Swimming Jealousy

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Be Careful What You Wish For….

A light hearted look at how the green-eyed monster might rear its ugly head as you watch that great swimmer in the next lane to you. Sometimes the water might not be greener the other side of the lane rope. The next time you look enviously at your teammate who swims like a fish remember the downside for them. As my Triathlon teammates would remind me, I would swim like a fish, run like a duck. Here are some of the pitfalls a swimmer might suffer from and how you once out of the water will be chasing them down.

Big feet

A natural advantage in the pool is simply from having bigger flippers. Unless of course your tight running ankles leave your toes pointing at the bottom of the pool but let us gloss over that for a moment – see next para. You might have heard of Ian Thorpe and his size 17 shoes which helped him break 5mins for 400m legs only (not a typo – 5mins!) at his peak.

Now some studies suggest bigger feet can help you run faster but let us focus for a moment on ground contact time. I defy anyone to get a size 17 foot off the ground quickly enough repeatedly enough to finish a race before dark. Whatever the size of your foot, try your best to make the best by at least not having them fused at 90deg at the ankle. This position will sink your legs quicker than using a brick as a pull buoy.

Ankles

Think about the flexibility at the ankles to create the perfect streamline in the water. No wonder your swimmer friend has such a low stroke count! They only swim half the length of a 25m pool. Other than a ballerina who else can point their toes in this way? My super flexible ankles while being filmed for a running gait analysis years ago left the expert in hysterics, ‘the worst running gait I have ever seen.’ It still haunts me. If you can improve your ankle flexibility a little bit but not to the point it impacts your running stability it will really improve your swim if you stop pulling those anchors along.

Wingspan/Arm span

Michael Phelps probably brought this to the publics’ attention regarding swimmers’ physiques most recently and the media had a field day. Being blessed with a longer arm span than your height is a very common swim thing. It really helps. Mr Phelps does have some pretty impressive stats though regarding this anthropometric trait, what with him being 3inches wider/arms longer than he was tall.

Hide your smugness when you see your swimmer friend in discomfort on tri bars that never seem to fit or with arm warmers that only cover up half their arms. You might not be able to improve this personal statistic but with some improvement to your flexibility your upper bodies range of motion will get better and your rotation will improve making the distance travelled with each stroke greatly improved.

Hands

Hands like large shovels finely honed to catch water all day long, to make the slipperiest of the elements feel solid. An elite swimmer’s hands are the tools of their trade. But try tying run shoelaces in T2 on a cold day just off the bike.  Or how about changing gear on your bike with the finesse and panache of a TDF rider? unlikely with those big bunches of bananas on the end of your wrists.  When I tried it usually sounded like the gearbox of my 1963 Morris Minor with the missing 2nd gear.

Again, you might not be able to improve this literally but ensure you do the best with what you have. Don’t cup them too small and too clenched allowing them to slip under the body as you pull.  This scenario offers little reward in terms of the body being pulled forwards. Many swimmers I watch also don’t pull with the hand coupled to the forearm. Think of them as one unit as you anchor the ‘blade’ vertically and pull the body forwards.

The fist drill can help connect the hand to the elbow and pull as one.

 

Height

The average height of the male swimmers in Rio 2016 racing at the Olympics was 6ft 2 or 188cm. Not that uncommon you might think and how would that be an issue? Well, if you combine that with the other desired Phelpsism of shorter legs being preferred for a great swimmer then sadly that combination would not be so great for reaching the peddles or ground with the legs 🙂

Good height with short legs usually means long torso and a better centre of mass/ centre of buoyancy leaving our lucky swimmer floating horizontally in the water. You will always spot the swimmer on a flight as the tallest person sitting down but once you disembark they will disappear into the average throng of the population. Phelps at 6ft 4 had the legs of someone usually ‘only’ 6ft tall. Not much you can do about your height in in the water but make the most of what you have, push off the wall in a starfish streamline and you will swim like one. If you have long legs don’t undo all the good they can do with a ‘too big’ kick!

Glutes

Years of long-distance FC swimming left me with what I thought would be a decent set of glutes having elevated a straight leg back up to the surface 6times per arm cycle for 13 or 14 strokes per 25m for literally 000s of metres each week across 20+ hours of swimming weekly for 50 weeks of the year.

Cue my first running injury when starting Triathlon years later to be told by my physio I had weak glutes. I was devasted. If you can straighten out the upsweep of your kick you will significantly improve your kick and reduce drag. A good kick will hide behind the body, a great kick in the world of long distance FC does not need to be propulsive just not invasive! Try the glute kick drill or the Pilates swimmer to get a feel for this movement.

Shoulders

Those broad shoulders that developed as a teenager ploughing up and down the lane will not help them stay in front on the bike. I know one elite duathlete who spent a winter trying to crack the swim by adding hours of solely ‘pulling with paddles.’  They then, when back in the wind tunnel the next spring could not work out why their numbers were now so bad. They had actually added a few cm of mass to their upper body/shoulders and now could not get as aero as before when down on their tri bars. A pull buoy & paddles should be part of your swim training not literally your swim technique. If you are faster with a PB then work out why.

The mystical feel for the water.

You take a week out of the water and your next swim feels like a water boarding experience by CIA recruits who are not that good at it yet. Listen to your fish neighbour miss one day and they will be crying how they have lost the feel for it and a session of sculling will be needed to reacquire it. Try it, it does help the water feel more solid and so easier to catch. As will swimming with a few mm of space between your fingers, exfoliating your palms lightly and swimming in those water mitts you see people using who bought them by mistake instead of paddles.

Generally Clumsy

It is said that swimming often chooses you at a young age as you slowly discover dryland activities do not suit you. Last to get picked for football/netball?  Don’t like team sports or sharing the glory? At the age of 11 I was actually asked to leave my junior football school team as I accused the other players of not trying hard enough. I had the fitness from hours of swim training already just no skills. Don’t enjoy getting rained on? Then head indoors to swim, we all know chlorinated water is fine! Enough bruises on shins to warrant leaving your older brothers shin pads on all the time? It was a good look with short trousers. All these cues tell you one thing – try swimming. It is how most of us found it. Therefore, it won’t take long for you to catch up to the swimmer in front on your bikes, they’ll still be on stabilisers.

As they say no race was ever won on the swim in a Triathlon. As I know, there is not much fun in exiting in the top 10 to then be overtaken by 2000 competitors such as I was in the Lake Placid IM. If you can take a few tips on board to improve it will help. During this lockdown, watch, learn from, partake in as much swim related dryland as you possibly can each week to minimise the damage done from being out of  the water again these next few months.

After 3months of dryland stretch cords with us last Spring many of our regulars who came to the lake were not too out of sorts when returning to the water. Rusty, a little mechanical with a loss for the feel of the water were reported. Swim fitness and technique were soon reacquired. If you can return with some of these aspects improved, you will sure to be gaining on the fish in the next lane.

 

 

with pools closed…at least in the UK

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With Pools Closed here are 10things to focus on and help your swimming. 
Watch this for inspiration, a technically beautiful FC swimmer – Katie Ledecky
Do this – our Mon and Wed Dryland stretch cords. Lots of sessions stored here from last year.
Listen to this – FC tech podcast with Annie Emmerson who was not a natural swimmer but went on to great Tri success after World Duathlon success
Try this – shoulder strengthening and swim related stretches to improve range of motion in the water.
Activate these – Glutes in a FC motion! In water and out, the simillairites will help you swim faster by controlling a smaller legkick. Look for the glute kick drill in the ‘water link.’
More dryland swim options were covered in the Endurance lecture series
Consider this – swim bench from VASA now not as big as they used to be but superior to everything else out there.
Buy this so you are ready when the pools reopen.
Plan to swim as much openwater as you can, assuming pools will be slower to reopen by doing the research now and finding venues nearby. OS always useful for this info
Enter an event and support a small operator who deserves to still be here as an event organiser later in the summer

Slow swimming!

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The Challenge

I have been challenging my swimmers for quite some time now (pre covid/lockdown) with a simple yet challenging swim drill. To be honest it is not really a drill just slowed down FC. However it is not as simple as it sounds if done well. Why would you do it? well most drills either restrict bad habits or encourage good. They challenge you to work harder on an isolated aspect of the stroke. Once refined it will flow back into and enhance your fullstroke. This is why I believe 10m or so of a great drill performed as you leave a wall will then flow nicely into and help morph a  better FC tech as you finish the rest of the length full stroke.

Slow it down

Think of slow motion FC as more of a skill to be used as an overall technique challenge. By slowing the arms you need to work your kick harder so I recommend fins to help do it well. Your rotation will be challenged as will timing your breathing. A bit like overspeed work where skills are challenged during artificially sped up swimming.  Think stretch cords pulling you back across the pool at faster than normal speed. This is the opposite where you will need to control the stroke/rhythm and technique while challenged to do things in slow motion. But once you return to normal speed leg kick, balance, rotation and breathing will feel easier.

Demonstrated

Here is British Champ Joe Litchfield under the watchful eye of Loughborugh High Performance Coach David Hemmings performing slow motion FC. I was pleased to see someone else at this high level making use of the drill/skill. Drills are not just for beginners to learn the basics. Swimmers at all levels swim drills to restore a tired stroke post heavy workloads, to see if a new concept works better  or even to iron out flaws and yes we all have them at all levels.

Slow motion FC 

What it isn’t

Don’t let it become ‘catch up’ that is very different. Catch up is a drill to help work your arm pull and something we use to slow down frantic swimmers during early progressions. Keep in mind it is basically alternating single arm FC so you would not want to race like this.  Perhaps try it with a  snorkel initially to get a feel for it and be able to focus on the arms.

Work the legs, keep the hands at 180deg to each other for as long as possible. Note the progressions with each length back to his FC. The beauty of doing this correctly is  that you will keep rotating from side to side and not pause in the flat position that catch up encourages.

Fins and Paddles

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FINS and PADDLESThe more you practice & improve your swim tech the better it will hold when you are not focused on it ie in race mode!

Fins and Paddles is one of my favourite combinations of swim equipment. Great for that lovely combination we call technical endurance. Ideal as we slowly build up our fitness alongside our technique at the moment post lockdown. The paddles should be be big enough to allow a solid hold on the water but don’t forget to pull with the forearm as well. The fins should help you feel the sensation of driving the body forward over the ‘anchored hand.’ I was pleased to learn that Katie Ledecky is a big fan of this combination. Watch here – RIO 2016 Gold medallist. She is one of the most economical swimmers around travelling similar distances regardless of speed which suggests her propulsion and lack of drag is quite special!

Other gains.

There are lots of fitness benefits to be gained from the larger muscle groups of the legs being worked by the fins. The surface area of the fins will stop the kick from becoming too big which is a big problem I see daily.. Swimming with a pullbuoy between the ankles or utilising the flat float kick will help you reduce the size of the movement at the hips and help you ‘hide’ the kick behind the body. The paddles helping the hands to drive the fingertips over and point down so the palm can face the wall you are swimming away from. Hiding the kick is critical!

At any point in a long swim mainset combine these two items for a great technical swim. Add a snorkel and you can be sure to get even more from the movements. Keeping the head still by taking away the need to turn to breathe and you can focus on the hands pulling under you, popping the elbow out wide (See the image of Ledecky top.) Have a look at the SFT swim down for a detailed look at this kit combo. We often combine all 3 items to boost a tired FC stroke post mainset and then slowly remove item by item to finish with your best FC technique ahead of leaving the pool.

If you feel you need further help with your swim technique then we do have 121 lessons available –

Enjoy your week of swimming