15. Check out their calendar here for more swims.
And of course, there are the Dolphin Club and South End Rowing Club to consider as well. These two alternate days using a shared facility located at 500 Jefferson St which is on the edge of Aquatic Park. For $6.50 you can swim and have access to their facility (lockers and showers).
Be sure and check out Pacific Masters competition schedule. Last year they had a large amount of open water swims in our region and this year even more. We usually launch the open water season with a nice 1-mile open water swim in Santa Rosa at Spring Lake Park sometime in May. To warm you up, they do have two meets coming up that have events targeting distance swimmers. They would serve as a great way to launch your training for tri swims or open water competitions.
The first is The Olympic Club 1500m swim in an indoor 25-meter pool. They run just that event! It takes place on Saturday, January 17th. You can check it out and register for it here.
The second event is The City Mile 1650 swim in an indoor 25-yard pool. Again, this is the only event of the meet and it takes place on Sunday, February 24th. You can check it out here.
Both are terrific options to test yourself out and set the foundation for 2013. Go for it!
Ok, on to tips. Check out Leslie’s tips on her YouTube video.
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.
Got an open water swim coming up? Here’s a sighting drill from GoSwim. The key to good sighting is to keep your head lift as low as possible. Think “alligator eyes”!
Wow, have those Olympics been exhilirating! I have caught every swim race, often sitting on the edge of my seat and jumping for joy when they come to the final wall. What an amazing collection of swimmers from all over the world. Any of us who swim for fitness or competition, can understand and appreciate the huge amount of work these athletes put in to get on that big stage. Thousands and thousands of hours in the pool and in the gym in the hopes of shaving seconds, tenths or even hundredths off their time.
I can guarantee you that these Olympic swimmers are infinitely familiar with their pace clocks back at their training centers. That pace clock is a terrific tool for both fitness swimmers and competitive swimmers. Swimming mindless sets with no time reference is okay once in awhile, but to improve, you must work with the clock. Note that I say “with” not “against”.
There are lots and lots of ways to work with a pace clock. For today’s post, I’m going to talk about using the clock to establish your base or baseline in freestyle for the purpose of interval training, which can be key to finding speed, increasing endurance, and building your confidence in pushing yourself. There is a new coach posting to the USMS workouts (open water training) and I got the idea for this write up this week from her introductory post. Thank you Coach Anne Cleveland! You can follow Coach Cleveland’s workouts here.
What you’ll see with many online workouts is a reference of B+5, B-5, B+10, etc. The “B” stands for your Base. Right. So…what exactly is that? Base is your 100 time plus about :07 seconds of rest. Again, right….
To establish your base/baseline you swim a 100 free (no fins) at a comfortable pace from the wall (no dive start). Comfortably means about a 75% effort. Since that figure can be hard to quantify, think of it this way. Swim a 100 free with just a slight push, but enough where, when you come to the wall, you aren’t breathing all that hard.
Let’s say you come in at 1:23. Adding :07 seconds makes that 1:30. (I like easy math.) Wah lah! You have just discovered your base. Your base is 1:30, not 1:23 – remember, build in those :07 or :08 seconds. If you see a set that says 5 x 100 on B+:05 that would mean you would swim your 100s on 1:35 (your 1:30 base plus 5 seconds). If that set reads 5 x 100 on B-:05, your 100s would be on 1:25 (your 1:30 base minus 5 seconds).
What’s cool about this, is that you can use that base for any set of freestyle. If the workout reads B+:10 on something like 8 x 50 free, then you do some quick, easy math. Using the 1:30 base figure from our calculations in the previouus paragraph, the 50 base time would be 45 seconds. Your set would then be on :55 (your :45 base plus :10).
Let’s say coach says you are going to do 4 x 200 with a changing rate like this:
- First 200 B + :20
- Second 200 B + :15
- Third 200 B + :10
- Fourth 200 B + :05
Using the 1:30 base we’ve set hypothetically, your 200 base is 3:00 and your set would proceed like this:
- 200 on 3:20
- 200 on 3:15
- 200 on 3:10
- 200 on 3:05
To improve your speed and/or stamina, find your base and go to work! Changing the intensity of your swims and your intervals is one ticket to do so. Our bodies adapt to routines. If you always swim your 10 x 100 set on 1:30, or always swim 3 x 500 at the same pace, chances are you aren’t going to improve much. If you challenge yourself to change it up, your body will respond. Push your comfort zone once in awhile.
Final note – baseline training can work for any stroke, even IM’s. Just find your 100 time – remember it needs to be at an aerobic pace of about 75% (breathing comfortably). Then, go from there.
Happy Swimming ‘Nuts!
For our Bay Area swimmers in CA who like open water, do you know about SwimArt? I tried them out a few years ago, joining some members from my team at that time, Marin Pirates Masters. We attended the “Introduction” course that SwimArt offers. They do a terrific job of working with all levels of participants. Even though I consider myself an experienced short distance open water swimmer (1-3 miles), I picked up additional tips from the great instructors they had with us that day. If you are interested in swimming in SF Bay, the Alcatraz escape, and other ventures, consider looking into Swim Art. They offer many open water swimming programs in San Francisco Bay and beyond. Not just instruction, but regular guided swims as well. Check ‘em out!
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.
The folks at Swim Smooth have a helpful post on breathing in freestyle. Check it out!
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.