Another in a series of "***-coaching" articles by Terry Laughlin,
director of Total Immersion *** Swim Camps, columnist for Inside
Triathlon and Fitness Editor for SWIM magazine. Terry is also the
technique coach for United States Swimming's Olympic Development
Camps. We welcome your questions or comments on-line at
stroke tips and/or information on Total Immersion swim camps.
DISREGARD THE FOLLOWING...
Swimming is simple--swimming advice gets complicated. Here's how to
ignore the right stuff.
Of course you're not happy with your swimming. You didn't know that
"The most effective applications of propulsive force occur when the
insweep and upsweep are made on a diagonal of 50 to 70
degrees...the patterns range in depth from 61 to 74 cm and in
length from 29 to 45 cm." Well there you are. Now go try it.
That's a quote from a discussion of the freestyle armstroke
which plunges on that way for 18 (yes!) pages. It's in a volume
entitled, with inadvertent humor, Swimming Even Faster by Ernie
Maglischo, considered the premier sourcebook on technique. Some of
you have probably even tried to read it. The volume is loaded with,
among other things, minutely detailed descriptions covering every
angle, degree and inch of movement as the hand travels through
water. Then Maglischo continues over the next 30 pages to discuss
kicking, timing of arms to legs, breathing and 20 different
possible stroke faults, before dispensing with body position--much
simpler to teach and with far more improvement potential--in a
cursory paragraph or two.
No wonder so many *** athletes are put off at the thought of
regular swim workouts. The advice they get makes efficient swimming
sound like rocket science. Swim coaches for ***s are in short
supply, leaving many would-be swimmers struggling to extract their
technique tips from books like this. But even athletes with coaches
can be swamped. As one complained recently to me, "I've been told
a thousand different things about how to improve my stroke. How can
you ever hope to do them all well?"
You can't of course, unless you do some weeding. Most books
and articles, treat swimming as simply a matter of getting in
shape, telling you how to swim laps rather than how to swim them
better. Even Masters coaches are known more for giving workouts
than for instruction. But when they finally do turn to technique,
wow! An admittedly demanding motor skill becomes a complex sounding
as nuclear physics. You can see the athletes' minds working. "If
it's technique I need to get better, not lots of laps, and if
technique is that, well, technical, I'm outta here."
Wait! Come back. I teach technique to hundreds of ***s each
year, and I usually have just Saturday and Sunday to get them
swimming smoothly and ready to coach themselves. We have time for
what really matters, nothing else. And each year I've been
coaching, a funny thing has happened: I've I taught less than I did
the year before, and my hundreds of newly hatched swimmers have
improved more after the streamlining. Here's some common stroke
trivia you're better off without:
Is your arm is at a 30 degree angle as it enters the water? How do
you pitch your hand as you make the catch? How high is your elbow
as you begin your outsweep? Are you making a good sculling motion
on the insweep? Do you have the coveted "S-stroke" yet? If so, does
your pull cross the body's centerline? Is your hand at least 61 but
no more than 74 cm deep as you pull, using your triceps to extend
all the way with your hand to finish the stroke? Are you
accelerating your hand through the stroke? Where is your palm
facing as you take your hand from the water? Where is your elbow
relative to your hand as you recover? Where should you look while
breathing? Are you kicking with a 2- or 4- or 6-beat kick and how
is the timing of your arms to your legs? Hey, where are you going;
we're not finished yet!
Come back and try this. Focus on the simpler and far more
critical job of adjusting your body position to minimize drag. In
the scheme of speed things, it's at least twice as important as how
your hand pulls you through the water.
If you get your body balanced (see my earlier posting on
"pressing the T"), then rotate your trunk and hips as you stroke,
you'll move through the water pretty well, flawed stroke or no.
Students at my camps have improved their speed and efficiency as
much as 30% in two days, making scarcely any changes in their arm
Here's the stroke-made-simple lesson: Slice your hand in as
soon as it passes your shoulder, extend it to the front as far as
you can, take your time about beginning your pull, and pull
straight back under your body, neither too deep nor too close to
your trunk. Then take your hand out of the water and do it again.
You're swimming fine. Put away your metric tape measure.
Are there useful refinements beyond those mentioned? Of
course. But they pay off far more if you're eyeing a berth on the
Olympic team. Consider this: the typical novice is maybe 10 to 20
percent as efficient as a world-class swimmer, but can close most
of the gap--to maybe a 20% spread--by simply improving body
position, rotation and alignment. Working on just that can easily
deliver a year's worth of progress. Then you can begin to think
about your hand pitch and path, which may grudgingly yield another
5 or 10 percent gain after just as much work.
Basic, sound swimming comes down to this: Lean into the water
with your upper trunk (to balance) so your suit is just breaking
the surface; rotate your hips around your spinal axis (to propel),
getting them completely out of the way as each hand passes through;
and think of your arms more as extenders for increasing the length
of your body line--which automatically makes you faster--than as
pulling tools. Any questions, e-mail me.