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.

We're all on a continuum of how long your stroke should be, or how fast your cadence is. You… Click To Tweet

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.

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.

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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.

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Swim Skill Foundations #SwimTechTues

 

Building a foundation

When you are trying to improve your swimming technique and form, it can seem really bewildering. What to focus on at what time – there is so much choice! Common theory was that the human brain could think (consciously) of 7 things – plus or minus 2 – at any one time. That has since been reviewed to 4! If you accept that as a learning swimmer, one of these will ALWAYS be breathing (it’s not that important!) and that another will always be about counting lengths or something not specifically stroke related, then you can really only focus on a couple of elements of your stroke well at any one time.

So if there are only two technique parts you can really think about at one time in the water, what should you fix about your stroke first before you move on to the next area of focus? I would always advocate building a strong foundation to make the more fancy and useful skills easier.

[Tweet “Swimming has several focus points. Build a strong base, the rest will improve”]

Developing a technically correct freestyle stroke is easiest if you start at the bottom of the pyramid and give yourself a good stable base before you go on to building the next skill. This pyramid is a simple example of skills and technique from basic to advanced. Start at the bottom and check the steps as you answer “yes.” This is how we coach our swim lessons individually, in groups (although less strictly) or in the endless pool.

 

Review the steps where you answered “no.” Are you trying to improve a high-level skill before you’ve mastered one or two of the lower steps? Working on the simplest aspects of technique can often have a huge impact on your overall performance. For example, mastering the ability to float and relax in the water can have a positive impact on stroke rate and distance per stroke. Even elite triathletes and Olympic swimmers devote time in practice on drills to keep their technique sharp and identify any imbalances or weaknesses. Spend time strengthening the base of your pyramid to see an overall improvement in speed and power.

Our pyramid of swim skills:

Breathing: Can you exhale under the water? This will help you relax – a fundamental to floating well.

Floating & relaxing: Can you float on your stomach?

Head position: Is your head in a neutral position?

Balance: Are your hips near the surface when you swim?

Kicking: Are you using your kick to get across the pool?

Rotation: Does your torso rotate with your stroke?

Catch: Does the wrist stay unbent?

Pull: Do fingertips point down and elbow stays high?

Finish: Does your hand exit the water past your hip?

Reach: Do hands extend forward and slightly down?

Center line: Do you avoid crossing the center line with your hands?

Entry: Does the arm drop into the water without pause?

Recovery: Is your arm relaxed with a high elbow?

Bilateral breathing: Can you breathe to both sides?

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!

 

 

 

Pull Glide drill #SwimTechTues

Swimming quiet

The majority of triathletes like using a pull buoy to make life easier for themselves. Very few use it as a tool to improve their swimming – so here is a potential drill that you might be able to use.

Rather than relying on a pull buoy to keep the hips afloat you can actually use the float to help focus your balance. This drill also allows you to think about controlling the water as you pull, and accelerating your body through the water.

 

How To Do It

With a pull buoy, lie on your side (same position as side kick) take one pull, roll and glide on the opposite arm – ie take one normal stroke. When your glide slows to a stop, take a pull on the other side. The idea is to get you accelerating the hands through under the water, really pushing the water back and taking control. The idea is to swim the length in as few strokes as possible.

 

Do It Really Well (The Fine Points)

  • Keep the core really tight throughout – this will help keep you in a straight line and make rotating from the hips considerably easier.
  • Squeeze the hands/forearms through the water to lever the body forward as much as possible; snatching quickly at the water will mean that you don’t travel as far or as fast per stroke. Notice how James in the video has his elbow higher than his hand at all points, with the forearm pointing straight down for as long as possible.
  • Finish your stroke past your hips – this will help focus that back end of the stroke, you should feel the acceleration of the body as your hand moves further back.

As always there are pros and cons to every drill – for example, catch up is a great drill for thinking about front quadrant swimming and keeping one hand in front at all times, and being as balanced as possible – however it really limits the opportunity for rotation and stiffens up the hips. Similarly, this drill is aimed at controlling balance through the hips, and accelerating the hands through under the body, but the downside is that we don’t want to over emphasize the glide when we go back to full stroke.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

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!

 

Finish Your Stroke #SwimTechTues

One of the first segments of a swimmer’s stroke to fall apart when fatigue sets in is the finish, the last bit of underwater pulling that takes place during the arms-submerged cycle. Powered by the tricep muscles of the upper arm, the finish of your stroke is essential in maintaining ideal efficiency in the water. Even world-class swimmers tire during their events and end up shortening their strokes on the back end, resulting in a rapid, choppy turnover that is less efficient and which ultimately requires more energy.

Freestyle

As the triceps fatigue and cramp up, the arm bends at the elbow during the final part of the stroke, and the hand is pulled out of the water prematurely (by the hip area) before a full stroke is completed. A correct finish means that your elbow straightens while your forearm is still submerged at your side, with your hand leaving the water by your upper thigh (rather than your hip). This requires triceps conditioning and, initially, concentration during the stroke cycle.

There are a few ways you can strengthen the muscles required to execute a proper finish, the most obvious being in the gym.

Tricep Extensions

Take a lightweight dumbbell and position yourself in front of a mirror. Bending at the waist, look straight ahead and hold the weight at your side with your elbow bent 90 degrees. Then, slowly straighten your arm until it is extended behind you. You have just completed a stroke finish.

Do 10 reps this way, taking care to slowly bring the weight back to the starting position (with your elbow bent at a right angle) before resuming the next rep. Switch arms with the weight and repeat. Alternatively rather than using dumbbells you can use a stretch chord or theraband.

This is a great exercise to do periodically to strengthen your triceps. If you do it consistently and correctly, you will notice a marked difference during your freestyle underwater pull.

Sculling

Another way to strengthen your arms to perfect your finish is to do a drill in the pool called sculling.

Initially you can do this on your front or on your back, going headfirst with your arms by your sides, palms facing toward your feet. press the water out and in out in a figure of eight motion.

Note that the hands are always moving laterally and not big bends from the elbow!

If this gets easy, you can progress it. Lying on your back with your feet facing the opposite end of the pool, push off the wall with your arms (instead of swimming head-first, you will be floating feet first to the far end).

With your arms above your head, wave your hands in a figure of eight motion, concentrating on pushing water above your head and away from you, propelling yourself across the pool. It is slow going, but you will feel the burn in your forearms and triceps if you do the drill correctly. This is also a great way to develop, or maintain, a feel for the water. As a result, you will gain a sense of comfort and efficiency during your pull that only seasoned swimmers have after years of training.

Once you have taken the time to master these simple exercises, there are other ways you can keep yourself in check during your sessions, as the shortening of the stroke is the first, most obvious element to fall apart during hard swimming.

Concentration

During your sessions, always be aware of where your hand is exiting the water during your underwater pull. Is it coming out by your hips, or by your swim suit? Either way, you are swimming with a short, less efficient stroke. Force yourself to extend your elbow so that your hand exits the water by your upper thigh (below your suit line). To make sure you are extending all the way, graze your thumb by your thigh as you recover.

Pulling With Paddles

A method I have depended on for years to ensure a proper stroke finish is to use paddles with only the finger-straps intact. I remove the wrist-bands and affix the paddles to my palms using just the middle-finger band. As such, if I shorten my stroke the paddles will either come flying off or they will pull my finger in an unnatural way. This method of pulling forces me to be disciplined, and trains me to develop a finish to my stroke automatically.

During competition, always concentrate on your underwater pull and make sure you are maximizing the water you are pulling by stretching out your stroke on the front end and extending it at the back end. In time, a correct finish will be second nature and you will be at a distinct advantage to your less disciplined and short-stroked competitors. Remember, it is what you do under the water that makes you faster, much more than what goes on over the top.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

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!

Single-Arm Trailing Freestyle Drill #SwimTechTues

This is an old standby drill for freestyle that’s been done by coaches and swimmers since as long as we can remember. You may well have done this with your arm out in front – for balance. Here we do it with the still arm trailing – so you can get full rotation.

Why Do It:

Isolating each arm can help you discover what each arm does during the pull. This drill will also help you focus in on your balance as you rotate to either side.

Single arm freestyle

How to Do It:

1. Start with a standard streamline pushoff (Cullen dives in, but you can use a push) and take a stroke with one arm.
2. As that arm finishes, leave it at your side and begin a stroke with the other arm.
3. As your begin your pull, make sure the shoulder of the opposite arm is above the water.
4. To breathe, one option is to turn your head toward the pulling arm…
5 …or breathe to the other side, toward the non-pulling arm.
6. Alternate arms per length, or take a few strokes with one arm, then switch, and finish with regular freestyle.

How to Do It Really Well 

Play around with the drill and focus. Don’t get locked into a set pattern, and concentrate on what your pulling arm is doing. You may find that you feel more comfortable to one side than you do to the other, which is very normal. DONT NEGLECT THAT SIDE!

One thing you will notice is that every time Cullen’s hand enters the water, his opposite shoulder and hip pop up with the rotation. The problem with doing single arm with the still arm out ahead of you is that you don’t get that rotation, that it doesn’t really suit full stroke. We want these drills to mimic what our freestyle is like, so we can really carry these focus’s across.

Take your time with this – and any drill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

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!