Dolphin kick backstroke is one of the best ways to learn how to develop a fast stroke rate. Many swimmers struggle in getting their arms through the stroke cycle fast enough in backstroke. It is difficult to know how to maintain that high stroke rate throughout a race if it is not practiced so we like to use the dolphin kick backstroke drill to learn how to maintain a high stroke rate. Synchronizing each kick with a single arm pull, Junya shows us how this technique enables a swimmer to pull faster and increase the overall speed of the backstroke. In this Race Club #swimisodes, you will see how Junya still manages to rotate his body quickly from side to side while pulling at this higher stroke rate, gaining power and speed.
There are only two stroke rates for backstroke, fast and faster. Dolphin kick backstroke drill is a wonderful technique to develop a faster stroke rate. Swimmers who cannot find a way to turn their arms over quickly might discover a faster way to swim with dolphin kick backstroke. Introduce fins using this technique while synchronizing the arms and suddenly the swimmer is backstroking on the freeway, motoring down the pool. At the Race Club, we have found this technique to be very effective in improving backstroke among swimmers who come to us of all ages and abilities.
The Art of Breathing Part II – How to Inhale & Exhale While Swimming Fast
First, I want to dispel one myth about breathing during intense exercise. In no sport does an athlete ever take a complete inhalation or expiration. The breaths during intense exercise are relatively quick and shallow, meaning that a little O2 comes in and a little CO2 goes out with each breath. It is an air exchange, not a deep breath.
The most detrimental part of breathing in swimming is likely not the associated increase in frontal drag, though that can be significant, depending on how the breath is taken, but rather the slowing of the stroke rate. Particularly in shorter races, a long, ‘star-gazing’ breath that slows the stroke rate can have disastrous consequences for both speed and inertia. To help with stroke rate and frontal drag, getting the breath quickly and with the least amount of change in body position is vital. In freestyle, that means turning the head minimally (keeping one goggle lens in the water during the breath), elevating the mouth to one side to meet the air, and rotating the head posteriorly (backward) rather than straight to the side or forward. In butterfly, it means extending the neck forward maximally for the breath, keeping the mouth close to the water, while maintaining the body in a more horizontal position. Or in cases where swimmers can’t seem to avoid lifting the shoulders too high for the front breath, breathing to the side in butterfly may be a better option.
While in land-based sports, the inhalations are immediately followed by expirations and vice versa, or, in other words, there is no ‘breath holding’, in swimming, there may be a theoretical advantage in doing so. On land, our weight does not change appreciably with each breath, but in the water it does. The weight of a swimmer ranges from zero with the lungs inflated to around 8 lbs (4kg) after a maximal expiration (there is always some residual volume of air in the lungs). The buoyancy of the human body also goes from neutral to negative after expiration. The question is, do we hold the air in our lungs for as long as possible after putting our face back in the water, then exhaling with a quick burst prior to capturing the next breath? Or, do we do as the Red Cross teachers told us to do as children, trickle the air out of our nose or mouth, prior to the next breath?
The changes in body weight and buoyancy can impact frontal drag of a swimmer, particularly while swimming on the surface. The higher the swimmer can be on the surface, the less frontal drag and the faster the swimmer can go. A swimmer is faster in salt water, where there is more buoyancy, than in fresh water. The density of water is so great that just a few millimeters of difference in body position on the surface can have a significant impact on a swimmer’s speed. So, it would seem logical that swimmers would want to keep the air in the lungs as long as possible, weigh less, be more buoyant and burst the air out of their lungs at the last moment, before turning the head for the breath.
But that is not what great swimmers do. Katie Ledecky, Sun Yang, Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps and virtually all of the other great freestylers release some air through the nose immediately upon planting their faces back in the water after the breath. The great butterflyers of the world do the same. With the speed of their bodies moving forward, those air bubbles from the nose move underneath their bodies before finding their way to the surface. The rest of the exhalation comes just before and while the head is turning or elevating for the next breath. In that manner, the inhalation can begin immediately once the mouth reaches air, so the head can return promptly to the face down position without slowing the stroke rate.
I did not recognize the significance of those bubbles until one of my swimming colleagues at the pool in Islamorada, Florida brought the Emperor Penguins to my attention. The Emperor Penguins of the Antarctic Ocean have evolved to develop a unique way of swimming faster in order to escape the wrath of the hungry seals chasing them. Under the plumes of their feathers, they manage to trap air bubbles. When the seals are chasing the penguins for lunch, the penguins release the air from under the feathers and gain a significant amount of speed, presumably while kicking with the same amount of force with their webbed feet. By releasing the air bubbles, surrounding themselves with air instead of water, they effectively lower their frontal drag forces, which enables them to spurt forward out of harm’s way.
Could it be that the air bubbles under the swimmer’s body released after the breath do the same to a lesser degree? Perhaps. What I do know is that great swimmers usually do the right thing, whether they understand the reason for doing so or not. Releasing some air through the nose after the breath may just be another example of that. So that is what I do and recommend others do.
In the upcoming third and final article of this series, we will examine the most controversial breathing topic of all and that is how often to breathe.
Yours in swimming,
As our first visit with you at The Race Club comes to a close tomorrow, we want to thank you, Abby and your Dad for the superb training that you have provided to our sons, Alex and Cameron.
They have had the time of their lives, and I simply have to share an experience from this afternoon that Mark and I will never ever forget…nor will Alex.
Your dad worked with the kids on breast stroke this afternoon and although it has always been absolutely Alex’s weakest stroke, Coach Hall got him on track and awakened the breast stroker in our son. After years of thinking he just wasn’t ever going to be very good at the stroke, something clicked, and your dad gave Alex the technical skills and confidence to believe in himself; it was a major “aha” moment and Alex is absolutely on a breast stroke high this evening!
For Mark and I to witness this transformation firsthand, we can only say that we are floored, amazed, impressed, and astounded at Coach Hall’s expertise.
I guess that is why we are here, but I just want to let all of you know that you have met and exceeded our expectations and only wish tomorrow morning was not our last session!!!
Before he went to bed, Alex said that Coach Hall changed his life today and that he really learned a lot about himself and his sport.
As swim parents, you are undoubtedly aware how much our lives revolve around the pool (we wouldn’t have it any other way). We dearly love our boys and to see Alex and Cameron so happy, proud and confident with their newly learned skill sets, makes us happy beyond belief…..All that, and they had a great time too!!!
With Respect and Gratitude,
Mark and Trish Craft
The Art of Breathing Part I – Swim Race
Breathing while swimming seems like a natural thing to do. After all, we do it all the time without even thinking about it and, if we stop doing it, we cannot survive for more than about 7 minutes. Yet, while swimming, breathing is not that simple. The questions ‘How often do we breathe?’ ‘Where do we breathe?’ or even ‘How do we breathe?’ are legitimate ones. The answers are not that obvious, either.
Breathing in swimming freestyle or butterfly can be problematic. It can slow the stroke rate, if one takes too long to get the breath. It can lead to an increase in frontal drag, if the breath causes an alteration in the pulling motion of the arm under water, or if the head lifts too much for the breath. Yet, in any race lasting longer than about 20 seconds, the delivery of oxygen to the muscles, in order to provide an important source of energy, is vital to our ability to sustain speed. In other words, we have to breathe to keep our pace.
The fastest way to swim fly and free is without breathing. Unfortunately, in any race event over a 50 sprint, not breathing enough leads to a catastrophic dependence on anaerobic sources of energy, which leads quickly to a lowering of the body’s pH (H+ ions). Once the body begins to become acidic, the muscles cease to recover or function at the same rate. In swimming vernacular, we ‘die’ in our races.
Perhaps the fastest way to increase the body’s pH, to restore neutrality, is by breathing. The faster the respiratory rate, the more CO2 we blow off in order to increase our body’s pH. Frequent breathing during intense exercise not only helps to maintain a neutral pH, but it also helps prevent the acidosis to begin with by delivering more oxygen to the muscles. Having a pipeline flow of oxygen delivered to the muscles engaged in the activity is essential to high performance swimming. Increasing the stroke volume of the heart, increasing the numbers of red blood cells, improving the transport systems for delivering oxygen to the muscle cells, increasing the numbers of mitochondria in the muscle cells available to convert glucose into ATP (Adenosine triphosphate, the fuel for our muscles), and increasing the number and type of muscle fibers available for contraction are all important parts of the physiological and anatomical improvements we seek from training. Yet, even if we develop those systems, none of them are optimized if we don’t have a nice flow of oxygen arriving at the alveoli of our lungs, ready to be delivered to the muscle.
After the first 20 seconds or so of our race, when we have used up the most readily available and stored sources of high-energy phosphate (Creatine phosphate), the two systems of producing ATP on an ongoing basis are the aerobic (with oxygen) and the anaerobic (without oxygen) systems. The two systems are needed and work simultaneously during intense exercise to produce the kind of power required to swim very fast. While the aerobic system produces more ATP per molecule of glucose than the anaerobic system (approximately 36 moles of ATP vs 2 moles of ATP), the anaerobic system produces ATP faster than the aerobic system. In this respect, they each may have their advantage, yet only the anaerobic system will lower our body’s pH, leading to a dysfunction of muscular contraction. The more we can utilize our aerobic system of producing ATP, the longer we can sustain our power.
If you compare the respiratory rates of swimmers racing with competing athletes from other sports, like running or cycling, where they can breathe at will, the rates of swimmers are usually slower. At maximum effort on land, the respiratory rate of an athlete is typically 50-60 breaths per minute. Rarely is a swimmer breathing that often, either in a race or in practice. One can make the argument that swimmers train hypoxically most of the time, which means that by under delivering oxygen to the lungs, swimmers are developing all of the other body’s mechanisms to deliver oxygen more efficiently to our muscles and to manage lactate production. By training at altitude, where even less oxygen gets delivered to the muscles, one can build all of those mechanisms even better and faster. That is a good thing. But when it comes to racing, other than in the 50 sprints, do we want to race hypoxically? I think not. I can still recall the pain of swimming the 400 IM at the Olympic Games of Mexico City (7,000 feet) in a time about 10 seconds slower than I would have swum at sea level. At altitude, we may not have the choice of getting as much as oxygen as we need, but at sea level, it makes less sense to deprive ourselves of getting that oxygen. That means swimmers should be breathing more, not less.
Next time, we will discuss the how and where of breathing in freestyle and fly.
Yours in swimming,
Getting the backstroke kick right can be very challenging. In this installment of #swimisodes, World Champion Junya Koga first shows you what a typical backstroke kick technique with too much knee bend looks like, causing an increase in the frontal drag slowing you down. Then, using an elastic band above the knee, Junya demonstrates a more correct and faster technique of backstroke kick using less knee bend and a lot of power derived from the hip flexors and relaxed, loose ankles. To kick properly and to avoid the temptation of over bending the knee to get more power out of each kick, Junya and Olympic champion Roland Schoemann demonstrate two important dryland exercises that help increase the flexibility of the ankle. Achieving such flexibility with loose and relaxed ankles is one key qualities needed to develop a faster backstroke and freestyle kick with a tighter, narrower kick.
We use the Finis Ankle Strap in a variety of ways at our Race Club camps to improve kicking technique. When you first try using the elastic band you may get frustrated by the slower speed of your kick. Be patient and continue to work on ankle flexibility with this narrower technique of kicking. Eventually you will see your kicking speed and, more importantly, your backstroke speed begin to increase. Using the flick kick and freestyle kick dryland exercises, you can see great improvement in your ankle flexibility occurring within weeks. The technique of kicking with less knee bend takes time and practice to perfect.
Purchase the Finis Ankle Strap here
The Race Club, with locations in the amazing tropical paradise of Islamorada in the Florida Keys and in Pacific Palisades, a beautiful southern California coast escape from the energy and excitement of Los Angeles, is hiring swim coaches for all staff coaching positions ranging from 3 month internships to Senior Staff and Site Directors for experienced, professional coaches and everything in between.
The Race Club’s Primary Focus is on Swimming Technique and the Technical aspects of swimming. This non-traditional coaching position emphasizes teaching and the science of swimming where the coaching staff is expected to have or develop technical expertise and be on the cutting edge in the sport. This is a great opportunity to launch your coaching career to the next level by learning from world-renowned coaches and world-class athletes while applying proven fundamental progressions to a diverse population of swimmers.
Our Coaches must have a passion for swimming, curiosity and a likeable personality with the ability to communicate positively and effectively with others. Swimming experience and success counts, however, all experience levels of coaches will be considered. Applicants should have talents, skills, experience and/or education outside the sport that effectively demonstrate intellect and capacity to learn. Specific skills in computer science, social media, technology, graphic arts, marketing and business administration are particularly valuable.
Benefits. Every day on the pool deck as a Race Club Coach is a step into the lab to learn at the highest level in the sport, develop and practice your coaching skills, both technical and interactive. Off of the deck, you will have the ability to contribute to building the preeminent swimming organization in the world. Opportunities for significant additional income, international exposure, and growth in a dynamic leader in the sport will be available for the best members of our staff. We are also a leader in swimming social media and online delivery of services, making a coaching position with the Race Club one of the most technologically innovative opportunities for coaches in the sport.
Join the Family. If you, or someone you know, is interested in this unique opportunity of coaching/teaching positions, please contact us. International Applicants must already have authorization to work in the United States. All open positions are for Islamorada, FL location. Email your resume to email@example.com.
- 16 camp sessions plus 8 enhanced sessions – $2550 ($650 savings if you register by May 17th, 2016)
- 16 camp sessions = $1950 ($450 savings if you register by May 17th, 2016)
- 8 camp sessions plus 4 enhanced sessions = $1300 ($300 savings if you register by May 17th, 2016)
- 8 camp sessions = $1000 ($200 savings if you register by May 17th, 2016)
- Each camp session is $150 (minimum of 3)
- Each enhanced session is $100
Having great speed in breaststroke kick is one of the techniques that led Olympian Rebecca Soni to gold medals in the Beijing and London Olympics. In this #swimisodes learn Rebecca’s favorite breaststroke kick drill which helped build her strong legs to maintain a faster stroke rate than her competitors. Developing such speed in the legs in order to get through the breaststroke kick cycle so quickly, requires a lot of work on swim drills such as this speed kick drill and the wall kick. We often see swimmers who breaststroke kick with the knees too wide, lengthening the time for the kick cycle. The kicking speed of many breaststrokers is often too slow and cannot be improved without specifically working on bringing the legs forward and pushing the insteps backward as quickly as possible. These speed drill techniques are often done for short bursts of time of 10 seconds up to 30 seconds, as they are difficult to sustain for longer periods.
In this Race Club Swimisodes you will also notice how Rebecca’s knees draw closer together during the quick bursts of speed drill, then spread further apart during the few recovery kicks that are relaxed. It is critical in using a fast breaststroke kick technique that the knees by held fairly closely together, at the hips or inside the hips. Otherwise, it is simply impossible to get through the breaststroke kicking cycle fast enough. In order to keep the knees close together and kick with power, the swimmer must also have great hip flexibility for external rotation. Just a few more degrees of flexibility in the hip can result in a much more powerful kick. Come to The Race Club camp and learn several dryland exercises that can help you develop the hip flexibility necessary for fast breaststroke technique. Thanks for watching!