It’s not lost on me that the title of this post will raise some eyebrows. The title shouldn’t be taken too literally; I do feel there are ideal approaches, methodologies, and “rules” to consider when coaching any part of your swim stroke
I do believe there are some universal tenets to coaching body postion, good kick or a powerful pull that will not only allow a client or athlete to enjoy all its benefits but to do so in a fashion that won’t increase their likelihood of injury.
I’m interested in making people fast and strong, but I’m also interested in the long-game. It wouldn’t bode well for business (or my reputation) if all of my client’s swim strokes looked like this:
To that end, with regards to universal tenets for freestyle – and swimming as a whole:
Get the body high in the water – preferably with a straight back
Keep the legs long and hidden behind the body
If you’re following these three golden rules, you’re doing a better job than most. It’s sad but true.
However, golden rules aside, there are many intricate, more nuanced things to consider person to person. One’s comfort and happiness in the water comes to mind. We can’t hold someone who’s scared of the water to the same standard as someone who’s been a competitive swimmer for 17 years.
Likewise, someone with a vast and delicate history of shoulder or back issues is not going to take the same path as someone with a “clean” health history. And, of course, other factors come into play such as goal(s), movement quality, and anatomical/structural differences between individuals.
There are many, many fantastic resources out there that help to break down anatomy, assessment, biomechanics, joint positions, and what’s considered ideal swim technique. I have my biases as to what I feel is correct – as does everyone – but it’s important to take every resource with a grain of salt, because…
Textbook technique, in the real world, is every bit as much of a myth as barefoot running being the answer to all your running problems, or buying a £10,000 bike being the reason you WILL ride like a pro cyclist.
What we read or deem as “ideal” on paper, while often a great starting point for many people, doesn’t always translate to real-life. As coaches, it’s important to understand this. Anytime we corner ourselves into one-train of thought or that any one thing applies to everybody, we’re doing the industry – and our athletes – a disservice.
A Real-Life Example
A few months ago I started working with a guy who had real shoulder issues and swimming was aggravating them. He was frustrated because no matter what he did (or who he worked with), his shoulders got sore.
When people are starting a session, I like to be a fly on the wall. I want to see what their default movement patterns are. I let the athlete do a 100m warm up at his own pace, and while his stroke wasn’t the worst that I had seen, I could see why his shoulders were bothering him.
We established that his range of movement and flexibility around the shoulders wasn’t great – and yet he was trying to keep his elbows super high while reaching so far that his elbows and shoulders were collapsing into the water. Added to this the athlete was rolling all the way around onto his side to try and get air in, breathing every third stroke.
2 of the things this gentleman was doing are things that many people will read/hear and try to emulate; the long stretched out stroke and the high elbow recovery. Bilateral breathing also requires more oxygen/relaxation than many athletes can maintain.
However non of those things ABSOLUTELY HAS TO HAPPEN. Just because Michael Phelps or Ian Thorpe have high recovering elbows and long loping strokes, doesn’t mean that you should. Instead, work within the bounds of what you as an athlete – or the athlete in front of you can do.
With the athlete above, I got him to engage his core. This helped keep his whole body high in the water requiring less rotation to try and breath. I had him take straight arm recoveries meaning that his arms were far more relaxed. Equally, it helped to stop overreaching meaning that he maintained control and forward momentum, without stressing his shoulders.
I hope people can appreciate the narrow-mindedness of this type of thinking. To expect everyone to fit into the same scheme or way of doing things because that’s what YOU prefer to do (or because a textbook told you to do so) is about as narrow-minded as it comes.
No one has to breathe bilaterally.
No one has to swim with a high elbow recovery.
No one has to kick 2 beat kick even though they are a triathlete.
And no one has to start watching Planet Earth on BBC. Except, yes you do.
I’d argue a “good” coach understands and respects that everyone is different and that he or she will be humble enough to put their own personal biases in their back pocket and appreciate there is no ONE way to perform any stroke or part of the stroke. Cater the style to the athlete, and not vice versa.
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!