Aqua Notes - The Race Club

Wear a Noseclip in Backstroke

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Winning is Cool

At one time, it may have been uncool to wear a noseclip for backstroke in either workout or in competition, but not any more. With backstroke superstars like Missy Franklin and Tyler Clary, among others, sporting their noseclips on television, coaches and swimmers are starting to realize that there is more to it than what meets the eye…or nose.

The first advantage of the noseclip is the obvious avoidance of the unpleasant experience of getting water up the sinuses. Ouch! Nothing puts a damper on a good race better than that. OK…maybe missing a wall on a turn does.

Holding Pressure

The second advantage of the noseclip is gained by avoiding what is needed to do in order to keep water from crawling down the nose and into the sinuses, blowing out your air. Unless you are one of those freaky swimmers with a long nose and big upper lip and can curl that lip up against your nostrils to keep water out, then you must provide a steady stream of air from your lungs out your nose in order to provide the positive pressure to keep the water out. The problem with this maneuver is that if you are staying underwater for any length of time doing the dolphin kicks, by the time you are ready to surface, the lung has run out of air.

If you were to blow all of the air that you can out of your lungs in the pool, the first thing you would notice is that you sink like a rock. The truth is, you would then weigh about 8 pounds in the water. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but when compared to the neutral weight of the body with a lung filled with air, it is significant. Imagine putting on an 8 pound weight belt and trying to kick to the surface; not impossible, but requires a lot more work.

Wear a Noseclip

By the time you blow out all the available air in your lung on your underwater dolphin journey to the surface, you have added about 8 pounds more weight to the task. Why burden yourself with the extra work? Wear a noseclip, keep the air in your lung and explode out of the water on your breakout, instead of resurfacing like a submarine floating to the surface. Not only will you pop up easier, but you will also have one less thing to worry about, getting water up your nose.  With a relatively small investment in a Finis noseclip, you will do yourself two big favors.

In our Race Club camps, we work a lot on improving the underwater dolphin kick, now considered the fifth stroke. The use of the dolphin kick on backstroke is of the highest importance in developing good swimming technique. Getting fast underwater and staying down for the maximum allowed distance is essential to win. We highly recommend you wear a noseclip from Finis in backstroke as an important part of that process.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


How to Get Your Breaststroke Clicking Again pt. 2

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Working With the Right Tools

If you are interested in getting your breaststroke clicking, you had better build a strong breaststroke kick. That process starts with having the tools to kick fast; external rotation of the hip, dorsiflexion of the ankle and extension of the lumbar (lower) spine. I estimate that for every additional degree of external rotation of the hip, your propulsion in breaststroke will increase by about 5% with the same amount of effort. That is worth fighting for.

Two of our favorite stretches for improving your breaststroke flexibility and giving you the necessary tools are the hip stretch and yoga pushups. With the hip stretch, you sit on the edge of a chair and cross your legs, placing the ankle on the thigh, just above the knee. Now, with arms raised straight over head, bend forward with a straight back, allowing the arms to go over the top of the folded leg. Try to get your palms all the way to the ground.

Hip Stretch Test and Yoga Pushups

Great breaststroke kickers will usually get their palms all the way to the ground, while swimmers with poor external rotation of the hip will struggle to get their fingers to touch the ground. By stretching in this position for two minutes or longer daily, one can slowly increase the flexibility of the hip to improve the breaststroke kick.

Yoga pushups are started in the downward dog position, with the body in the A position, palms on the ground in front, feet on the ground behind, separated to shoulder width. The heels should be pushed as close to the ground as possible. The closer they come to the ground, the better the dorsiflexion of the ankle.

From downward dog, the body is extended forward into the straight arm plank position. The feet are then flipped over on to the tops of the feet and the body lowered to a pushup position, with elbows tucked at the sides. Feet and hands should be the only parts touching the ground. From here, the upper body is arched backward as far as possible, extending the cervical and lumbar spine. This position is swimmer’s Cobra or upward dog position. The body is then pushed backward into upward dog and the feet flipped back over to begin the cycle again. Yoga pushups improve dorsiflexion of the ankle and lumbar extension of the spine- both important tools for breaststroke.

Coupling Motions

There are three important coupling motions that help get your breaststroke clicking. For the pull, the elevation of the shoulders and back is a strong coupling motion. For the kick, snapping the head down and pressing the body forward and downward are two powerful coupling motions.

The most challenging part of getting breaststroke clicking is the coupling with the kick. Because of the independent nature of the kick and pull, a breaststroker has precious little time to get the kicking cycle into the propulsion phase in time to catch the kinetic energy of the moving upper body and head. A swimmer has precisely .4 seconds from the time the shoulders are maximally elevated and pull propulsion is completed, to draw the legs from a straight back position into the kicking propulsion phase, pushing water backward with the insteps. If the swimmer delays in getting the feet into propulsion, then he or she misses the opportunity to couple with the motion of the head and upper body. The kinetic energy of the upper body will peak as the body strikes the water, but quickly goes to zero after that.

Breaststroke Clicking Fast

All great breaststrokers kick with the knees at or inside the hips because it is the only way that they can get the kicking cycle in quickly enough to catch the coupling energy of their upper bodies. In order to get significant kicking propulsion, swimmers that have poor hip flexibility must kick with the knees wider than desirable. Unfortunately, with wider knees, it takes too long to complete the kicking cycle and so the opportunity to connect with the coupling motion of the upper body is lost. In other words, there is no opportunity for a breaststroker to swim fast without a fast kicking cycle. Hip flexibility and leg strength are required to do this with maximum speed and propulsion.

To get your breaststroke clicking….and develop a faster breaststroke, start doing these three important breaststroke stretches and do lots of kicking in practice, lifting the heels and pointing the toes backward!

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

READ: Get Your Breaststroke Clicking Again pt. 1


How to Get Your Breaststroke Clicking Again pt. 1

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A Unique Stroke

Breaststroke can come and go like the wind. It is frustrating for both swimmers and coaches to have a swimmer’s breaststroke clicking one season and then, in the next, ‘poof’, the technique vanishes. Gone…and so are the fast swim times. Breaststroke is a tough stroke to do well and continue doing well. When done properly, it differs from the other three strokes in the following ways:

Breaststroke is the only stroke where the kick and pull occur independently
Breaststroke is the only stroke where the body speed goes to nearly zero with each stroke cycle
Breaststroke is the stroke most dependent on a strong kick
Breaststroke requires a completely different set of anatomical/biomechanical tools
Breaststroke is the only stroke that does not offer any ‘recovery time’ for either arms or legs
The coupling motions of breaststroke are the most timing sensitive and difficult to achieve

Let’s examine each of these six differentiating points of breaststroke and help get you on the road to a fast breaststroke again.

How to Get Your Breaststroke Clicking Again

First, since the kick and the pull occur independently in breaststroke, that means that the legs/feet cannot get in the way when the arms are pulling. Similarly, the arms/head/upper body cannot get in the way when the kick is happening. In other words, one end of the body must be streamlined to reduce frontal drag while the other end is working to create propulsion.Too often, breaststrokers fail to do that.

When the kick propulsion happens, the swimmer is often relaxing the arms out front with the head positioned too high, the so-called superman pose. The swimmer is trying to take a mini-vacation for the arms. Or in other cases, the swimmer is over anxious to start pulling and separates the arms while the kick propulsion is greatest. In either case the frontal drag increases tremendously during the important propulsive phase of the kick. When the pull is happening, too often the legs and feet are hanging down, relaxing, also causing a bad frontal drag position.

At The Race Club we practice a lot of two kick/one pull drill in the hyper-streamlined position or the racing streamlined position, which improves the speed of the body moving forward from the kick and also teaches the swimmer to be patient with the pull, keeping the hands together out front. To improve the streamline at the back end, we do many kicking drills with the heels lifted and feet pointed backward at the end of the kick.

The Standing Dunk

Second, the speed of a breaststroker approaches zero when the two thighs are brought forward and the shoulders are elevated in preparation for the next kick. Since frontal drag is related to the swimmer’s speed squared, at that particular moment, with the speed near zero, frontal drag is no longer an issue. Therefore, we want the breaststroker to get into the best possible position for the next kick propulsion. That means elevating the shoulders as high as possible, while keeping the legs pointing straight back.

I call breaststroke the ‘standing dunk’ of swimming. You don’t get to run and dunk the basketball, like you do in free, back or fly. You have to try and dunk it from a dead stand each time. That means we want to maximize the propulsion for each kick which requires the highest elevation of the shoulders possible, bending, not rotating on the short axis, and drawing the thighs forward to a 100 degree angle with the upper body.

The Kick is Key

Third, while the kick is important in all strokes, in good breaststrokers, the kick is providing as much as 80% of the total propulsion, which is a higher contribution to total propulsion than all of the other strokes. To get your breaststroke clicking or be fast in the IM today, one must develop a strong breaststroke kick.

The kick propulsion is determined from the amount and speed of the surface area of the instep of the feet pushing backward. The larger the area and faster that area can be pushed backward, the stronger the propulsion. Most of the propulsion occurs in the early phase of the feet pushing backward, not toward the end of the kick.

Besides having strong legs and good kicking technique, there are three sets of anatomical tools that are extremely important in order to develop a fast breaststroke kick. The first is a flexibility of the hip to externally rotate the leg, so the feet can point further outward creating more surface area. The second is the dorsiflexion of the ankle (pulling the toes back), which also helps to point the feet outward. The third is the lumbar flexibility of the spine, which enables a swimmer to elevate the shoulders higher out of the water, while still keeping the legs pointed straight backward.

If you are not gifted naturally with these tools, don’t worry. You can still work hard to develop them. You just need to know how. In the next article we will describe some dryland stretches that will help you get your breaststroke clicking, as well as how to use the important coupling motions to improve the power of your kick and pull.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Final Frontier pt 3: Coupling Motions

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Importance of Coupling Motions

One of the reasons that I believe that the up kick on butterfly and freestyle kick (or down kick in backstroke) and powerful coupling motions are two of the last frontiers of fast swimming is that few coaches or swimmers really recognize how important they are or even what they are. The up kick (or weak kick) not only can create propulsion, but it also has the ability to use the power of the swimmer’s vortex to strengthen the kick and increase speed, particularly when the swimmer is on his back. A properly timed and executed coupling motion also has the ability to increase propulsion tremendously in swimming. If coaches don’t understand nor appreciate these two techniques, then they likely won’t be placing much importance on improving them in practice. Consequently, I believe these techniques offer two great opportunities to improve a swimmer’s speed.

In the sport of swimming, a term we often hear coaches refer to is connecting. Connecting is another way of describing the interaction of one part of the body with another, which results in more propulsion and greater speed. That is what we describe as a coupling motion. A swimmer exists in what is called an open system. In physics, an open system is a system that has external interactions. Since the body parts are all connected, motion of one part of the body will influence the energy of another part. Furthermore, the swimmer’s motions are all influenced by the medium (air and water) we are in, as well as gravitational and other external forces.

Timing Is Everything

A coupling motion is further defined as a movement of the body that, by itself, produces no propulsion. It may be difficult to understand how these motions influence the propulsive forces of our kick and/or pull, but they do. In fact, they can increase the propulsion so much, that virtually all of the elite swimmers have learned to use them well. Poor swimmers struggle to use them effectively.

At The Race Club we spend a great deal of time teaching coupling motions for each of the four strokes and the start. They are all different and they are all important. We also teach drills that emphasize increasing the kinetic energy of these coupling motions. When these drills are done on short rest intervals, they train the body to be able to sustain the motions with high energy for the entire race.

Once a swimmer begins to understand and experience the power of coupling energy, he or she opens up an entirely new dimension of performance. Strength and speed appear seemingly out of nowhere. There is a price to pay, however; it is called work. Not every swimmer is willing or capable of investing the kinetic energy in coupling motions to derive that speed. Not every swimmer is able to time the motions correctly in order to capture that energy in the kick or pull nor sustain the motions for very long, as they require a lot of work, in order to keep swimming fast.

Explosive Results

When coaches understand the real value of the quick rotation of the body and the forceful hand entry in free and backstroke, the pressing down of the upper body and snapping down of the head in breaststroke, or the explosive swinging forward of the arms in butterfly, then they will begin to train their swimmers to be able to perform these specific motions with more energy and for longer periods of time. When they do, watch out!

The result, I assure you, will be faster swimmers than ever before.

Yours in swimming,
Gary Sr.

READ: The Final Frontier of Fast Swimming pt 1: Technology

READ: The Final Frontier of Fast Swimming pt 2: Secrets to a Faster Dolphin Kick


More on the Late Breath Butterfly

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Why the Late Breath Butterfly Makes Sense (Continued)…

The first article I wrote on the late breath butterfly, as used by Olympic Champion Joseph Schooling, pertained to the advantage of increasing coupling energy as the head snaps down timed with the second down kick. There is more to this story, however, as the late breath butterfly may also reduce frontal drag.

The fastest way to swim butterfly is without breathing. Few would argue against that. However, the concept of going fast without oxygen works only in the 50 meter sprints. Beyond that, we depend on at least 50% of our energy coming from the aerobic system, so in the 100 or longer events, we must learn to breathe often.

Breathing is problematic in that the elevation of the head, whether to the side or front, will increase frontal drag and slow the swimmer down. The higher the elevation of the head and shoulders, the more vertical the body becomes and the greater the frontal drag. Unlike breaststroke, where the body comes to nearly a screeching halt when the shoulders are elevated and the thighs brought forward, in butterfly, the speed never goes to near zero. Therefore, maintaining a relatively horizontal body position is more important in butterfly than in breaststroke.

Every Detail Counts

I refer to swimming as the sport of millimeters, tenths of seconds and degrees. In other words, the little details matter. Using the late breath butterfly technique is yet another example of that. The difference with this technique is that rather than lifting the head up early in the pulling cycle, the swimmer keeps the head down up to a tenth of a second longer. The head is lifted for the breath when the hands are further back in the pulling cycle. With the late breath the head is kept in the tucked down position as long as possible, rather than lifting it early and holding it up longer. Once it is elevated, it is then brought back down quickly, timed with the hand entry to maximize the coupling energy with the down kick. The head is held out of the water for less time.

By keeping the head down just a tenth of second or so longer, the swimmer maintains a lower drag position for that much more time, resulting in less deceleration. Less deceleration means the swimmer’s speed doesn’t slow as much and less work is required to get the speed back up on the next down kick.

In the 1924 Olympic Games, Johnny Weissmuller won the 100 m freestyle swimming with his head out of the water in a time of 57 seconds. Ironically, his rationale for doing so was to reduce frontal drag. He did not realize he was increasing frontal drag with his head out of the water, but he was so talented, he won anyway.

Function Over Form

The physics of frontal drag have not changed since then. It looks beautiful and graceful to see a butterflyer extending the head up and out of the water, holding that position while gliding forward. If we had the dolphin’s tail and could propel ourselves up and over the water, then having the head out would be a great idea, but we don’t have that much strength. Too much of the body remains under water during the breath, causing tremendous frontal drag.

One of the reasons coaches don’t like the late breath is that it looks weird. It is not as graceful looking as the early breathers. We also associate this technique with six year old swimmers, trying to learn to do butterfly for the first time. Since most of them don’t have the strength yet to get their arms around quickly, they take a short pause at the end of their pull, with the hands at their sides. Then they lift the head for the breath and recover their arms over the water. It is easier for them to do the butterfly stroke without breathing during the pulling phase. When older swimmers use this technique, there is guilt by association.

Experimenting

The late breath technique can be done with the same high stroke rate as the early breath, but like every other technique, it must be practiced. At The Race Club, we fully understand that one technique does not work equally well for all swimmers. We keep an open mind about which technique may be the best for each swimmer.

Later this summer, I look forward to testing and comparing the frontal drag forces and propulsion forces with the early versus late breath techniques in butterfly using our new drag/propulsion technology and will report back on our findings. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try the late breath butterfly technique. After all, the six year olds may have it right.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Online Coaching… a new dimension to swim training

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Advanced Communication Technology

Coaching a swimmer online, as opposed to being on deck, is a relatively new form of coaching, made possible by today’s advanced communication technology, such as Skype and FaceTime. After several years of utilizing online coaching for swimmers all over the world, we have been pleasantly rewarded with each and every swimmer (and their parents if applicable) expressing the benefits they have gained from our remote coaching service. Today, all of The Race Club coaches are busy online coaching swimmers across the globe. The demand for this service has been incredible.

Several goals are accomplished through online coaching, which typically involves a 30 minute session every two weeks throughout the season. First, it is important to establish a plan for the swimmer, including goal times. It is surprising how many swimmers go to workout every day, yet don’t even know when their practice or championship meets are going to be, where they are going to be held or what events they will be swimming. Without a plan, it is very difficult to achieve goals in sport or in life.

While most coaches would agree with establishing a seasonal plan, it is extremely difficult for a coach to sit down with each swimmer on the team and map out the season, including all of the meets and goal times. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for coaches to do that for every swimmer on the team and still perform all of the other coaching duties.

Accountability and Affirmation

Second, we like to hold the swimmers accountable. When the plan is established, we make sure that the swimmer is sticking to it. It is easy to lose focus during the season, so we try to keep the swimmers on track. We go over what went well and what didn’t go so well in practices or in practice meets. We review and critique videos of meets or practices. It’s important to turn every experience, whether good or bad, into a positive learning experience. We remind the swimmers that they reach their goals one step at a time, and often with hurdles and stumbles along the way.

Third, and perhaps most important, we remind swimmers of how good they are or how great they can become. Swimmers need to hear that often, yet it is easy to forget to tell them. Hearing that will keep them going and keep the sport fun for them. Building confidence and self-esteem is what sports are supposed to teach athletes, but without hearing enough positive affirmation from coaches and parents, they can fall short.

Program Enhancement

At The Race Club, we always take a back seat to the primary coach and make sure that our role is perfectly clear to each swimmer and the parents. After all, there can only be one head coach and we only seek to enhance the current training program. If there is ever a disagreement on what is being told to the swimmer, we always ask to communicate directly with the head coach, rather than through the parents or swimmer.

However, by lending an extra set of ears to listen to swimmers, we help shore up missing pieces in the program or lend advice on technique and become a valuable part of the swimmer’s team. In many cases, we act as an adjunct or supplemental coach to the head coach. In other cases, when there is not a head coach; we provide the entire training program including swimming cycles, strength training, stretching sets, mental training program, nutritional counseling and a recovery program.

This week, we helped coach a 10 year old girl from Nigeria, a 14 year old girl from New Zealand, a 16 year old boy from Virginia and a 55 year old masters swimmer from South Carolina….all from our desk chairs in Coronado, California and Islamorada in the Florida Keys. That is a typical week for us. By providing this online coaching service, our goal is to define the swimmer’s goals and then help him/her achieve those goals over the short seasonal term and over the longer career term.

So far, it seems to be working.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Roman Westhoff

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Hi Amy,

Roman had an amazing State Championship Meet weekend. He metaled in 8 events. 5 silver and 3 bronze (one medal not pictured). I thought I would share some of his time improvement. Some times listed below were from the previous weekend where he broke 5 meet records, one pool record, and was the High Point winner for the Boys 8 & Under. 
 
100 FR  -1.72    1:20.59 SCM
50 FR    -1.06     36.99 SCM
25 FR    -.48       17.22 SCM
50 FLY  -4.30    44.21 SCM
25 FLY  -1.24    19.06 SCM
50 BR   -.70       50.60  SCM
50 BK  -2.45     44.63 SCM
 
We love the video analysis.The one correction that Roman really noticed was the breaking of the wrists (feathering) during his Butterfly and Freestyle. We would have never noticed that without the underwater views. He has really started to focus on pointing the palms down.  Roman has also been visualizing his events before meets and is now doing his anchor. He is ready to work once he gets on the block! He couldn’t have done it without you and your dad! 
 
Thank you so much! We look forward to visiting the Race Club next summer.
 
Sincerely,
 
Jennifer Westhoff

Racing Strategy

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Swimming technique goes hand in hand with racing strategy. Racing strategy often involves implementing more than one swimming technique. For example, if a swimmer wants to win close freestyle races, then he/she needs to put the head down, not breathe, increase the stroke rate and the kicking effort as he/she approaches the finish. At The Race Club, Nathan Adrian learned his technique of switching to high octane (straight arm recovery), no breath strategy at the end of his 100 meter freestyle. That technique and racing strategy have resulted in him winning many close races.

Recently at the Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona, Russian Yulia Efimova swam a very fast 2:19.8 in the 200 breaststroke. Her stroke rate increased on each 50 meters from 28 per minute on the first 50 to 58 per minute in the final 25 meters. The latter stroke rate is similar to what Adam Peaty held in the 100 breaststroke in the Olympic Games in Rio. Winding up the 200 breaststroke is not a new technique, as I recall Amanda Beard doing the same thing 20 years ago, but it can be very effective. I am certain many others did the same racing strategy before her.

Rebecca Soni won the 200 breaststroke in London in 2012 with a time of 2:19.59. Her stroke rate was a very even 46 strokes per minute on all four 50’s. Rebecca used a consistent higher stroke rate with a delayed high-arm recovery to swim to her gold medal. These are two examples of talented swimmers using very different techniques and racing strategy, resulting in nearly the same time.

In the men’s 1500 meter freestyle, the four fastest swimmers in the world over the past two Olympic Games have used very different techniques. Sun Yang used a 60 stroke rate hip-driven freestyle technique with two surge kicks per stroke cycle, taking extra breaths in and out of each turn and in the middle of the pool. Gregorio Paltrinieri used a fast 96 stroke hybrid freestyle with a single hard left down kick timed with the right hand entry, breathing every cycle. Ryan Cochrane used an 86 stroke rate shoulder-driven freestyle with a steady six beat kick, breathing every third stroke for at least 800 meters, then switching to every cycle. Connor Jaeger used an 86 stroke rate hybrid freestyle with a steady six beat kick, breathing every cycle. Even though these four great swimmers used very different freestyle techniques, they were within ten seconds of each other in a race lasting about 14 1/2 minutes.

If we can learn anything from these examples, it is that one technique does not work equally well for every swimmer. A swimmer and his coach need to identify the technique that works best for him or her. A swimmer needs to play with the hand that he or she has been dealt. In other words, a coach and swimmer should use the swimmer’s physical attributes to help determine the best technique for him or her. Some swimmers are taller. Some have stronger kicks. Some have better aerobic systems. All factors need to be considered when determining the best technique for each swimmer and when and if to change it during a race. 

Good racing strategy often involves using more than one technique in the race. Doing so can alter the biomechanics of the swimmer’s motion and lead to increases in speed. Nathan’s 100 freestyle is a good example of that. In London, in the women’s 800 freestyle, Katie Ledecky would switch from an 86 stroke rate, hybrid freestyle with a six beat kick while breathing to the right, to a 100 stroke rate, two beat shoulder-driven freestyle when breathing to the left. While she would breathe to the left for only a few strokes occasionally, it was impressive to see her change her technique so rapidly. Today, she breathes only to the right side.

All swimmers should develop different techniques for each stroke, depending on the event. The freestyle technique in the 50, 100, 200 and up should all be very different. For the other strokes, the 100 technique and racing strategy should be very different than the 200 technique, as well.

At The Race Club, we not only help determine the best stroke technique for you, we also help you determine your racing strategies. Both are very important processes in becoming the best swimmer you can be.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


TRC Way of Communication: Swim Talker

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Communication is always a key to successful teaching, particularly when the students are spending most of the time with their ears under water. At The Race Club, we have found the Swim Talker communication devices to be an invaluable tool for getting our messages across.

With our Swim Talkers, each swimmer places a small device over or near the ears, secured in the back and the sides by the goggle strap. The device doesn’t have to be placed directly on the ear, since it uses bone conduction, but it does help make it easier to hear the coach when it is closer to or on top of the ear. Comfort with the device on has never been an issue.

There are seven different communication channels on the Swim Talker, using Blue Tooth technology, and an unlimited number of swimmers can listen in on each channel. In other words, one coach can talk to all of the swimmers at once, or up to seven coaches can speak to up to seven different groups of swimmers in the pool at any time. In our camps, we often give an introductory talk explaining some important fundamental for the stroke or technique we are teaching, where the entire group can listen in. Then, we break up into individual smaller groups where our coaches can communicate directly with the swimmers in their group by changing the channel. We find the multichannel communications to be extremely valuable for our teaching in this manner. The transmitter microphone for each coach has a hands free head set, so the hands can be used for stop watch or commands while speaking. 

With the technical teaching that we offer at The Race Club, correcting our swimmers in real time is extremely important. The moment our coaches detect an error in technique, they will correct it at that moment, rather than waiting until the swimmer returns to the wall. In this manner, we find that we can gain more improvements in technique than we could before. Further, whenever we comment on a swimmer’s poor technique, which is often, all of the swimmers on that channel will hear the message. While they may not be making the same mistake, it does reinforce the correct technique for all of them.

If there is a downside to the Swim Talkers, it would be that a few extra minutes are required at the beginning of practice to place them on the swimmers. If the group is large, that can cut into the practice time. They also don’t hold a charge very long and have to be charged at the end of each practice, which is a nuisance. Being an underwater electronic device means that durability is also an issue, so we send back units often for replacements.

Overall, even given these negatives, I would still rank the Swim Talker as one of the most important advancements in our ability to teach and recommend their use widely. Occasionally, when I forget to bring them to the pool, I am painfully reminded of their value by trying to remember the five things I spotted wrong to tell a swimmer when he or she gets back to the wall. Usually, I cannot remember all five of them and even if I did, the swimmer wouldn’t remember them either. Correcting the swimmer in real time at the moment the mistake is made is clearly the best way to teach. It is safe to say that I don’t like coaching today without Swim Talkers!

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


How to Improve Your Backstroke Pull

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One of the most common mistakes I see in backstroke is with the pulling motion. Most backstrokers pull with an arm that is relatively straight, as if the arm were an oar pulling through the water. Some drop the straightened arm deeper into the water, almost as if they are scooping the hand through the water rather than pulling. Neither pulling motion, with a straightened arm nor a deeper scooping motion, will create a lot of propulsion in backstroke. An oar will work to move a boat forward because most of the oar is above water during the stroke and the boat causes less drag than a swimmer. The blade of the oar is considerably larger than the hand to create propulsion. The person in the boat has many biomechanical advantages in pulling that large blade through the water over a swimmer pulling his hand on his back.

The reason that most backstrokers pull with a relatively straight arm has nothing to do with biomechanics. The swimmer is trying to avoid the mishap of breaking the surface of the water with the hand during the propulsion phase of the pull, which would weaken the pull. The problem of the straight arm is actually a complication of another problem; failing to rotate the body sufficiently.

We’ve discussed the importance of quick body rotation in freestyle and backstroke as a coupling motion. The coupling energy works to increase the propulsion of the pulling arm. When a backstroker rotates his body more, he also puts the shoulder into a more favorable position for a stronger pull. With more rotation, the shoulder joint moves into a more flexed or positive angle; a position of greater strength. Increases in coupling energy and strength are two good reasons why a backstroker should rotate the body quickly from one side to the other. Yet, even with those potential benefits, most swimmers do not rotate far or fast enough because that requires more work. As a result, to resolve the problem of catching air with the pulling hand, the swimmer simply chooses to straighten the arm, rather than rotate the body more.

The straight arm not only weakens the pull, it also increases frontal drag, similar to the way a deeper pulling motion in freestyle increases frontal drag. While a fast stroke rate may be the single most important technique to improve backstroke, a quick and sufficient rotation of the body is also critical to attain more propulsion. Enough rotation will enable the swimmer to pull correctly with enough bend in the elbow, yet still keep the hand under water.

At The Race Club, we like to teach the concept in backstroke of pushing the water backward, rather than pulling the water backward. This concept requires that the swimmer rotates to about 45 degrees at the entry of the pulling hand into the water. Once the little finger enters the water directly above the shoulder, the swimmer needs to continue pointing the elbow toward the opposite end of the pool, bending the elbow as the hand pushes backward closer to the body. The maximum bend of the elbow ranges from 100 to 130 degrees, but once the pulling motion begins, the arm never approaches being straight (180 degrees), until the pull is completed. Pulling with this technique will reduce the frontal drag caused from the upper arm, which is responsible for most of the frontal drag during the pulling motion.

The most effective drill for teaching this backstroke pulling motion is the one-arm drill with fins, keeping the opposite hand at the side. As the little finger of the pulling arm enters the water, the opposite shoulder should elevate and touch the swimmer’s chin, assuring that enough body rotation is taking place. Once the hand is in the water, the swimmer can concentrate on keeping the pulling elbow pointing forward. The result is a sensation of pushing rather than pulling the water as the hand moves backward.

We now have three compelling reasons to pull with this technique in backstroke.

More power from a more positive angle of the shoulder
More power from the coupling energy of the quick body rotation
Less frontal drag from the upper arm’s forward position with a bent elbow

For a faster backstroke, get on your side and push the hand backward through the water, rather than pulling it through. You won’t be disappointed.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.