Today, I’ve got a follow up to the Sunday post this week on Get Rid of That Drag. In this follow up, we’ll see a video from SwimTherapy, a group out of the UK. One very common error in freestyle is the head position. This video covers that and different styles of breathing – unilateral, bilateral, exhaling throughout the time your face is in the water, or exploding the exhale immediately before turning for air. Video is very clear, numerous angles above and below, and terrific commentary. Check it out!
You have got to watch these YouTube videos Faster Freestyle By Decreasing Drag and How To Swim Faster Freestyle with High Legs & Low Drag. Posted by J Shaules from SynergySwimming. His approach to teaching on this video is hysterical. While most definitely irreverent, he does make some excellent points. I especially like the first drill in the first video which is done in the deep end. Richard Quick used this drill in his Championship Swimming DVDs. Give it a go!
Check out this backstroke drill done by Missy Franklin. I’ve heard of balancing a cup on your forehead, and certainly balancing unattached goggles on your forehead. But this size water bottle? Nice job Missy! Click the picture to see the video.
Breaststrokers know the finicky nature of timing in that stroke. When it is on, your stroke feels incredibly smooth, powerful and almost effortless. When it is off, it feels absolutely horrible! Take time away from the stroke (say from a knee injury), and your timing definitely suffers upon your return.
From on deck, what I notice is that many masters swimmers struggle to find proper timing. One of the biggest questions I get about breaststroke is when to time the kick in relation to the pull. This is a bit tricky. Many a coach has been heard calling out from deck, “kick your hands forward”. While they mean well, the instruction is somewhat flawed. In fact, many of us initiate our kick too early in the stroke because of this misconception. Watch the best breaststrokers in the world of late, and you’ll notice that their kick takes place behind their arm action.
Two great posts are available for further information on how the best of the best time their kick. Check out this post by a Santa Clara swimmer, Russell Payne. He describes his struggle changing from an “accordion breaststroke” (where the kick starts with the catch and pull of the arms) to this more recent evolution. Then, check out this one by who he references in his post, Russell Mark, USA National Team Staff Member.
What Payne describes as accordion breaststroke, is what many masters swimmers do. They draw their hands in on the outsweep and feet up at the same time, exposing their entire frame as one unit of massive resistance. But, if you separate your kick just slightly from your pull, you lessen that resistance by getting the front half of your body into a streamline, allowing the kick to really propel you forward.
In a nutshell, you want to be very patient with your legs. Wait to draw your heels up until your arms “turn the corner” to your insweep from your outsweep. Two key elements to success here are 1) you need to have a very quick draw of your heels to your hips; and 2) on the shoot through recovery of the arms, you need to drive your body forward, pressing your chest down, fully extending those arms out front, and squeezing your ears with your biceps. Take a look at these two pictures that definitely illustrate this point.
In this first photo, Michael Phelps has drawn his heels up and by the time he gets the arms extended out front, he will be on the down kick with his legs.
This photo is of Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta. Here you can see that he is one step farther along in his stroke than the Phelps photo above. He has completed his recovery and his legs are on the down sweep. This allows him to minimize resistance and maximize his streamline.
How do you do it? Practice, practice, practice. Kicking without a board in a streamline position (as if you just ended a breaststroke pull) is one way to establish your feel for this. Then, give a try to the Pull Stop Kick Stop drill highlighted in this previous post on Breaststroke Timing – Part 2. By learning to separate the pull from the kick, and then gradually putting it back together, you’ll reset your timing and get back to feeling smooth and powerful with your breaststroke.
Give it a try and let me know how things are progressing.
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.
- He is perfectly still in his upper body from the shoulder blades and on up.
- He initiates his kick from high up in his abs and it travels in whip like fashion down his body.
- His knees never bend to 90 degrees.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Has your coach told you that you breathe too late or too early in your freestyle stroke? Do you regularly feel winded when swimming freestyle? Could be your timing is off on when you inhale or you may not be exhaling properly. Below is a good video that demonstrates when to breathe on freestyle and gives you a couple of drills to work on. In a nutshell, you want to breathe “in the trough”. To see what I mean by that, take a look at this excellent article from Swim Smooth on breathing in freestyle.
This Swim Smart video below demonstrates a catch up drill with a kickboard held sideways. Remember, any time you do catch up drill, to make sure you do so in a “superman” style. In other words, don’t let your hands touch each other when they “catch up” in the front. Keep the hand strike straight out from the shoulder. A great way to do this drill is to get a piece of PVC pipe that is cut shoulder width to match your shoulders. When you do the catch up drill, just be sure and catch the ends of the PVC pipe, and not the middle.
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.
Want to know what Early Vertical Forearm looks like? Below is a video from SwimAffect that shows a point by point breakdown of front quadrant freestyle with a high elbow. As you watch the video, take note of not just the front part of the stroke where they demonstrate early vertical forearm, but also look at the back half of the stroke.
Something I learned from Coach Stu Kahn (Davis Aquatic Masters) at the 2012 USMS High Performance Camp in Greensboro, NC last week was to consider a Late Vertical Forearm and an Even Later Vertical Palm.
A Late Vertical Forearm is the back half of your freestyle pull where you are at 90 degrees finishing the Early Vertical Forearm. It is the second fastest spot in your freestyle stroke! To find speed, you need to accelerate your hand all the way through the back half of the pull while maintaining a position with your palm pushing water back (but not up). Your opposite arm is out in front at the point you begin your Late Vertical Forearm.
The Even Later Vertical Palm – ELVP – is key to that back half of your stroke. Coach Stu used imagery as a way to guide your stroke. Picture yourself grabbing on to a block of ice in the front where you make your initial catch. Initially you pull the ice until you go from EVF to LVF at that 90-degree mark. From that point you are then pushing the ice block back, hence the need for the palm pushing back all the way to your hip.
Coach Stu’s tip is to “close your armpit” as you transition from EVF to LVF (feel like you are popping a small balloon in your armpit). Your wrist should be flexed when you get down to your waist, not pushing up to the sky. Hold the water all the way back. Some of the world’s greatest freestylers swim in this fashion: Ryk Needling, Michael Klimt, Inge de Bruijn, Federica Pelligrini, Ian Thorpe, Dana Vollmer, Missy Franklin, and Katie Ledecky to name a few. While they may vary in the front end of their stroke, it is in the back end of their stroke that they share a common element of a palm push. Even the great Cal sprinter Nathan Adrian doesn’t really have an EVF (he has a straight arm style), but does have a very strong LVF and ELVP. Remember Janet Evans? She held on to the water on the back half of her stroke and that is what made her incredibly efficient even with an otherwise un-textbook windmill straight arm stroke and no early vertical forearm.
An easy way to wrap up here is to remember to:
- catch the water sooner
- hold on to it longer
- accelerate your hands through the pull / push of the ice block
There are three ways to do a back to breast turn. I’ve mastered two of them. But the third, The Crossover Turn, has always confounded me. I could not do this turn. Because I could not do it, I could not teach it. Aargh! However, while doing some research on breaststroke (which I am teaching at the upcoming USMS High Performance Camp, August 25-29 in Greensboro, NC), I found this incredible clip. I love this!!! Finally, I think I just might be able to learn this turn. Thanks to the folks at SwimAffect.com for their expertise in guiding us through this turn.
To view the video, click:
In future posts, I’ll go over the other two options for a back to breast turn. Meanwhile, go try this, especially you IM swimmers.
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.