The folks at Swim Smooth have a great write up (click here) on why stroke rate is such an important aspect of your swimming. Stroke rate is different than stroke length. There has been a lot of emphasis in the past with stroke length (I’m sure you’ve heard the term “distance per stroke”) but a better tool for improving your speed is to know your stroke rate. Stroke rate applies to all four strokes, but for the purposes of the Swim Smooth article, they are concentrating on freestyle.
Stroke length is how far you travel with each stroke. A longer stroke length means less strokes to the end of the lap. Stroke length does have a place in our swimming strategy, especially for newbies and beginner-intermediates, but stroke length can also work against you. If you have too much glide in your stroke it can leave you with some significant pauses where your forward momentum begins to stall out. That can create drag and a loss of balance for you as well as an increased use of energy needed to come back from the stall. It can look smooth and pretty but may not give you the efficiency or speed you desire in your swim.
Stroke rate is how many strokes you take, otherwise known as turnover. In a very simplified way of thinking about stroke rate, the longer the swim, the lower your stroke rate. The shorter the swim (think 50 free and its wild splash-and-dash approach) the higher the stroke rate. Stroke rate is measured in strokes per minute (SPM). In the Swim Smooth article they even have a tool you can use to establish your strokes per minute and see how that rate equates to reaching your goal in something like a 100m freestyle race.
There are a few ways to measure Stroke Rate. If you use a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro (the yellow one with the replaceable batter) you can go into Mode 3 and play with a range anywhere from 60-110. 60 is a slow, easy turnover. 110 is frenzied. Try several swims from slow, easy and comfortable to fast and furious. Where do you fall? What can you sustain for a 25? A 50? A 400? Use that knowledge and plan some sets around it.
If you don’t have a Tempo Trainer – well heck ya big goof, go get one – then you can have someone simply time you for 10 strokes. They would start the stopwatch with the first hand entry and each subsequent hand entry is a count, stopping the watch on your 10th hand entry. Have them do this for a few 10-second stretches so you get an accurate look at your stroke rate. You can also get video taped and then conduct your own stopwatch assessment in the same fashion.
Along with the Swim Smooth write up, I found a YouTube video (below) that shows how they took a swimmer, analyzed his stroke (which was too slow with too much glide) and improved his stroke rate so that he would be faster and more efficient. It is a long video (26 minutes) but worth watching. There are some good tips in there on how you can improve your own stroke rate in freestyle.
Again, knowing and working with your stroke rate encompasses all your strokes. Using the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro is one of the best tools you have at your disposal. Keep a log of your stroke rate and set some goals on how to improve it. Remember, you still have to have efficiency in your stroke so don’t sacrifice good stroke mechanics simply to flail yourself down to the other end of the pool. After all, it is about image, right? We want to swim pretty, right?
Great video clip on why you need to correct your pull in freestyle – especially if you are a swimmer that pulls with a straight arm or that pulls way under your body (to your opposite hip). Gary walks you through why drag trumps power and what you can do to get the most out of your freestyle pull.
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.
Photo from http://www.paulsadlerswimland.com/SSC/Glossary.aspx
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.
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.
Photo from SwimmingandMore.blogspot.com
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.
Daniel Gyurta. Photo by Francois Xavier Marit, Getty Images. Obtained from http://coachjoshwilkinson.edublogs.org
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.