April 2016 - Triathlon & Swimming
Seven Tips to Swim Your Best
By Kevin Kearney
With open water season right around the corner, it's the perfect time to start planning your swim season, and the training/adjustments that go with it. Here are seven tips to help you swim at your best come summertime.
Getting in the Water – It’s very simple and it works. Swimming is an adaptation, and unnatural for land mammals like humans. Creating a training schedule in the spring, such as three practices per week for one hour, and sticking with it into the summer can pay huge dividends in a sport such as swimming. Stroke changes and improvements are always great, but if you are not fit enough to make them stick when your body becomes fatigued, they will have limited benefits. Getting in the water and training allows your body to adapt to unnatural muscle movements, and helps your stroke changes stay.
Swimming Tall – Body line and balance are two phrases you may hear often in swimming. Why? Because they are VERY IMPORTANT. Balancing and maintaining a tall, horizontal bodyline through the water minimizes drag, and allows for less energy expenditure per stroke.
Learning to Kick – Kicking has gotten a bad reputation from the 1980s and 90s, where distance swimmers were typically taught not to kick because the propulsion your legs contributed to your swimming were not worth the effort. However, since the early 2000s, the sport has changed dramatically, and studies have shown that kicking not only contributes to propulsion, but more importantly it provides a lifting effect for your body. The downbeat of your kick provides a lifting effect that allows our bodies to swim higher on the water. It also helps you stabilize and balance (see Swimming Tall), which in turn allows your arms to be used for pulling compared to balance. Finally, it helps a swimmer maintain momentum and stay in motion through the water with maximized efficiency. Not every swimmer needs a monstrous six beat kick, but developing a relaxed steady kick can provide major benefits to all swimmers. If current open water 10K world champions all kick, shouldn’t everyone?
Bilateral Breathing – Developing comfort breathing to both sides of your body can prove very useful in the great outdoors... Sun position, water currents, waves, and other swimmers creating turbulence can all make it difficult to breathe to a specific side when in open water. Being able to change sides on demand will create a much more comfortable and adaptive open water experience. Bilateral breathing is a skill that can be developed in any pool by consciously adding in breaths to either side during warmup and/or cooldown.
Catch, THEN pull – All too often, swimmers are in a rush to pull, and as soon as they enter their hands into the water, they ‘yank’ their arms down to their hips, essentially sliding through the water. The “catch” in swimming is your setup to the “pull” – it is a slight pause after your hand enters the water that allows a swimmer to essentially ‘grab’ the water with their hand and forearm through pressure, then keep pushing that water past them as they pull. One analogy often used is climbing a rope – in order to climb a rope, you first must grab the rope before pulling your body upwards. Slowing down your stroke and allowing your hand/arm to grab water prior to pulling can lead to an excellent increase in propulsion per stroke cycle.
Limit the Drills – Drills in swimming have their purpose with making stroke changes, but are all too often misunderstood as the absolute key to efficient swimming. At Excel Aquatics, drills have use, but cannot take the place of changes within the whole stroke. What does this mean? Look at your whole body while swimming – we are dealing with a human being suspended sideways in a body of liquid. So Newton’s third law – every action has equal and opposite reaction – is HUGE. Therefore, all of the parts or skills of a stroke are always wedded to one another, and the action of one part of the body will always affect the other parts. This is known as the principle of accommodation.
Drills often times do an excellent job of identifying and adjusting a specific part of one’s stroke, but is often done by completely ISOLATING that one part of the stroke. Unfortunately, perfecting a change in a drill often times does not carry over to the whole stroke. As an alternative, try identifying stroke changes that are needed, and working on them in the whole stroke. Now are we saying that all drills are bad? Absolutely not! But, it is important to not be drawn into the mindset that drills are the key to more efficient swimming. Stroke changes in the whole stroke are the major key to success, and drills are only used as a stepping stone to make those changes.
Don’t be afraid to swim FAST – Swimming as a sport is still nowhere near its peak. World records are being broken every month, and a better understanding of swim training from a rational and physiological level are improving by the day. In the past, ‘distance’ swimming was often thought of as purely slow twitch muscle engagement, but this is not the case. Studies are now showing that activating your fast twitch muscles during training will contribute to both anaerobic and aerobic gains, which of course translates to faster training and racing. Blending in some faster, but shorter repeats does have its place and benefits for distance swimmers. Not to mention spicing up the practice can make training more fun and enjoyable.
Kevin Kearney (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the program director and part of the coaching staff at Excel Aquatics. As a former Division I swimmer, Kevin has over 20 years of competitive and coaching swimming experience, and enjoys working with swimmers of all ages, from beginner learn to swim all the way up to triathletes and national level swimmers.