Congratulations to client Bo Derek, who completed the Hellespont swim this weekend in Turkey. Bo did a private clinic in Santa Barbara in May, and moved all the way from stop-and-go lap swimming to a turbulent open water race in three months.
In contrasting technical workouts and ones which most people think of as working on speed or endurance, many swimmers show that they haven’t taken the approach of trying to do two things at once.
I’ve been posting a lot of technical points, little things to try out within a swim session. Those things don’t need to be done exclusively on one’s own. Bring a technical mindset to any workout session and add brains to brawn.
When you show up to your session, bring two or three different technical points to work into a set. This works especially well on a set of descending swims. Descending refers to the goal time for each swim, so someone in a round of 6 x 100 descending is trying to go faster each time. For each round of that set, you can start out with a simple focal point and get a feel at a smooth and steady rhythm. with each swim, the focus can be intensified in order to adapt to the stronger tempo adaptations. By the end, you’re at a strong tempo but still trying to hold the focus you had at a relaxed speed. Speed and technical focus combine to create something I will be talking a lot about in the future- the concept of technical endurance. At a goal tempo, how long can you hold the technical points you’ve been trying to improve on?
I was in the pool with my son the other day when I overheard another swimmer coaching a friend to finish hard and straighten the arm. As he demonstrated, his anchoring arm straightened and the elbow locked in place. When his friend tried, the result might have felt more effective, but that was exactly why it didn’t work.
A finishing move that focuses on accelerating rapidly is focusing the swimmer on the weakest area of propulsion. When the forearm can’t be maintained in a perpendicular position and the arm begins to straighten, the same force is applied to a different object. No longer is the swimmer trying to push back the forearm, so their surface is much smaller. The hand moving faster doesn’t mean it’s doing anything effectively because it has lost most of its leverage.
The other result of putting too much emphasis on this extension is that many people draw the hand to the thigh and lock the elbow up. When they try to resume their flow, the shoulder is drawn back behind the body and a hand-lead recovery results. This ruins both balance and leverage, and can be rough on the shoulder.
I do sometimes look for a small flick off the hand at the finish as a way to feed into an elbow-lead recovery. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow when I elaborate more on the importance of setting up the recovery correctly. For most swimmers, like in butterfly, I’d rather see a release of the hand into the elbow flow.
This one might seem a little weird, but I’m speaking from experience. I’ve been enjoying the P90X and Insanity workouts from Beachbody, which are NOT part of a typical swimmer’s routine. I’m not used to this stuff. Often, by the time I get in the pool, I’m either wiped out or really stiff from a workout.
To get my mind right, I don’t jump right into warmup. Instead, I take a moment to rebuild my feel for the water. I don’t need pulling or kicking for this. My feel for the water depends first on how it’s going to absorb and support me in the flow of my stroke and then it depends on how I’m going to cut through it. I start off with a short moment to just completely release all tension in the water. This is the closest I’ll ever get to zero gravity, and it feels great to try to turn off every muscle and just let the body go where it wants to go. I take an easy breath at the surface and repeat this a few times.
Next, I throw in a few of the most perfect streamlines off the wall to feel that razor’s edge speed I need. I get rid of any resistance I feel and tidy up my posture. If this is together, I try a stroke or two and make sure that if I stop in the glide, I keep going in the intended direction. This prevents me working out a stroke that might be built to cross the middle and waste energy.
Now, I’m ready to go. If the previous land training session seemed like a burden before, now it’s just helped me focus and stretch into proper form.
There are dozens of before and after videos online of TI swimmers who have taken a workshop. They’re kind of like the before and after videos shown when someone goes through a weight loss or strength building program. Both require a change not just in physical application, but in thought process and focus.
I like to think of it as coming in with front crawl and learning freestyle at the workshop. It’s that much of a different stroke.
This example is one of the best. Shinji is now the CEO of Total Immersion, but like most clients, he started with his own assumptions of what the stroke should be. Many of my swimmers assume that the first stroke shown is the faster one, but stop and ask these questions:
- Where is energy being sent in each stroke?
- How much body is presented for frontal resistance?
- How is rotation accomplished? Does it use pulling and bouncing or a shift of weight and hip leverage?
- How much power is aimed in a practical direction?
- How relaxed and sustainable does each stroke look?
- Where are the opportunities for injury, fatigue, or strain in each stroke?
After you’ve sorted through those questions, notice how quickly the name markers glide by when Shinji has adjusted his stroke. It looks lazy, but it is still fast. Which one do you look like?
Don’t let land-based assumptions about cadence or tempo rule your focus in generating swimming speed. Even at the highest rates of speed, many of the fastest swimmers take fewer strokes and have a slightly lower rate than swimmers who are a tier below them. What’s the point of putting so much power into an object that is built to slow down? Rebuild the vessel instead and then come back to discover different avenues to power.
I’m aware that my swimmers put a lot of faith in the methods I’m teaching, and they’re willing to abandon their old feeling of the stroke in order to gain long-term efficiency, endurance, and speed. In the middle of this transition, it can be very frustrating. The old stroke doesn’t feel right and the swimmer knows it’s wasting a lot of energy. The new stroke either has pauses or stutters or just doesn’t feel fast. They are usually getting faster, but they want me to throw them a bone. Here it is.
The lead arm’s patience is essential. Many swimmers try to overstack while focusing on patience, which means they cross the middle on that arm and kick wider as a result. Telling them to widen the tracks works to a point, but how do I begin to work on anchoring and power without ruining all that good patience work we had been doing?
Pierce to the wide track and give yourself the feeling that your palm is turning outwards just 10 degrees. Most swimmers who try this feel more powerful (they are), but don’t know why. It’s a trick that works.
I don’t actually want the hand to turn outwards, but when someone tries to do it, they end up keeping the elbow on the outside and avoid dropping it under. The wide track stays wide, the body is limited and doesn’t over-rotate, and the forearm is more likely to slip to the early vertical forearm. I’m teaching them to catch more effectively without paying the price of seeing them lose the patient arm.
This is one that I used to include with the TI Advanced workshop.
200 graceful freestyle- no tempo trainer
10 x 50 playtime- change the tempo by up to .04 after each 50 to find the right balance for a strong, smooth rhythm. This may change day-to-day
Find your tempo for the day and use it with rotating focal points. See if it changes you add patience or remove hitches. Check for the following
- Symmetrical patience
- Flow of elbow to shoulder shrug and gentle, wide roll
- Elimination of pause for pull- let the hip guide the spearing arm down
- Even patience on breath- not exaggerated pull to compensate for a high or late breath
- Keeping tempo within length. Don’t shorten the stretch just to increase tempo
600 build: subtract .01 every 25 or 50 to bring your stroke up to a stronger tempo
4 x 100 at the tempo you finish at @:30 rest. Focus on the aspect of the stroke you feel will slip out if not attended to.
4 x 50 For speed: subtract another .20 and hold the tempo with the hips on every 50. Take :30 rest after each 50
10 x 50 cooldown with attention: beginning with your speed tempo, add .05 every 50 to get long, smooth, and graceful. Add Front Quadrant patience and enjoy the full body glide.