Aqua Notes

A Closer Look at Zane Grothe’s Freestyle

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Last month at the Winter Nationals, Zane Grothe broke two American records in the 500 and 1650 freestyle: 4:07.2 and 14:18.2. Not a bad weekend! As I watched the video of his swims several times, there were three things about his freestyle technique that he does exceptionally well and that really stand out to me.

  1. Zane buries the head under water after the breath.

I understand Zane majored in Aeronautical Engineering, which by definition makes him smart. At some point in his classes they must have taught him that submarines go much faster under water than on the surface. Zane has figured out that eliminating surface drag in his freestyle at the surge point is a good thing. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has a low drag coefficient body shape to go along with getting underwater.

  1. Zane throws the hands hard to the water at the end of the freestyle recovery.

He does this not only with the right arm, coming off of the breath stroke to his right, but also with the non-breath sided left arm. Accelerating his hand hard to the water adds important kinetic energy to the strong pulling arm and kick behind, increasing his propulsion; what we at The Race Club call coupling energy. The fast hand to the water recovery also forces the body to rotate quickly at this pivotal point in the pulling motion, another important coupling motion.

  1. Zane sustains a strong 6 beat kick

The kicking speed is the baseline speed of a swimmer and Zane has a pretty high baseline speed. Those that can sustain the steady propulsive six beat kick are swimming in a river down stream. Those that cannot, are swimming in a lake. I’d rather be in the river going downstream.

It is not that Zane is the only swimmer using these three important techniques. It is just that he did them better than the other swimmers on that particular weekend. In fact, he regularly executes them all really well and as a result, swims exceptionally fast.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


How to Pace Your Race

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Exercising Restraint

Knowing how to pace a race appropriately is one of the most difficult aspects of competitive swimming. It goes against our very nature, particularly when we are excited and fresh at the start of each race, to hold back. Yet holding back, keeping our emotions under control, is precisely what we need to do in order to prevail.

To some degree, every officially sanctioned race in the sport of swimming requires pacing. Even the 50-meter swims, which are not true sprints, require self-control and discipline in order to be done well. Most of those 50’s are won or lost in the last 10 meters.

So how does a swimmer learn to pace correctly? Practice. One needs to train in a similar way that one wants to compete. Swimmers that tend to get slower through a set will tend to do the same in a race. Swimmers that learn to hold their pace on sets, or even descend them, tend to pace much more effectively.

The Right Tempo

There are many training modalities and tools that can help teach pacing. One of the most effective is called the Tempo Trainer, by Finis. I consider it to be the most valuable tool in your swim bag. Like a metronome for music, one sets the beep of the trainer to the desired frequency and places the device under the cap behind the ear or on the goggle strap where it can be heard easily. The Tempo Trainer has three modes, one for stroke rate, another for cycle time and a third for pacing interval. All three modes help with pacing, either by enabling the swimmer to keep the stroke rate constant, or letting him/her know if he/she is ahead or behind the desired pace.

One of my favorite training sets for pacing is negative-split sets, that is swimming the second half faster than the first half. In order to do this effectively, swimmers have to learn to control their efforts going out and learn how to step up the effort at the midway point. Another effective training set is descending intervals. For example, swimming 20 x 100 starting out at a 1:30 interval and decreasing the send-off interval by one second each time. By the 20th 100, the interval will be down to 1:10.  By trying to hold the same time on descending intervals, the effort must increase with each 100, similar to pacing a race effectively.

Good pacing not only requires training effectively, but also demands excellent fitness. One cannot pace a 1500 effectively if one is not in shape to sustain the pace, whatever it might be. One needs to train properly for the distance one is racing.

Fueling Up

Finally, one cannot overlook the importance of breathing in proper pacing. Oxygen is not over-rated. We produce about 15 times more ATP, the gasoline for our muscles, with oxygen as opposed to without it. Plus we produce less lactate, a molecule that causes our muscles to function less effectively.

In the butterfly, for example, in any event over a fifty, most of the elite male swimmers of the world are turning to breathing every stroke in order to finish faster. In the men’s 1500, Sun Yang breathes 3 successive breaths in a row into and out of every turn, plus often at least once or twice in the middle of the pool. One cannot sustain the pace well nor finish fast without providing enough oxygen to the body.

At The Race Club, we will help you learn how to use your Tempo Trainer effectively and correctly and help you with your breathing patterns. Both are vital to learn good pacing. We will help you learn the important art of race pacing.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Finesse Your Freestyle

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Finesse Sport

Swimming fast is a skill that demands great strength and stamina. Yet swimming is neither baseball nor boxing. One cannot hit the water like a ball crushed over the center field wall or knock it out in the first round. One cannot simply power through the water. To swim fast, one also needs great timing and swimming finesse.

What does finesse mean with respect to swimming fast? In water, where frontal drag forces are so compelling, swimming finesse means learning to swim with the lowest possible drag forces. It means pulling with an arm motion that may seem totally inept or awkward, yet works better. Finesse means timing the powerful, but rarely appreciated coupling motions of body rotation and arm recovery to augment the pulling and kicking forces.

Finesse means using a surge kick, a strong down kick that occurs shortly after the opposite hand entry, in order to increase the body’s speed when its drag coefficient is low, another timing issue. It also means dipping the head slightly underwater after the breath, at the same crucial time of maximum body speed. Finesse means avoiding the temptation to dig your arm deep into the water and muscle yourself across the pool. In swimming, finesse means using your brain, not your brawn.

Thresholds

The nuances of swimming fast are not easy to learn. Some require extraordinary flexibility, such as in the ankles and shoulders, in order to implement. All require great strength in the legs, core and upper back in order to sustain well. Yet, if we do not learn to finesse our freestyle, we will all succumb to the drag forces, much sooner than we would like.

While swimming is not very forgiving with respect to technique, there is some margin for error. It’s just not much. I call the permissible angle or bend of a swimmer’s body or limb motion the ‘threshold’ for frontal drag force. Bend your knee 55 degrees for a kick and you may be ok. Bend it 60 degrees or more and you come to a screeching halt. Drop your elbow on the pull by more than a few inches and the frontal drag forces go up a lot. Bending the knee more or dropping the elbow more results in more powerful propulsion.

Unfortunately, getting to those positions causes so much frontal drag that the additional propulsive forces can’t overcome it. Don’t forget the law of inertia. Each time we slow down more, it takes a lot more force (and energy) to get us going again. The key to finessing your freestyle is to know what the thresholds are and to learn to swim within them.

Analysis

One of the best tools I have found for learning more precisely where these thresholds are is the velocity meter technology. With the velocity meter, we measure your body speed (and acceleration/deceleration) at all points through your swimming cycle and synchronize them with video. By doing so we can measure your peak and trough velocities for both right and left arm strokes Finesse Your Freestyle imagerepeatedly. You would be amazed at how very small deviations in technique lead to significant changes in speed in a very short period of time, tenths of seconds. With this technology we can identify exactly where the mistakes in swimming technique are being made and often repeated over and over again and how big a price is being paid for them in terms of loss of speed.

Swimming I.Q.

In my swimming career, which has spanned some 55 years and included 3 Olympic Games, most of my best swims were not the most exhausting. In fact, those feelings belonged to some of my worst swims. It wasn’t the exhilaration of setting a PR or even a World Record that made me feel as if the race was easier. I may have been physiologically or mentally more prepared on those great days, but I can also assure you that I swam with more finesse. I swam smarter races.

At The Race Club, we teach swimmers how to finesse the freestyle, how to swim smarter and faster. No matter what your age or experience level, you can still learn how to finesse your freestyle, to swim faster with less effort, and to feel really good after your race. Are you ready for that?

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

 


One Arm Backstroke Drill

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Two of the most important ways of getting a faster backstroke is by reducing frontal drag and by increasing propulsive power. The one arm backstroke drill accomplishes both tasks. Rarely do I ever find a drill that can teach a swimmer more than one fundamental at a time, but this drill does just that.

PROPULSIVE POWER

The propulsive power of the underwater pull is increased by the coupling motion of the rotating body and the mechanical strength of the shoulder in the rotated position (avoiding a negative angle). Frontal drag is reduced in backstroke by bending the elbow, rather than pulling with a straighter arm.

In my experience, swimmers like to take the easy route, rather than the harder path, even if the latter leads to a faster swim. Rotating the body quickly from one side to the other and sustaining that motion over and over again, either in the backstroke or freestyle, requires a lot of core strength and fitness. Instead, swimmers often opt for little rotation in backstroke, a much easier choice. In doing so, if they bend their arms properly in order to reduce frontal drag, they will likely encounter a big gulp of air with the hand midway through the pulling motion. The hand leaving the water in the propulsive part of the pull leads to a big loss of power.

To fix the problem, the swimmer’s solution is to pull with a straight arm, hoping to avoid the hand breaking the surface. That compounds the problem. Less power from little body rotation and more drag from the straight pulling arm are the result. It’s a bad combination.

ONE ARM BACKSTROKE DRILL

The one arm backstroke drill, as in the freestyle drill, enables the swimmer to really think about what is going on with the body and the pulling arm. By having the swimmer keep the non-pulling arm at the side, by emphasizing the body rotation, having the swimmer bring the upper shoulder to meet the chin, and by having the swimmer bend the elbow to 120-140 degrees under water, a coach can kill two birds with one stone. Create more propulsive power and reduce frontal drag. When a swimmer comes to train with us, we combine this drill with many others, depending on the swimmer, to allow them to reach their potential speed. Now, all the swimmer needs is lots of core dryland exercises to get the core ready to keep those motions going throughout the backstroke race. Oh yes, and lots of good backstroke training.

Watch One Arm Backstroke Drill Video

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Starts and Turns Camp in Islamorada, FL July 7-8, 2018

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The Race Club starts and turns camp is unlike anything out there! In this Starts and Turns Camp, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all starts and turns during this intensive weekend. We STRONGLY encourage you to attend a swim camp before you attend this clinic. We encourage everyone to attend all 4 sessions over 2 days.  

Saturday, July 7th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, July 8th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions

The price of the camp is $800. The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Founders Park Pool, 87000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


Starts & Turns Clinic in Coronado, CA April 28-29, 2018

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The Race Club starts and turns camp is unlike anything out there! In this Starts and Turns Clinic, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all starts and turns during this intensive weekend. We STRONGLY encourage you to attend a swim camp before you attend this clinic. We encourage everyone to attend all 4 sessions over 2 days.  

Saturday, April 28th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, April 29th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions

The price of the camp is $800. The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Brian Bent Memorial Aquatic Center, 818 Sixth Street, Coronado, CA 92118. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


Veteran’s Day Swim Camp November 9-12, 2018

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The Race Club swim technique camp is unlike anything out there! In this Veteran’s Day Swim Camp, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all 4 strokes, starts and turns, 4 different types of dryland, the science of swimming and the 5 disciplines of swimming. Triathletes will focus on everything freestyle technique to become a faster triathlete swimmer. We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions over the 4 days. 

Friday, November 9th 8am-11am and 1pm-3pm camp sessions
Friday, November 9th 11am-12noon Testing for Velocity Meter option
Saturday, November 10th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, November 10th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Monday, November 11th 8am-11am and 1pm-3pm camp sessions
Monday, November 11th 11am-12noon Filming for Video Analysis option

Morning Camp sessions are $250 and afternoon camp sessions are $150. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions on or before October 9th, you get a $200 discount. The regular price of the whole camp is $1600. If you sign up early, it is $1400.  The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Brian Bent Memorial Aquatic Center, 818 Sixth Street, Coronado, CA 92118. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


Columbus Day Swim Camp October 5-8, 2018 Coronado, CA

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The Race Club swim technique camp is unlike anything out there! In this Columbus Day Swim Camp, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all 4 strokes, starts and turns, 4 different types of dryland, the science of swimming and the 5 disciplines of swimming. Triathletes will focus on everything freestyle technique to become a faster triathlete swimmer. We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions over the 4 days. We will sell out at this camp! Sign up early!

Friday, October 5th 8am-11am and 1pm-3pm camp sessions
Friday, October 5th 11am-12noon Testing for Velocity Meter option
Saturday, October 6th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, October 7th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Monday, October 8th 8am-11am and 1pm-3pm camp sessions
Monday, October 8th 11am-12noon Filming for Video Analysis option

Morning Camp sessions are $250 and afternoon camp sessions are $150. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions on or before September 5th, you get a $200 discount. The regular price of the whole camp is $1600. If you sign up early, it is $1400.  The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Brian Bent Memorial Aquatic Center, 818 Sixth Street, Coronado, CA 92118. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


August 10-13, 2018 Race Club Swim Camp Coronado, CA

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The Race Club swim technique camp is unlike anything out there! In this Summer Race Club Swim Camp, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all 4 strokes, starts and turns, 4 different types of dryland, the science of swimming and the 5 disciplines of swimming. Triathletes will focus on everything freestyle technique to become a faster triathlete swimmer. We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions over the 4 days. We will sell out at this camp! Sign up early!

Friday, August 10th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Saturday, August 11th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, August 12th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, August 12th 11am-12noon Testing for Velocity Meter option
Monday, August 13th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Monday, August 13th 11am-12noon Filming for Video Analysis option

Morning Camp sessions are $250 and afternoon camp sessions are $150. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions on or before July 10th, you get a $200 discount. The regular price of the whole camp is $1600. If you sign up early, it is $1400.  The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Brian Bent Memorial Aquatic Center, 818 Sixth Street, Coronado, CA 92118. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


4th of July Swim Clinic Coronado, CA June 29-July 2, 2018

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The Race Club swim technique camp is unlike anything out there! In this 4th of July Swim Clinic, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all 4 strokes, starts and turns, 4 different types of dryland, the science of swimming and the 5 disciplines of swimming. Triathletes will focus on everything freestyle technique to become a faster triathlete swimmer. We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions over the 4 days.

Friday, June 29th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Saturday, June 30th 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, July 1st 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Sunday, July 1st 11am-12noon Testing for Velocity Meter option
Monday, July 2nd 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm camp sessions
Monday, July 2nd 11am-12noon Filming for Video Analysis option

Morning Camp sessions are $250 and afternoon camp sessions are $150. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions on or before May 29th, you get a $200 discount. The regular price of the whole camp is $1600. If you sign up early, it is $1400.  The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Brian Bent Memorial Aquatic Center, 818 Sixth Street, Coronado, CA 92118. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


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