Swimming Smarter, Not Harder (Coaches’ Corner, July 8, 2019)

admin Coaches' Corner

By Coach Alex, INT1.

We are more than halfway through the season and, at this point, swimmers should be revisiting their goal sheets, adjusting, and refocusing where necessary. The Vikings have developed a strong aerobic base, from which we can now focus on working on speed and race tactics. However, in order to swim faster, we need to swim smarter, not just harder.

Swimming smarter means that you understand that swimming with better technique allows you to go faster, with less effort. While your bad habits may be getting you first place now, in the long run, swimmers that have better technique and train hard will outlast those that don’t have a strong technical base.

In order to swim smarter, we need to be efficient in the water. To be efficient, we need to improve on our propulsion and reduce drag. Drag is a big area where I personally see a lot of swimmers struggling. Some key areas that can reduce drag, while swimming, is to:

  1. Improve balance: When we swim, we want to stay as horizontal as possible in the water. Not swaying too much to the right or left, breathing for too long or too high, or swimming too narrow or too wide. As “The Three Little Bears” story goes, it’s the happy medium we are looking for, the “just right” area.
  2. Swim taller: When we swim, we want to make ourselves as long and as streamlined as possible. This means lengthening out our stroke, taking that time to glide, finishing our stroke, and reaching as far forward as possible on each stroke. When we swim tall, we go further, and create a position that decreases the amount of drag.
  3. Kick effectively: Our kick is our engine! When our kick is inefficient, we lose our power house. However, merely moving your legs faster isn’t going to make you faster. Efficient kicking is created when we keep our kick compact. Our feet should stay in the water, be small in depth and width, and be fast.

Once we have reduced drag, we can focus on improving our propulsion. While your muscle strength may support your propulsion, it is not the muscle strength itself that dictates whether we have effective propulsion or not. It is how effective we are at activating as many muscle groups as possible while we swim. Ways in which effective propulsion is created is through:

  1. Rotation: While I previously mentioned we need to stay horizontal to reduce drag, we do need to rotate our shoulders to engage the larger muscle groups in our back. Shoulder rotation also allows us to reach further on every stroke. However, shoulder rotation does not mean our entire body is moving side to side, the goal is still to stay horizontal while our shoulders rotate forward and back on each stroke.
  2. Core engagement: When your coaches make you do ab exercises during dryland and activation, it is not just because they are evil and want to see you suffer. There is a method behind their madness. Having a strong core, and being able to understand how to engage our core, is one of the most beneficial areas in being able to swim efficiently. Having a strong core allows us to swim faster, for longer, while maintaining a horizontal body position.
  3. Anchoring the arms: What you do with your arms below the surface of the water is extremely important in dictating whether you will have an effective propulsion and directly influences the amount of drag you create. Again, moving your hands and arms too wide or too narrow will create more drag and less efficient propulsion. I often see swimmers cutting their arms across their body underneath the water in Freestyle. In both Freestyle and Butterfly, the focus should be on swimming in line with your shoulders through the arm entry into the water, and through the pull underneath the water too. To do this, swimmers need to maintain a high elbow through the catch phase of the underwater pull. This applies to Butterfly, Freestyle, and even Breaststroke.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to move through the water effectively and efficiently, you can understand the reasoning behind your coaches’ stroke correction and drills. As we head into challenge week, remember that swimming smarter will help you swim faster!