Leg Kick. Why is a length of kick so exhausting and does that matter?

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Have you ever noticed at the pool the fastest kickers tend to also be the fastest swimmers? not an exact science but next time if/when you are at the pool have a look at the people in the faster lanes. For us who coach, with multiple lanes to observe ie our London Bridge session it is clear those with the strongest leg kick for the most part are also the fastest swimmers .

Train the legs within the stroke, overcome technical issues, get fitter, and so faster. Your bike will not be impacted if you learn to kick correctly. The misconception is that you work the legs hard for propulsion. No, look at the pictures, we work the legs to  reduce and restrict the bad habits and avoid the issues that create problems. Creating this much drag will slow your bike because you will simply be exhausted.

First we unlearn the big kick ! Logical that big and strong should produce more momentum. Not through the water though. Progress to the narrow, hidden, fast big toes brushing, small hip range, straight on the upsweep movement, bend on the down beat…have a think about the mechanics of your kick this week. If you were swimming head on towards a submerged camera and you reviewed the footage the kick should not be apparent.

Try some of these to mix up your kick training
Single Fin can be useful for the leg flick on the down beat
Fins pointing down to get a feel for doing it really wrong
FC full stroke with a small old fashioned flat float to keep kick small at the hips
Pulling with a pull buoy at the ankles to add some endurance to the ‘core.’
Static horizontal kicking holding the wall as active recovery between lengths. Feel the toes bubble at the surface.
Hands on Glutes to think about the correct muscles lifting a straight leg back up to the surface.
Add dryland to supplement and accelerate your kicking progress.

 

Why? We know a bad kick is devastating in terms of incorrect propulsion and higher energy costs. We know mechanically the legs do so much damage. Toes pointing down, excessive two way pivot at the knee, pedalling through the water all undo the work of the arms as they try to pull you forwards. Correct this and swimming will become a whole lot easier.

 

The London Triathlon, read the instructions….

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It is the London Triathlon this weekend, an event I hold dear since it was my first Triathlon 20years ago exactly. It launched a long and enjoyable career that took me to Ironman Lake Placid and South Africa, World Triathlon AG events in Edmonton and Cancun and then onto pure Openwater swimming events. All of this came together with a desire to coach, help people and contribute to the world of Triathlon and so SwimforTri was born soon after.

There is a lot to this particular event, the unusual exit to the swim, the intimidating high sided walls , the odd taste to the water, grey landscape and the length of the docks. They seem to go on forever, making you feel in your head like you are not making progress. There are enough things that can play out of your control so do your best to be in control of as many controllables as you can. So far this week at lessons with just a few days to go people are still struggling to stop goggles from leaking, wetsuits  from chafing. Stop swapping kit and trying new things <if they work> at this late stage. Start to pay attention to the details now and read the literature available on the website.

Don’t be asking fellow competitors in transition how many laps it is, there are many different race scenarios through the weekend and that friendly neighbour might be telling you his race details which might not be yours. Know the direction you are swimming, any useful sighting vantage points?, how many laps? which colour are the turn buoys? what colour are the ones you travel straight past. Often the corners of a rectangular course are different to the mid point markers helping you not turn early. Might it not be wetsuit? do you need a tow float if that is the case? will it be sunny or overcast? light or dark goggles? should you leave your hat and goggles on your head while you take off your wetsuit? they could get stuck in your wetsuit sleeve while stuffing your suit into the plastic bag they hand out. If you have wetsuit in one hand <in its plastic bag> and hat&goggles in the other are you comfortable running up stairs without holding the bannister? Where did you leave your bike!

This is one of the few races where regardless of the time you arrive you can watch many competitors starting in the waves ahead of you. If you arrive early and give yourself plenty of time. You can see the mistakes being made. Sorry if you are in the first few waves on Saturday, this excludes you and some might be watching so please prove me wrong and get it all done correctly! Watch and learn. A few years ago I was racing the OW champs in Norwich and my uncle came to watch. Bill is a keen fisherman and suggested I avoid a certain stretch that was on the racing line. He offered that due to the ducks and swans feeding there, the weed was high and we might get tangled in it while swimming over it. I watched the earlier waves and sure enough. I swam around it and dropped the swimmers near me on the home stretch.  Watch how others swim around the course, is something leading them astray? a current? a sighting point on the course that is not actually right on the racing line and you might be better staying to the left/right of it. Be careful of those slower swimmers on their second lap as you start your race right right behind them, be careful of your fingers as you overtake especially of those swimming breaststroke. The slightly congested conditions present certain challenges you might not have experienced before. I led out of the water back in 1998 and this I did not expect from my first race and at that point as I then exited Transition minutes behind the new leader I wish I had read some instructions.

What swim style do we teach?

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What swim style do we teach? When a new client enquires about our lessons we often get asked this question. There is an assumption that coaches should follow one of a few talked about styles.

FC Swimming STYLE – ‘Dan, what style of swimming do you teach? Is it the abc method or the xyz?’ I don’t actually teach a style. We never have at SFT. I look at your range of motion, your imperfections, strengths and weaknesses and start to improve your swimming technique. Whatever that technique might be. Good, bad or having just learned to swim, we all perform the mechanics of a swimming style. You might not feel it is pretty but at any level our style can always be improved. Most are surprised when we show Olympians performing drills at workshops. For an elite swimmer, it might be possible within the full stroke FC movement to make corrections but it is not easy. Breaking things down with drills can help, restricting bad habits or encouraging correct movements can help both in the classical sense and the more off beat. Making use of swim toys creatively can help, the pool deck and even other swimmers*. Depending on your ability and current faults a few lengths to show us what is happening and we can then construct a process to help you improve.

*E.g. I love this idea from Goswim to stop the backstroke arms from crossing over with a hard leg workout. Great thinking of how you can restrict a bad habit and encourage stronger legs as you push the static swimmer.

I was taught to swim at a young age and then had several coaches during stints at my local Swim Club, Millfield School and Ohio University. All pool based long distance FC where economy of movement is precious as you save any energy you can, rather than waste with stroke imperfections. After moving to Triathlon 20yrs ago this Summer it has been a long period of trial and error, racing and learning to see what works well in Openwater.  In addition to this trial & error, I have taken coaching qualifications with the ASA, ASCA, the BTF, the World Open Water Swim Association and read up on what the Australians are doing at the Institute of Sport. I am not convinced any one school of thought has all the answers.

What is a style? the moment someone starts to mould you to their favoured style, the method they learned or developed then making your unique style faster is no longer the focus. You might not fit their 10step plan. I prefer to talk about a coaching approach, a logical sequence of steps to take but again this is not always possible. From my work with the London Disability Swim Club there is no one fixed style that suits all and no one way to deliver it even if there was, as we all learn at different rates in different ways. One way to help illustrate this is to think of each body part having some strict rules to adhere to in order to swim faster i.e. to lower drag and increase propulsion. No one won gold at the Olympics with their toes continually pointing the bottom of the pool or pushing water palm down to the bottom of the pool.Then there are some guidelines that need to be played with & manipulated to work out how best they might apply to you. Breathing pattern, stroke rate, kicks to arm cycles and head position to name a few.

The following examples outline more of the process and the detail we need to consider to really help a swimmer individually. We look to lower drag and increase propulsion via the obvious but then we need to start working harder to identify the less obvious. This dawned on me years ago helping one of our Cerebral Palsy swimmers who could not create an ideal fingertip to elbow pulling blade as his wrist was stuck at 90deg. His propulsion was limited but by entering into the water further ahead he could minimize his drag. As rotation reduced so his reach reduced and more of the back of the hand ploughed into the water. With a little more extension over the surface of the water he could just about place his fingertips in first and start to pull. This helped reinforce the idea that all swimmers are different and unique and should be coached as such.

How to improve? Follow the golden rules regarding reducing your profile in the water while maximizing propulsion for the lowest energy cost.  Experiment in the grey areas that are specific to you as the swimmer. Kicks per Arm cycle; Tempo of Arm Pull; Head Position; Breathing to One Side, Both Sides. Be familiar with a longer extension of the arm in front if the water is flowing with you, shorter if against. Be adaptable. Your swimming style needs teaching points and if these are too rigid it’s not going to fit you because you are not a robot you cannot repeat exact swimming movements one hundred percent. Similar degrees at joints, same amount of pressure applied through the hand, same speed of left/right arm & hand shapes are all aims to be worked towards in order to keep you at your straightest in Openwater but impossible to be 100% repeatable. Whereas compared to a pedal, tracking the same path each revolution a swim stroke will vary with each revolution. Even at an elite level due to the chaotic medium that water is, an accurate & exact repetition is not going to be repeatable.  A well-rounded Swim coach with a good swimming background will understand the mechanics of all that is needed and will know that 1 to 10 steps are not going to work. We may need to travel through steps 1 to 7 then hit a stumbling block and pause travelling out to 7 A to7B to 7C and then continuing with step eight. The Swim for Tri style is your style enhanced and made better, travelling through various routes to lower drag, increase propulsion and work with your specific physiology.