Jun 092013


Click photo for a USA Swimming article on the importance of hydration

Click photo for a USA Swimming article on the importance of hydration

I know I’m most likely “preaching to the choir” here, but I’m forging ahead anyway! I just returned from teaching a Level 3 USMS Coaches Certification course in Alexandria, Virginia. We had the incredible opportunity of having Dr. Jim Miller attend the class.  (Past President of USMS, Orthopedic Surgeon, Swim Coach, FINA-USA-USMS expert on Shoulders and Shoulder Injuries and other Sports Science topics.) We called upon him to present the last portion of the class which was on injury prevention and rehabilitation. By the way, if you haven’t heard him talk or seen his work on shoulders, you should. His knowledge is amazing! For example, did you know that 60-85% of Masters swimmers will have a shoulder injury that keeps them out of the water one week or more?

In his talk, hydration was a major focal point. Time and time again in his presentation, Dr. Miller stressed the need for staying hydrated – before practice, during practice, and after practice. It is absolutely an essential part of our overall well being. Get up in the morning and drink a full glass of water. Your system was dormant during the night and dries out. You need to replenish your cells with water. According to a Chicago Tribune story (posted June 5th), the Centers for Disease Control came out with a study saying that nearly half of Americans are not drinking enough water. Their study showed that 43% of adults drink less than 4 cups a day – not nearly enough.

And for those of you that pop Aleve, Advil or some other form of an NSAID, here is a frightening statistic from Dr. Miller. It is estimated that 40% of those on dialysis today are there because of NSAIDs. NSAIDs can be extremely hard on your kidneys. If you do take them, do so with plenty of water and don’t take them on an empty stomach. Don’t take them as preventative (oh, I’m going for my 3 mile swim, 5 mile run, or 25 mike ride and I know I’ll be sore). Wait to use them when the pain actually hits. Try for ice, heat, yoga, foam rollers, massage or other remedies to reduce your dependence on NSAIDs. Your kidneys will appreciate this.

You’ve got to bring water to practice, and you’ve got to make sure to drink it then and even after practice. No matter what time you workout, you should also give your body the fuel it needs to do the workout. We know it isn’t fun to swim on a full belly, or to even contemplate eating at 5 a.m., but you’ve got to do something. Dr. Miller’s suggestion is for a liquid meal even as simple as water mixed with some type of carbohydrate based drink along the lines of Gatorade, Powerade, or other brands you may prefer. Make it a 50-50 combination of water/drink to reduce calories and make it more palatable to your system that may not want much on board. You’ll have a better practice, and, most likely a better day if you get started by giving your body the energy it needs to work for you. (My go to pre workout is a banana topped with just a little almond butter – and, of course, a glass of water. 🙂 ) Click here to check out this article on What’s In Your Energy Drinks? on the USMS website. Pretty interesting!

Here are a couple of other snippets from Dr. Miller on shoulders. Our upper extremities provide up to 90% of our power and propulsion in our strokes. Because Masters swimmers often swim for decades, the chances that we will incur a serious shoulder injury are very high. Even small things, like sudden changes in our training regimen, can impact our shoulders. You are on a business trip and miss pool workouts for two weeks. On your return, you jump right in and resume at the level you left. This is pretty hard on your shoulders folks! Allow yourself to ease back that first practice or first few practices.

There are a lot of orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists who agree with Dr. Miller that it is very important for you to develop bilateral breathing to protect yourself. Bilateral breathing (breathing to both sides) is especially important if you are going to swim for decades like many masters swimmers. Why? Because over time, one sided breathing can lead to a lopsided stroke and can actually change the musculature in your back, neck and shoulders to be dominant on one side. For more reasons to adopt a breathing strategy to both sides, check out this article from Swim Smooth – http://www.swimsmooth.com/bilateral.html

Take care of your shoulders with a few simple exercises that I posted about a few months back – Shoulder Injury Prevention Exercises. See that posting for a video on some fantastic exercises that will save your shoulders while strengthening your core, improve your rotation, and stabilize your scapula (a big cause of shoulder problems).

The fact that we have so many stroke repetitions in our workout is a big contributor to shoulder injuries. Learning to swim all four strokes is very helpful as you work different areas of your musculature. Throw in kick sets and drill sets to help mix things up.

Take care of your body, its the only one you are going to get. Swim smart and give yourself a break every once in awhile.

Jun 012013

Success CompassDid 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

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

An example of proper hand alignment and good early vertical forearm

Use these puppies - you won't regret it.

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 is creating drag.

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.

Freestyle Catch to PowerPhase

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

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:

Freestyle & The Ice Block

Get Hip With Your Hips in Freestyle

Head to the pool and put that middle finger to work! Remember, not at your coach, not at your fellow “gutter buddies”. Only at the other end of the pool and the pool bottom.









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.

Jan 042013

SwimmingJoyOk, so we are into a New Year, and that always brings out resolutions. Doesn’t it seem like resolutions are about guilt? “I want to exercise more” implies you don’t exercise enough. “I want to lose weight” implies you think you weigh too much. For us swimmers, our resolutions might be along the lines of: “I want to swim more yards”, “I want to swim more practices”, “I want to swim a 200 fly this year.” (Strike me out of that last one – no way!)

And to make matters worse, I just heard on the news that 80% of the people who start their year with the resolution “I want to exercise more” (and then head to their local gym) drop out around 8 weeks. Yikes! Let’s just pile on some more guilt about that.

The longer you’ve been away from the water, the more challenging it is to get back in. Don’t agonize, don’t think about it, just do it! Enough with the guilt. Climb in and give yourself permission to take it easy those first few swims back at the pool. Lots of rest between sets, and sets that focus on drills and technique. Throw away the clock the first week to two weeks. There will be plenty of time to check back in with how slow or fast you are swimming. For now, allow yourself to play in the water. Refresh your memories about why you love swimming. Do some water handstands, swim underwater, blow bubbles, jump off the diving board, do somersaults! Wear fins! Pull out all the toys! If it doesn’t have an element of fun or enjoyment, you’ll probably fall by the wayside. Get back to the pool and fall back in love with swimming. You’ll love yourself for it and your body and mind will love you for it.

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.


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!

Nov 252012

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.

Breathing Technique in the Freestyle Stroke

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.

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.

Oct 222012

Ever since the 2012 USMS High Performance Camp, I’ve found myself with a heightened interest in sports nutrition. I’ve made some changes in my own routine, and do feel that I am beginning to have a bit more energy in my workouts and recovering better from those workouts. I’ve been following a blog written by Jennifer Brunelli, who presented to us at the HPC and whom I credit for giving me concrete information that helped me make those changes. Jennifer is a registered dietician (RD) and a licensed dietician / nutritionist (LDN). She is married to Olympic Swimmer Nick Brunelli and herself was an accomplished NCAA Division I swimmer. She is credible, current, personable and down to earth. Jennifer works with all kinds of athletes and has a wealth of knowledge on the topic of diet and nutrition.

In September, Jennifer was on a panel presentation at the US Aquatic Sports Convention in Greensboro, NC. The panel was on Current Trends in Sports Nutrition. USA Swimming has posted a link to the presentation (a PowerPoint PDF) that is worth taking a look at. Go here for that link. There are lots of tidbits including a link to SCAN which is the the… “largest dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). With over 6,500 members, SCAN brings together Registered Dietitians (RD), Dietetic Technicians (DTR) and others with nutrition expertise in the areas of sports, physical activity, cardiovascular health, wellness, and the prevention and treatment of disordered eating and eating disorders.”

I poked around the SCAN website – www.scandpg.org – and clicked on their Sports Nutrition tab (bottom of page). I found that they have all kinds of free fact sheets that athletes might find helpful. Check that out with this direct link.

Jennifer also has a one page handout on nutrition recovery that has some great information:

Nutrition Recovery Handout

I hope to help heighten your interest and awareness of current information in sports nutrition. Even though we may not be Olympic caliber swimmers, nutrition is every bit as important to our workouts and our well being. Besides, it is a whole lot more satisfying to work out hard because you have fueled yourself properly. Your body is like a race car engine – you’ve got to keep it finely tuned up with the right fuel mixture!