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.

Sep 052012

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:

  1. catch the water sooner
  2. hold on to it longer
  3. accelerate your hands through the pull / push of the ice block