Aqua Notes - The Race Club

How to Effectively Do a Slingshot Start

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There are two options for the track start using the back footplate, weight forward or weight backward (slingshot). Before the introduction of the footplate, on the elite men’s side, there was an equal mix of both techniques being used, with neither having a clear advantage over the other. On the elite women’s side, most women used the weight forward technique.

Once the back footplate was introduced, the dynamics of the start changed and today, most elite swimmers prefer the slingshot technique, shifting their weight to the more favorable angle of the back plate. But not all do.

The advantages of the slingshot start are that one can more effectively use the arms, shoulders and both legs to create the propulsive forces, first the back leg, then the front. With the weight forward start, while virtually all of the propulsive force comes from the front leg, this technique generally allows the swimmer to get off the block faster.

With either technique, when the command to take your mark is given, the fingers must grip the front of the block or the bars that run parallel on the top of the block tightly while the arms pull upward. It does not seem to matter too much if the arms are straight or bent slightly for this motion, so long as there is tension on the arms. At The Race Club, we believe that given the option of the bars on top of the block, it is better to grab a hold of them as far forward as possible, rather than grabbing the front of the block. That allows the bend of the knee and waist to be slightly less, creating a mechanical advantage.

If using the slingshot technique, while pulling upward with the arms, you want to feel the weight of the body shift from the front foot to the back foot, being careful not to lean back too much. If you are leaning backward too far, it simply takes too long to get off the block. Moving the body just five or ten degrees backward will cause the shift in weight to occur. Once you feel the majority of the weight on the back foot, stop the motion backward and wait for the beep. The back foot should not be flat, but the heal slightly off the plate. The head should be kept in the neutral or slightly forward-extended position. If using the weight forward technique, the body weight will remain on the front foot, while pulling upward with the arms.

To be in the best possible readiness for the start, there is a right amount of tension one needs to place on the arms and legs. If one is too tense, putting too much pressure on either arms or legs, there is a good chance of flinching, resulting in a disqualification. Too relaxed and one cannot react fast enough or with the required force to get a great start. On a scale of one to ten, where one is completely relaxed and ten is like a twig ready to snap, the right amount of tension will be around a seven. That amount of tension seems to enable a swimmer to create enough force without losing control.

A lot of attention is being given to so-called reaction times, posted for each swimmer on the scoreboard after the start. These times represent the time lapse between the sound of the beep and the front toes leaving the block, which is not really the reaction time. Since the weight-forward starters do not have as far to go to get off of the block, they will nearly always post faster start times. What really matters, however, is where the swimmer breaks out in comparison to all the other swimmers in the race, not how fast they left the block. Most of the elite weight-forward starters that I have seen stay under water for seven to eight fast dolphin kicks, so the speed of the dolphin kick can also influence the technique one chooses.

With either technique you prefer, by following these instructions, you will now be cocked and ready for the starter’s beep. Get ready for our Swimisodes Slingshot Start to launch next week. Watch the first video in our start series: Swimisodes -Swimming Starts – How to Position Your Feet https://theraceclub.com/videos/swimisodes-swimming-starts-position-feet/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Magic of The Relaxed Wrist

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Have you ever noticed that the fastest swimmers in the pool typically look like they are swimming with less effort than the slower ones? It is not a coincidence. There is a reason and it is mostly in the relaxed wrist.

The part of the swimmer we see during the freestyle race is the part above the water…the back of the head, the back, the feet breaking the surface, and the recovery of the arms. Although most of the real work is going on under the surface, the few tenths of a second that the arms are recovering above the water between each underwater pull turns out to be extremely important for the swimmer.

The human muscle can recover in a surprisingly short amount of time, if we give it a chance. If a muscle is relaxed for just a brief period, tenths of seconds, the ions involved in the exchange across the cell membranes, mostly sodium and potassium, necessary for a strong muscular contraction, can find their way back home in time for another good pull. If we keep the muscles tense and contracted, they fatigue much sooner. The muscles are simply unable to sustain the strong contractions for very long.

I am not certain what percentage of our total available muscle fibers are contracting during any one single freestyle pull, in any of the muscles involved in this motion (likely less than 50%), but it is significantly higher when the muscles have had an opportunity to recover than when they haven’t. Relaxing the wrist and hand on the recovery of the freestyle stroke enables the muscles in the arm to recover better than when the wrist is stiff and the fingers are clenched together. You don’t even need to be in the water to figure that out.

It seems like a simple proposition. Relax the wrist and fingers during the recovery and you will likely pull stronger and for a longer period of time, two desirable outcomes, particularly if you want to swim fast. Yet many swimmers don’t get it. In their overzealous attempt to quickly get to the other end of the pool, they never let go of their intensity. They never chill out on the recovery. When the arm moves over the top of the water, they look as if rigor mortis is setting in, completely stiff and un-relaxed. As a result, they get tired and don’t keep swimming fast.

Don’t underestimate the importance of relaxing the wrist and fingers during this recovery period. I haven’t seen a great swimmer yet that hasn’t learned that. At The Race Club, we spend a lot of time on one particular drill, the six-kick, one-stroke drill, stopping the hand at 12 o’clock, straight above the shoulder. At that point, the swimmer dangles the wrist from side to side for a second or two, before continuing on with the freestyle recovery. Even this simple drill is a challenge for many swimmers. At the top their recovery, the dangle looks more like a parade wave, rather than a hand that is connected to the forearm by a few threads, hanging down toward the water, pulled by gravity. In order to recover well, there has to be complete relaxation of the wrist and fingers.

It is surprising how this single act of relaxation of the hand and fingers during those few tenths of a second can not only make you look like a great swimmer, you will actually start to act like one, swimming faster. In life, it is commonly held that taking vacations is a good thing. They help to keep us energized and strong during our working months. The same could be said of taking a few ten-minute breaks during our workday. They keep us fresh and more productive.

Make your swim more productive. Take the break when you can get it, on the recovery, by relaxing your wrist and fingers to sustain a faster, stronger pulling motion. As my Masters coach in Phoenix, Troy Dalbey, used to tell me, “Swim with soft hands on the recovery”. Troy was right. Softer, relaxed hands make for faster swimmers.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Brian MacKenzie and Erin Cafaro MacKenzie join The Race Club team of Expert Technical Coaches

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Announcing strength training, nutrition and recovery consultants to expand the Race Club’s unparalleled swimming resource for optimal performance.

The extended Race Club family welcomes Brian MacKenzie and Erin Cafaro MacKenzie to their staff of consultants. Brian MacKenzie is a world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. He authored the book “Power Speed Endurance: A Skill Based Approach to Endurance Training”
and co-authored “UnBreakable Runner”. MacKenzie created CrossFit Endurance, which specializes in movement mechanics and programming. Believing nutrition is the foundation of all athletes, MacKenzie developed his own performance and recovery supplement, 3FU3L. All of MacKenzie’s companies, under Unscared Inc., are geared towards helping athletes of all levels and sports to push past their fears and limitations and actualize their true genetic potential. MacKenzie and his methods have been featured in many publications from Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Body to Men’s Journal to Triathlete Magazine and many more. He trains elite athletes from all over the world.

Erin Cafaro MacKenzie, a two time Olympic gold medalist in rowing, is an avid competitor in sport and life. Erin graduated from the University of California Berkley and was a member of the varsity team that won the 2005 and 2006 NCAA Division I Rowing Championships. At the International level she was a 19 time medalist, which included earning prestigious Gold Medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Summer Olympics in the Women’s 8+. Erin is currently a highly sought after coach within the competitive athletic community for helping beginners to elite level athletes of all sports get on the right track to winning. She is the Vice President of 3Fu3l (Sports Fuel), a nutrition company very conscious of clean and ethical products which allows tested and health conscious athletes a viable option for supplements. 3Fu3l was actually tested and created on Erin during her buildup to the London 2012 Olympics out of the necessity for a good clean supplement to fuel performance and recovery. Erin is also the Director of Operations at Unscared, Inc. As a decorated Olympian and high level coach Erin loves to share her experience and knowledge with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance.

Brian and Erin are based in Orange County, California. As Race Club consultants, they skype with clients from around the globe and do personal consultations with clients in the Orange County area. Swimmers and triathletes appreciate the individual and skill based approach to swimming faster. Brian and Erin enhance the Race Club ideologies and methods in the disciplines of Strength Training, Nutrition and Recovery. Click here to see rates and schedule skype appointments.


Swimisodes – Backstroke Swim Drill – Body Rotation Drill

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At The Race Club, we practice an important backstroke swimming drill that helps swimmers increase their speed and energy of the backstroke body rotation, all of which lead to a faster backstroke. A quick rotation of the body from side to side during the underwater pull is one of the key techniques that a swimmer can use to develop a faster backstroke. The faster the rotation of the swimmer’s body, the more kinetic energy can be coupled to the pull and kick to make them more effective.

In order to learn an efficient backstroke we believe it is important to practice a variety of backstroke swimming drills. Good backstroke body rotation is not only beneficial for the coupling energy that it provides, but this technique also enables the swimmer to bend the elbow more in the pulling motion underwater. Similar to the high elbow in freestyle, the bent elbow in backstroke reduces frontal drag, but it also increases the propulsion when compared to a straighter-armed pull. Bending the elbow to 120 degrees or more without rotating the body will result in the hand breaking the surface of the water and losing power.

Watching world champion Junya Koga performing the body rotation backstroke swimming drill, you will see how powerful the body rotation can be when coupled with the kick or the pull. Practice this drill often. Develop a strong core to enable you to rotate quickly and you will begin to see great improvement in your backstroke speed.


Swimisodes – Butterfly Swim Drill – Left, Right, Front Drill

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One of our favorite butterfly swim drill to practice is the left, right, front drill where the swimmer tries to keep the body more horizontal during the breath stroke to the front. For swimmers that are not adept at swimming butterfly and are more accustomed to swimming freestyle, this drill is a great way to get started on butterfly. The technique of using one arm at a time for two out three swimming strokes makes it easier to perform butterfly and improve your chances of developing a technically more correct stroke. Butterfly is one of the most difficult swimming techniques to master. At The Race Club swim camps and in our private instruction, we like to work on several swim drills that make the butterfly easier to do. Developing a strong dolphin kick is an important part of swimming a fast butterfly, so we recommend doing this drill with fins on in order to strengthen the kick. When the swimmer’s kick gets stronger, the fins can come off for the drill.
Olympic champion Roland Schoeman shows us a beautiful example of this butterfly swim drill. By elevating and extending the neck forward, Roland is able to keep his shoulders closer to the water and minimize frontal drag. For some swimmers that are challenged with keeping their shoulders lower on the water, Roland also demonstrates a similar butterfly swim drill using a side breath. Using the side breath can help keep the body flatter and enable the swimmer to get the breath in more quickly. Side breathing takes quite a bit of practice to perfect, so don’t be discouraged when you first try it. An important part of side breathing correctly is keeping the swimmer’s ear flat on the water during the side breath. Also, the side breath should be slightly backward toward the rear to avoid taking in water or choking.
Hopefully, with this butterfly swim drill, you can develop a more efficient and faster butterfly technique, whether you choose to breathe to the side or to the front.

 


What Grade is Your Freestyle Recovery?

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When you fill up your tank at the gas station, usually you are offered three grades of gasoline, regular (low octane 87), mid range (about octane 91), and premium (high octane 93). The high-octane gas is more expensive, but it increases the energy and efficiency of the engine. It makes your car go faster.

In swimming, I like to describe the freestyle recovery as having three octane grades; low, medium and high. The lowest octane recovery means that the elbow is bent almost maximally, the length of the arm reduced by half, as it recovers from the release phase after the propulsion and moves to the front of the body for the next stroke cycle. This form of recovery requires the least amount of energy for a given stroke cycle rate, and not surprisingly, it is what we see in most distance freestyle swimmers.

When we get to shorter, middle-distanced races like the 100 and 200 meters, we often see the hand elevating from the water, with the elbow less bent on the recovery. This middle-octane form of recovery requires more work than the low-octane recovery, but produces more kinetic energy for the same stroke rate.

Finally, in the sprint freestyle event, the 50 meter, we often see the hand elevated even further, or even a complete straight-armed recovery, the high-octane recovery. With the arm straightened, the radius of the arm has now doubled from the low-octane recovery stroke. If the stroke rate is the same as with the low-octane recovery, the kinetic energy in this motion is quadrupled. In fact, we often see the stroke rate in the 50 sprint at around twice that of the distance swimmers, which means the energy in the recovering arm may be 8 times greater than for the distance swimmer. That requires a lot more work of the swimmer to create all that energy. So why do it?

Once the stroke rate gets above 80 or so, the recovering arm becomes one of the two coupling motions of the freestyler. The other is the rotating body. The degree of coupling, augmenting the force of the underwater pulling arm, or the kick, is proportional to the energy in the coupling motion. In other words, the more energy in the recovering arm and/or the rotating body, the further down the pool we swim with each pull, so long as the two motions are connected.

Just like in the car, the faster we want to swim, the more octane we need in the recovering motion. Sprinters need high octane in order to win, while distance swimmers often like to use low to medium octane recoveries, saving their energy for the body rotation and the underwater pull and kick.

It makes no sense to use a high-octane recovery, requiring a lot of effort, if the stroke rate is around 60 or slower, a hip-driven freestyle. The reason is that the pulling arm is held out front during most of the recovering motion and by the time it starts its propulsion, the recovering arm is already in the water and lost its kinetic energy. In other words, there is no coupling going on with the pull with this slow of a stroke rate. The motions are not connected.

Because of the sheer mass of the upper body, the rotation of the body is the most important coupling motion we have in freestyle. Therefore, regardless of the level of octane used in the recovery motion, one should always use a fast body rotation with the pulling arm in propulsive phase.

In teaching these various forms of freestyle technique at The Race Club, we often imagine that there is a string going from the shoulders straight up to the sky. With each stroke, we try to get the swimmers to bring the elbow up to the string. In this way, regardless of whether the recovering motion is low, medium or high octane, with the elbow at the string, the body (or at least the shoulders) must be rotated fully. That means that the body must turn quickly to the other side in order for the other elbow to reach the string. The quickness of the body rotation creates a lot of coupling energy for the underwater pull. One can then add the recovering arm’s energy to the body rotation, low for distance, medium for mid distance or high for sprints, to optimize the technique for each race.

No one leaves The Race Club without having at least two freestyle techniques, because there is no one technique that works well for all distances. Some, like Race Club swimmer and Olympic champion Nathan Adrian, change their technique during the race. Nathan often goes from a mid-octane freestyle recovery to a high-octane, straight-armed recovery with a higher stroke rate to finish his 100-meter freestyle. Nathan wins a lot of races that way.

If you need to tune up your engine, come to The Race Club and let us help you determine what grade of arm recovery you need in your freestyle events.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Swimisodes – Breaststroke – Wall Kick

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In this #swimisodes, Coach Gary Hall challenges Olympic champ Rebecca Soni do our favorite breaststroke speed swim drill, a 45 second Breaststroke Wall Kick. Stroke rate for breaststroke is quite variable, particularly for the 200. Regardless, the speed at which the legs are drawn forward and push backward to provide propulsion is critical. The legs must be drawn forward quickly in order to minimize the time in a very unfavorable drag position and they must accelerate backward quickly in order to generate more propulsion. One of the ways to improve strength in the Breaststroke kick is challenging yourself to do as many Wall Kick breaststroke kicks as you can in :45 seconds. The breaststroke wall kick isolates the movement and allows the swimmer to feel the speed of the feet and legs kicking backward to create propulsion. Many breaststrokers think about kicking back as fast as they can, but it is also important to bring the feet up as quickly as possible. This takes practice. The point in the breaststroke with the highest frontal drag and where any swimmer, including Kevin Cordes, Brendan Hansen, and Adam Peaty, drops his speed to almost zero is when the legs are drawn forward. Combined with the Breaststroke wall kick test, we can measure the effectiveness of the breaststroke kick using velocity meter technology when you come to The Race Club.

Challenge yourself to 3 rounds of 45 second breaststroke wall kick and each round find a way to improve upon the last round. In this #swimisodes, you can clearly see where Olympic Gold Medalist and world record holder, Reb Soni puts on the brakes by coming up high for a breath and bringing her feet up, in setting herself up for the strike phase. With her low back flexibility, an amazing talent and a lot of kick speed work, she is an expert at reducing the necessary drag in breaststroke as much as possible. Breaststroke is a stop and go stroke and the fastest swimmers reduce drag and use a high kick rate. It’s no surprise that Rebecca Soni holds the Race Club record for number of kicks in 45 second breaststroke wall kick test. Watch to find out how many she did on her visit to The Race Club…


#swimisodes Fall 2015

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We are excited to bring you new #swimisodes this Fall 2015 at www.theraceclub.com Learn how to perfect your swim technique from the fastest swimmers in the World! Through each of the #swimisodes Coach Gary Hall shares his depth of knowledge on The Race Club’s elite swim training program. Learn how swim with a perfect stroke, increase your strength through dryland and how the best swimmers in the World take care of their bodies through nutrition and mental training. In swimming, where water is 800 times denser than air so every detail counts. Thanks for watching and please share with your friends!


Gary Sr. Podcasts All Things Triathlon Swim Training with Kevin Koskella

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Kevin Koskella from Triswimcoach.com interviews Gary Hall Sr. on all things triathlon swim training in this podcast.
-Gary Hall Sr. background
-How to accomplish varying goals
-Triathletes, masters, and age group swimmers
-Mindset – “I am a swimmer”
-Body limitations & core strength
-Minimizing drag and maximizing propulsion
-Hip driven/Shoulder driven freestyle
-Velocity meter 
-Importance of high elbow & stroke rate
-Importance of drag drills
-Swim bench
-Tips for triathletes: flip turns & more

References:

The Race Club – http://theraceclub.com
Velocity meter – http://theraceclub.com/swim-camps/swim-video-analysis/
Tempo Trainer – Tempo Trainer
Freestyle Pull- drag drills: http://theraceclub.com/videos/swimisodes-freestyle-how-to-pull-underwater/
Upcoming Race Club swim camps: http://theraceclub.com/swim-camps/

Listen on iTunes or by clicking here.


Cade Talley

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Gary and all the Race Club team,


Thank you so much for getting Cade in for a couple quick sessions.  He is inspired and hopefully will put the tools you showed him to use.  They are in their second week of training for this season and working hard.

Judy and I really enjoyed our short visit and can’t wait to find the time to get back for a full week at the Club.  Your hospitality and patience was amazing and we left feeling like part of the family.

You are all passionate and inspiring people and I hope to meet you again soon.

Sincerely,
Chris Talley, father of Cade Talley, 16

 


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