Are Swim Drills Good For Your Swim #SwimTechTues

Many swimmers ask how often they should be doing drill sessions or swims; how many swim drills they should be doing. Swim drills can be pretty controversial topic depending on who you speak to.

Why Would You Use Swim Drills?

Drills are a useful part of working on form and technique in your swim. In stepping away from JUST swimming up and down the pool, you give your stroke focus and control; You give your speed the chance to improve without having to work physically harder for it.

Swim drills

From my experience, a large number of novice swimmers/triathletes who are just getting started can swim only a few lengths without taking a break. They need drills like side kick or sculling to get their form right initially so that they can swim further or easier.

What is holding these swimmers back is not necessarily fitness but form. #FormBeforeFitness Click To Tweet

To improve the former, you have to get the latter correct. If we just give these swimmers sprints or 500 metre repeats not only would they not be able to complete sessions; They would most likely quit because of how miserable it feels. They may get a little faster over time, but will always be limited by inefficient form. The compounding effect too is that swimming without the technique instruction first ingrains bad form habits that will prevent them from getting faster later on in their swim development.

These errors not only will be in the pool but also in the open water. In this instance, drills and building awareness in the water allows swimmers to be more confident in the water. Drills build awareness of what your body is doing, which is a critical skill for those uncomfortable in the water.

You aren’t going to  float better in the water if you don’t know what it feels like to be balanced in the water. Nor are you going to be able to develop a high elbow catch if you don’t focus on it and work to improve it. Breathing, the trickiest part of learning to swim, is hard to develop without knowing the timing of your stroke. It’s hard to develop timing without breaking down your stroke into individual parts.

Drills build awareness of what your body is doing, a critical skill for those new in the pool. Click To Tweet

Why Would You NOT Do Swim Drills?

Some incredibly successful coaches see swim drills as unimportant for becoming a better swimmer. Rather in fact it is better to spend your time with intensity. Matt Dixon goes as far as to call drills making you faster a “myth” and that they “rarely translate into improved swimming for triathletes”.

His reasoning is that as triathletes, we are training for open water swimming. As a result swim drills that focus on technique are great for competitive pool swimmers but not for the open water. It’s like learning to run a marathon by looking at the form of Usain Bolt.

At the same time, Sutton states that “90% of non-swimmers would be far better served by using aids and instead of drilling, performing swim sessions that specifically address the needs of the physical exertion of swimming non-stop for an hour”. He goes on to say that “developing a feel” for the water prevents you from becoming a better triathlete.

Both Dixon and Sutton have some very valid points here. Since many cannot get to the pool more than twce a week, we have to make every lap count. Spending an hour of our time and majority of the practice doing fingertip drag for length after length does little to building swim fitness or speed. And drills will not make you faster- at least not directly.

So What Should You Do?

For me, swim drills are important. A key, even, to making you a better swimmer. But they are only a tool to help you along your way; they are not the be all and end all. Perfection is not necessary, either in your stroke, or in your drills. But EVERYONE has parts of their stroke that they need to work on. That’s where these swim drills can be used to make a difference. They exaggerate a particular element of your technique, allowing you to feel a positive change when you swim full stroke.

Rather than doing whole sessions of mindless drills all the time, incorporate specific drills into your warm up. Swim with purpose, and use improved form to help improve your speed and fitness. Make sure that you know why you are doing a drill, what it is aiming to improve. Then you can get the maximum out of the exercise, and the sessions you are undertaking.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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Swim Like A Cyclist – But You Can’t Buy Speed! #SwimTechTues

Swim Like A Cyclist – But You Can’t Buy Speed! #SwimTechTues

Some athletes spend so much money on shiny kit, trying to get us as aero as possible on the bike. You might know a few who are always upgrading their bike(s)! How much did you pay for your bike (frame, aerobars, wheels, accessories, fittings, etc…)? There are plenty of articles and an abundance of research out there that can detail out for you the cost per second you save on each upgrade to your cycling kit. For example, upgrading from a regular road frame to a TT frame saves about 2-2.5 min on a 40km time trial (www.aerosportsresearch.com). Based on what the average triathlete purchases, seconds on the bike are valuable!

When it comes to swimming there is very little time that you can “buy.”  On the other hand, just like in cycling, there is a lot of time to be saved without necessarily increasing effort (power output).  Alternatively, you could swim the same speed but much easier, a reduction in power required.

Things To Consider:

  • Water is 784 times denser than air.  Fun fact, dirt is only 2.5 times denser than water!  
  • Your drag coefficient while swimming is always changing; you need to be aware of your body position at every point in your stroke and the water around you.
  • How often do you watch yourself swim? You’ve probably seen yourself on the bike, maybe on the turbo.
  • A good swim saves you energy for the rest of your race. Becoming a more proficient swimmer does not just save you a few seconds on the swim but it will improve your bike and run performance.
  • Doing something over and over again without feedback creates habits.  Are you creating good or bad habits?

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein.

Thinking Of Swimming Like A Cyclist:

  • Good body tension = A nice stiff frame
    • You would never use full suspension shocks on your TT-bike because you don’t want those precious watts being absorbed by the shocks.  Keeping good tension throughout your body creates a stiffness to transfer the power generated by your arms and legs into forward motion.
  • Body position or alignment = Aero (Frame, Wheels, Helmet, etc..)
    • Your body position at each point in the in the stoke is your TT frame, aero-helmet, race wheels etc..,  If you have a soft inactive core, over bending knees, over lifting of the head, then you are not riding an aero frame you are riding a mountain bike with a parachute dragging behind you.
  • Catch/engagement with the water = Gears or chain ring
    • Are you pushing a “38 tooth chain ring” next to someone who is pushing a “53”? Keeping your hand and wrist in vertical alignment with your forearm as long as possible throughout the pull will maximize your leverage on the water.

Unfortunately you can’t walk into your local swim shop, swipe your credit card, and come out a faster swimmer. However, with proper feedback and a systematic approach you can greatly improve your swim this season!

If you want to work on your “hydro” check out our swim coaching or video swim analysis packages.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Slow Down To Speed Up, Take Your Time #SwimTechTues

Slow Down To Speed Up, Take Your Time #SwimTechTues

Do you find that if you try to swim faster, you end up moving the same speed or slower – for more effort?

Slow down, take your time

If this is you, you may find that you need to slow things down a touch.

Have you noticed that the best athletes in their respective sports look like they have all the time in the world?

The two examples above show this perfectly.

With Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, most of the race they are rowing at around 40 strokes per minute; not that it looks like it! To stroke at that rate, it takes timing and control.

When you watch Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal, he has time to catch the ball, look at the posts and score the drop goal – even with players running at him to charge him down. But he keeps his eye on the ball and doesn’t snatch at the action; if he had, he may well have dropped the pass all together.

 

Less Haste, More Speed

Taking your time does not mean that you have to move slowly. Especially when it comes to racing, cadence makes a difference to how quickly you move through the water. That said, just throwing your arms round and round is not going to be any assistance to you at all!

When trying to take faster strokes, think about what effect that is having on the rest of your body. A more unstable body means the water is less stable too.

Rowing is a perfect example: when the blade is out of the water the rowers are smooth, relaxed and controlled. The speed of the oars cannot physically increase the speed of the boat. In fact if Helen and Heather were to throw the blade in faster, it would destabilise and slow them down. Once the blade goes into the water however, both rowers are forcing the oar against the water with as much force as they can. This accelerates the boat forward with every stroke.

In this regard, swimming is exactly like rowing. When your arm is out of the water, it is not positively influencing your body’s speed or momentum. Rushing and throwing it forward will destabilise you, and make it more difficult to connect with the water at the front end of your stroke. With a calmer, smoother entry, you will create less bubbles, you will be more in control of your arm AND the water. Once your hand is in the water you can look to accelerate the water backwards, and your body forwards.

If your hand/arm is accelerated back quickly enough, it will come out and recover over the water fast enough without needing to be forced or thrown forwards. This is where the example of Jonny Wilkinson is appropriate; not needing to force your action, or rush. If you are putting the work and effort in in the right places (i.e. once you have engaged with the water), then being calm and controlled and trusting in your skills is key.

[Tweet “Less haste, more speed – grabbing at the water makes you slower #FormBeforeFitness”]

Put It Into Practise

Try it out in training – remember, if your body position is good then you don’t require too much action to generate forward momentum. You should focus on generating force underwater and being relaxed in your recovery.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Stroke Length – How Long Is Too Long #SwimTechTues

Stroke Length – How Long Is Too Long #SwimTechTues

For many years people have strived for a longer stroke length through the water. In many endurance sports a key focus is longer distance for each stroke or stride. But at what point does stroke length become TOO long?

The answer really is “IT DEPENDS“.

This comes down to reach/arm span, shoulder control/flexibility, strength, and your kinaesthetic or body awareness.

[Tweet “We’re all on a continuum of how long your stroke should be, or how fast your cadence is. You don’t have to be at one extreme or the other.”]

What Is Stroke Length

Stroke length is the distance that you travel for each arm “pull” on the water. Because of water’s density, your upper limit of stroke length is your arm span.

Arm span stroke length

The Vitruvian Swimmer!

In reality though, most people don’t have the control of the water, or the strength to get near this.

What most end up doing is reaching as far forward as they can – to maximise the length that the arm can pull through. This can have more of a negative effect than a positive, as it results in less efficient or less useful body positions.

Stroke length over reach

This swimmer is overreaching and as a result his elbow is below both wrist and shoulder

As you can see in the image above, at the point where the swimmer is at his longest – ie with the arm stretched forward – his elbow is below his hand. This is going to make it very difficult to do anything more with his pull than drag his elbow backward, not making the use of his forearms as a paddle, or being able to use so much of the larger muscles in his back. It will also likely cause him to stall at the front and make life harder to keep that constant motion of his stroke – so slowing him down.

What To Do

When you overreach, you have less control over your arm, and that point will come at different stages depending on how flexible you are through your shoulders.

Try this: stand up straight and lift your arm above your head. It should feel reasonably comfortable (hopefully!). Now if you reach up as high as you can, see where the rest of your body ends up. For most people shoulders end up around ears and the body starts to arch to one side. From this, when you are swimming focus on reaching forward (without stretching) from your hips rather than your shoulder – it should help maintain that core control, keep your stroke straighter and prevent your elbow from dropping down. It may help also to aim for a point 3-4 inches below the surface to make sure that your hand is always slightly below your elbow.

If you’re swimming drills, try catch up. With both arms out in front you can make sure that they are level and below the surface. You could do 6 kicks to 1 pull (6-1-6) to practise maintaining a straight line from hip to hand. Or you could do an entry point scull – again with a focus on relaxed shoulders. Whatever drill you do, make sure that it feels comfortable; it’s about finding the position that works for you.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Improve Your Speed By Changing Your Freestyle Hand Shape #SwimTechTues

Freestyle Hand Shape

The biggest element that makes a difference to how far/fast you travel for each stroke is how much water you can engage or “feel” with your hands. I regularly get asked how you should keep your freestyle hand shape, and if there is a best way to keep your hands.freestyle hand shape

Recently in the Netherlands, scientists have investigated which hand position is more effective in the water. They looked at spread fingers and raking the water or closed fingers using the hand as a flat paddle.

At issue is the question of how you should hold your fingers when swimming. Even though seemingly minor, it appears that finger position can make a big difference in how much water you control. Many swimmers have been coached to swim with closed fingers, or even with cupped hands.

Researchers measured force under five different conditions of finger spread. Measurement began with the closed position of 0° (all digits pressed together) and fingers spread progressively wider through 5° intervals to a maximum of 20° of spread.

They took measurements on various spread conditions in both the wind tunnel and through numeric modelling. Because air and water both behave as fluids, they chose a wind tunnel to model freestyle hand shape in water.

[Tweet “Spreading your fingers slightly in the water allows you to anchor with more stability, and produce more power.”]

Compared to a closed-paddle hand position, even the smallest spread-finger position of 5° enhanced the drag coefficient by 2% in the numerical simulation, and by 5% in the wind tunnel experiment.

Freestyle Hand shape while swimming

Basically, keeping your hands relaxed and slightly loose is the best way to improve your hold on the water. That said, if you’re busy thinking about other parts of your stroke, it’s probably best to keep your fingers together. You can practise this with sculling in different places: out in front at entry point; at midpoint under your elbows but in front of your shoulders; or back by your thighs. Play around with your hands in different shapes, work out where you feel like you gain a little more resistance.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!