Aqua Notes

Freestyle Flip Turn: Mastering the Approach

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The Freestyle Flip Turn Part I: The Approach

The important law of inertia comes into play at several key times during the flip turn and the approach to the wall is one of them. If a body in motion truly wants to stay in motion then the worst thing we can do is slow down while approaching the wall. Yet nearly every swimmer does.

There are two primary reasons why swimmers tend to slow down as they approach the wall. The first is that they fail to keep swimming to the wall. Too often, swimmers will use the T on the end of the black line on the bottom of the pool, as if that is a queue to stop swimming, and glide until they feel it is time to make the flip. With the compelling frontal drag forces imposed by the water on a swimmer’s body during that glide time, they begin to slow down immediately. Their speed drops like it is falling off a cliff. In such a case, by the time the flip is initiated from a much slower speed, more work is required to get the legs over the top and on to the wall than if the swimmer had elected to take another stroke and maintain a higher speed. It also takes more time to get there. Even a partial stroke is better than none and a glide.

The second reason that swimmers slow down as they approach the wall is that they lift their heads up, usually to see the cross on the end of the pool, in order to judge the timing of their flip. Lifting the head up, whether swimming or gliding, causes an immediate increase in frontal drag with a resultant slowing down. Even worse, since the head needs to drop down under water in order to make the flip turn, lifting the head and arching the back is moving it in the wrong direction. While the head lift may create a little more downward force, since it drops down from a higher position, the energy required to get it there and the loss of speed are not worth the trade.

While keeping the head down going into the turn, utilizing the T on the bottom to judge the distance to the wall, may be faster, it also involves more risk for the swimmer. Without actually looking at the wall, there is a greater chance of being too far out or too close to the wall, once the flip is made. In either case, the penalty is greater than the reward.  More time will be lost on the turn than if the swimmer looked up and nailed the wall.

The only effective way to prevent this problem is by practicing the “no look” turn over and over again, and by doing so at or close to race speed. With enough practice, a swimmer can learn to make the turn accurately at high speed and without looking straight ahead at the wall ahead. Or a compromise is to look at the bottom of the wall, rather than the cross, resulting in less head lift. The only exception is when the pool is extremely deep or with a deep-water bulkhead. In those situations, looking up is necessary. Otherwise, remember ‘fast in…fast out’. Keep the head down and swim to the wall.

Watch the video: http://theraceclub.com/videos/fast-swimming-techniques-freestyle-flip-turn-the-approach/

Read more about the Approach in the Freestyle Flip Turn: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/flip-turn-part-approach/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Freestyle Flip Turn: Introduction

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The Freestyle Flip Turn: Introduction

I will devote the next five articles to performing the freestyle flip turn. Because more time is gained or lost on the turns than in any other part of a freestyle race, it would seem reasonable that coaches would spend a considerable amount of time trying to perfect the turn. They don’t. Like so many aspects of swimming technique, it is much easier to do a turn wrong, but it is also much slower. Performing a fast flip turn requires core strength, discipline, attention to detail, some risk, great streamlining ability and a very good underwater dolphin kick.

It also requires knowing what to do, so over the next several weeks, I will break down the flip turn into four components: the approach, the flip, the underwater and the breakout. Each of these components is important and I commonly see mistakes made in all four of them, often by the same swimmer. Performing great turns also requires practice. Once you learn the correct technique, it is one thing to do a good turn when you are fresh. It is quite another to do that same turn when you are exhausted on the final lap of a race. As the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said, fatigue makes cowards of us all.

I must also confess to you that, as a swimmer, I was one of the worst offenders. I rarely did a legal turn in practice and made a habit of doing lazy turns over and over again. As a result, my turns in races were poor and I often lost considerable ground against other, more disciplined swimmers who trained hard on their turns. Perhaps that is why, as a coach, I am more meticulous and more emphatic about our Race Club swimmers doing their turns well. I do not want any of our swimmers losing ground on turns, so we work on them in nearly every session.

Finally, it is important to understand that the turn needs to be customized for each swimmer, depending on the speed of the underwater dolphin kick. If every swimmer could kick like Michael Phelps or Natalie Coughlin, then we would have all of them stay underwater off the wall for seven or eight kicks, but they can’t. Most swimmers are considerably slower underwater with dolphin kick and streamline than they are on the surface swimming freestyle, so it makes no sense for them to stay underwater any longer than they have to. We will discuss the optimization of the underwater component in more detail later.

Whatever turn technique works best for each swimmer, it must be practiced over and over again in order to perfect it. One of my favorite sets for doing that is racing swimmers from 10 to 15 yards off the wall and back, while deducting points or time for any mistakes I catch them making. Another way is to reward your swimmers for doing good turns by allowing them to get out of part of set, rather than yelling at them for doing their turns poorly. Rewarding good behavior or practices is often more effective than criticizing bad behavior or practices.

As the Byrds once sang years ago,

To everything….turn, turn, turn

There is a season….turn, turn, turn

And a time for every purpose under heaven

This swimming season, take the time to improve your turns as your purpose.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Coaches, Swimmers and Parents: Protect Your Eyes

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Once upon a time, before I became a swimming coach and instructor at The Race Club, I was an eye surgeon. In fact, I operated on about 50,000 eyes over 25 years, trying to help people see better. I lived in sun-drenched Arizona with over 300 annual days of sunshine, where so many of my patient’s eye problems were directly related to sun exposure. In fact, I saw thousands of patients with five eye diseases related to the sun.

Cataracts (clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye) and Pterygium (fleshy, red growth of tissue over the cornea in the front corner of the eye) were the most common problems I encountered. The most severe were Macular Degeneration (a loss of central fine vision leading to legal blindness) and cancers of the eye or eyelids. Those were much tougher to treat, if there was any effective treatment at all. Solar Keratitis (snow blindness) was much less commonly seen.

The reason I am writing to you is that you don’t have to live in Arizona to get one of these solar-related eye diseases. People that live all over the USA get them and those that spend a lot of time near water are at higher risk. Nearly every surfer I know that has been at it for a while has developed a Pterygium on the eye. Many of them develop cataracts early in life. Standing near an outdoor pool in the summer, particularly between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, is one of the riskiest environments one can be in for developing these eye diseases.

The good news is that they are all preventable by wearing the right sunglasses. What are the right sunglasses? Those that have lenses that block 100% of the UV rays, that have frames that wrap around the face and fit close to the eyes (frame coverage), and preferably with lenses that block much of the blue visible light (harmful to the Macula). Until recently, the only information given to you about sunglasses was the UV blockage of the lens. Now, there is more.

Foster Grant has launched a new certification program that measures both the UV blockage of the lens and the frame coverage around your eyes. It is called the Eye Protection Factor (EPF). It is a rating system I helped develop. In order to be EPF certified, sunglasses need to average over 95% for both UV lens protection and frame coverage. This way, you know that your eyes are being protected effectively.

You can find the line of EPF Certified sunglasses at all Walmart, CVS and Walgreen stores across America. Look for the Solar Comfort or Solar Shields brand of Foster Grant products with the gold EPF hang tag. These sunglasses are not expensive ($20 range) but they are very protective. I would also recommend the pairs with the brown lenses over the gray lenses as they will block more of the blue light and help protect your macula.

Everyone wants to look cool in their sunglasses. I know that is important. Don’t be persuaded that you will get more protection by spending more money. That is not usually the case. Buy the EPF certified sunglasses and be safe! That is even more important.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Hall Sr.


Why We Should Rotate Our Bodies in Freestyle and Backstroke

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

All of the elite swimmers of the world rotate their bodies along the long axis, the axis that their body is moving down the pool, while swimming freestyle and backstroke. They don’t just rotate a little bit. They rotate a lot. The question is, why?

FRONTAL DRAG – DOES IT MATTER

It is commonly believed by both coaches and swimmers that the reason for rotating the body is to reduce frontal drag; that the body has a lower drag coefficient on its side than it does on its stomach. Although I am all for reducing frontal drag, I do not believe that this is the reason that we rotate. I do not believe that the drag coefficient of the human body is significantly different in the water on its side than it is on its stomach. If it were, we would be kicking faster times on our sides…but we don’t.

CORE STRENGTH

The truth is that it takes a lot of core strength and work to rotate our bodies from one side to the other while moving down the pool. So if it is not to reduce drag, why then? I believe that there are two compelling reasons why we rotate our bodies on these two strokes. The first reason is a biomechanical one and the second is related to laws of motion or propulsion.

LAWS OF MOTION OR PROPULSION

If I were to pin your shoulders to the wall in the gym and bring the pulley machine over, you could pull a certain amount of weight downward, using essentially the same pulling motion as you would in the water. If I unpinned your shoulders and allowed you to rotate your body inward toward the pulley machine and you duplicated that same pulling motion with the same elbow bend, I can guarantee that you will be able to pull more weight downward. The reason is that when you rotate in, your big back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi muscle, gets into the act. When your shoulders were pinned, that big muscle was sitting on the sidelines, unable to offer much help. By rotating our bodies in the water, we gain a biomechanical advantage of power on the pull.

COUPLING – WHAT IS IT

The second reason we rotate our bodies is a little harder to understand, but it is just as important as the first. I call this second phenomenon coupling. The act of rotating our bodies from one side to the other has zero direct propulsive effect on our motion down the pool. Yet when this motion, which creates energy of its own, is coupled with the propulsive force generated by our pulling arm/hand, the two forces occurring together result in a stronger pulling force than if we were simply pulling alone, without the rotation. One can consider the relationship of these two motionssynergistic.

THE COUPLING EFFECT

A good example of this coupling effect, and one that is easier to visualize, occurs with relay take-offs. With the correct start, the arms are swinging fast in reverse direction at full length at the precise moment we push off the starting block with our feet. The swinging of the arms alone has no effect of getting us off the block or down the pool, but when coupled this motion with the push off the block, it helps make the push more forceful, resulting in a better start than if we did not swing the arms.

BODY ROTATION – ONE OF THE COUPLING MOTIONS

Body rotation is one of the coupling motions we use in swimming (arm recovery is another) in order to go faster. The bigger we are (more mass) and the faster we can rotate, the more energy we create to couple with the pull, and the faster we swim. When you add the biomechanical advantage that we gain from the rotation, those are two pretty important reasons to make the extra effort to rotate the body. At The Race Club we spend a lot of time teaching swimmers how to rotate the body effectively in freestyle and backstroke.

Chime in on the comments on our most popular video, Secret Tip: How to Pull in Freestylehttp://theraceclub.com/videos/underwater-freestyle-pull-series-propulsion-front-quadrant/ 

Yours in swimming,

Gary Hall Sr.


All About Freestyle Drills and More

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Five articles published on SwimSwam.com are related to freestyle drills and swimming technique.

Swim Training: In Defense of Drills

In the never-ending quest to get their swimmers fitter, coaches tend to use every minute of the practice to get more meters or yards into the workout. Rarely, do they ever stop and take a step back to really analyze what their swimmers are doing. In fact, in the sea of arms and legs moving across a pool in a daily workout, seldom will a coach pinpoint any details of any individual swimmer’s stroke. It is hard to see the forest through the trees.

Since it takes place in a medium some 800 times denser than air, swimming could arguably claim to be the most technique-sensitive sport out there. With compelling drag forces that come into play at relative low speeds, the water has no mercy for swimmers when it comes to making positional mistakes. Yet coaches will watch their swimmers for hours going up and down the pool, making the same mistakes over and over again.

While one could argue about the relative importance that should be given to fitness vs. technique, the fact is, most swimming coaches don’t give technique much consideration at all. They should. Great swimmers have great technique and those that aren’t so great, usually don’t.

Drills are the single best way to improve technique. Here are three good reasons why coaches should give up some of the swimmer’s precious fitness time and devote more of it to doing drills.

  1. Drills Isolate the problem
  2. Drills help correct the problem
  3. Drills help keep the problem corrected

Although, it has to be said, not all swimming drills are good for you. http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/myth-9-all-swimming-drills-are-good-for-you/

3 Reasons Why Drills Matter in Swimming

  1. Drills Isolate the problem

Once the problem is identified, the best way to fix it is to focus on it. There are simply too many complex movements going on in the act of swimming to enable one to think about one single movement or position of the body. For example, one of the best ways to learn to pull with a high elbow underwater (early vertical forearm position) is by doing one arm drill. Holding one arm in front, swim with one arm only, rotating from side to stomach, but focusing on the high elbow position as the single arm pulls through. It is much easier to grasp the concept swimming with high elbows, after practicing with each arm alone.

  1. Drills help correct the problem

We are all creatures of habit. Once we develop a poor technique, it may be a challenge to ditch it. Even when we have discovered the right thing to do, we tend to gravitate back to old bad habits. A good example is head position. Most freestylers hold their heads too high, causing more frontal drag. The best way to correct this problem is by doing a 25 drill, sculling with the hands above the head in front, chin nearly on your chest, followed by a 25 freestyle swim with the head in the same down position. Doing a swim after any drill will reinforce the correct habit and help practice the correct swimming technique.

  1. Drills help keep the problem corrected

While getting fit is important in order to swim fast, spending a few minutes at the beginning of each practice working on specific drills to help your weak points will help you become a better swimmer.  Or devoting one extra 45-minute practice per week to just doing drills and drill/swims is another way to get faster. Correct technique requires that you not only know what to do, but that you build the stamina required to keep using the good technique throughout your swim. Some drills can help with both. One of my favorite workout sets is doing 10 x 25 yard high elbow sculls with fins as fast as you can and with short rest. This drill is difficult to do correctly, but helps build the strength and stamina to set up the correct underwater pull and to maintain it.

At our Race Club camps, we make certain that each drill has a purpose. Once a problem is identified, we repeat the drills over and over in order to correct it. By doing so, we help put each Race Club swimmer in a better position to improve. Here’s how to do a few of our favorite high elbow drills for common problems: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/high-elbow-pull-freestyle-stroke/

Why Sculling Matters in Swimming

Sculling with the hands is one of the best ways to teach a swimmer to feel the water. For years I have heard coaches teach their swimmers to feel the water and have been trying to figure out exactly what that means. Holding water is another commonly used expression that needs explanation, although it has a slightly different meaning than feeling the water.

The two most important forces that the hands and feet can generate in order to swim fast are downward forces (lifting the body upward) and backward forces (providing propulsion). Forces to the side can also produce lift, but unless they occur bilaterally and counter oppose one other, such as in fly or breaststroke, they will also produce an undesirable side-to-side motion of the body. What determines the forces of the lift or propulsion are the effective surface area and the speed or the acceleration of that surface area moving in the desired direction.

Because of flow dynamics, the effective surface area of the hand is different from the actual surface area. When the fingers are separated slightly, as the hand moves through water, the flow through the narrow spaces between the fingers becomes turbulent. A turbulent flow slows down and doesn’t allow the water behind it to get through. In other words, it makes the hand with the separated fingers act as if it is a larger solid hand, increasing the effective surface area compared to a hand with the fingers squeezed together.

Not only that, but a hand with fingers separated is more relaxed than a hand with the fingers squeezed together. For both of those reasons, separating the fingers slightly is desirable.

Being able to produce a maximum amount of force with the hand is what I believe coaches refer to as feeling the water. Holding the water refers to not only maximizing the propulsive forces, but also the ability of a swimmer to couple those forces with other motions, such as the body’s rotation or the arm recovery, in order to increase distance per stroke.

There are two really great sculling drills that help enable the swimmer to feel and hold the water better. The first is the high-elbow scull and the second is the snap-paddle scull seen on the links below. Both can be done with or without the snorkel. http://theraceclub.com/videos/secret-tip-how-to-pull-underwater-drills/

The Truth About Your Head Position in Swimming

There are two fundamental laws or forces that govern our ability to swim fast that often don’t agree on what position we should assume. The two forces are those that move us down the pool, propulsion, and those that slow us down, frontal drag. A good example of this disagreement is head position.

In order to assume the position of least frontal drag, the head should be in alignment with the body. That means the line of sight needs to be straight down toward the bottom of the pool. Not only does this head position straighten the body, creating the best position to reduce our drag coefficient, it also allows the water on the surface to pass over the tops of our heads, reducing wave or surface drag.

Most swimmers swim freestyle or backstroke with their heads positioned too high, looking forward slightly as they swim through the water, or in the case of backstroke, with the head perched up. One of the reasons that they do this is defensive swimming. When the head is positioned properly for the least amount of frontal drag, looking down, one cannot see where one is going and must rely on the black line on the bottom of the pool, or the T at the end, to determine one’s position. When there are several swimmers in a lane churning up and down in a circle pattern, it only takes one bop on the head to make one swim like Tarzan with the head looking forward, avoiding potential collisions.

There is another reason why swimmers like to hold their heads up and that is propulsion. When a swimmer initiates the underwater pull, he or she is stronger with the back slightly arched and the head up, as opposed to a straight body position. If one considers doing a pull up, the initiation of the lift of the body is always done with the back arched, creating more power, rather than with a straight back. The same is true of the underwater pulling motion.

Fortunately, the ideal times in the pulling cycle to create the least amount of frontal drag and the maximum propulsion are different. The fastest body speed of the cycle, when the hand of the recovering arm first strikes the water, is the best time to have the least amount of drag, since frontal drag is related to the speed squared. At that point, the head should be down and the body straight. The bow wave should pass over the top of the head.

The propulsion of the arms/hands begins with the hand about one foot in front of the shoulder. At this point the back should arch slightly, lifting the head somewhat to maximize the force as the hand moves backwards in the water.

One can achieve both of these positions, but it requires a steady movement of the spine from the straight position to the arched position as the hand moves through the cycle. In backstroke, the head is lifted slightly to initiate the pull and drops back at hand entry, allowing a small stream of water to pass over the goggles. By doing so, one can reach the best compromise between these opposing forces in order to maximize body speed.

At The Race Club camps, we teach our swimmers how to change their body positions during the stroke cycle in freestyle and backstroke in order to swim the fastest. Some great drills for learning to position the head down are shown in this video: http://theraceclub.com/videos/secret-tip-head-position-1of2/

Why Pulling Underwater with a High Elbow Matters 

The motion of the pulling arm underwater is arguably the most important concept we must learn to swim fast freestyle and butterfly. At The Race Club camps, where we may teach up to 10 different points related to improving freestyle speed, I rank pulling with the high elbow numbers 1, 2 and 3 in the priority list. It is that important.

The reason I rank the high-elbow pull so highly is not because it enables a swimmer to hold more water, or that it creates more pulling surface area or increases the propulsive power of the pull. It does none of those. It simply reduces frontal drag. Since frontal drag is the number one enemy of the swimmer, it is worth the extra effort to pull in this manner. For a more detailed video on how it reduces frontal drag, please go to following link: http://theraceclub.com/videos/secret-tip-how-to-pull-in-freestyle/

The high elbow pull must be set up properly from the moment the hand enters the water on each stroke. In order to initiate the pull correctly, the shoulder must internally rotate some to insure that the elbow remains near the surface while the forearm and hand push down, creating lift. If the pull is initiated with more of a straight arm and without internally rotating the shoulder, it is too late to go back. The drag problem, caused mostly from the upper arm, is already starting.

Once the hand reaches a position below the elbow, while the elbow is near the surface, the hand begins the motion backward, creating propulsion (propulsive phase).  In order to keep the elbow near the surface during this phase of the pull, while also rotating the body sufficiently along the axis of motion, the shoulder must extend backward in the joint. Not everyone has the flexibility required in the shoulder to either extend or internally rotate well. For this reason alone, dry land and shoulder-stretching exercises are important for the freestyler.

The underwater pulling motion is another example of the conflict between frontal drag and propulsive forces. While the deeper pull creates more frontal drag, it is also allows for more propulsion than the high elbow pull. Since the deeper pulling arm is a longer lever than the bent high-elbow pulling arm, this pulling motion also causes more torque to be placed on the shoulder, particularly the anterior (biceps) tendon. The higher elbow pull shifts the strength requirement more to the back of the shoulder and the smaller four muscles attached to the scapula.

While using the velocity meter, without any kicking involved, I measured my body speed using both types of pulling motions. With the deeper pull, my body speed dropped by 40% between the fastest point in the cycle, when the hand first entered the water, and the slowest point, at the start of the propulsive phase (hand is about one foot in front of the shoulder). With the high elbow pull, the body speed dropped by 30% during the same period. A 10% difference in speed may not seem like a lot to you, but I assure you that when you are taking many strokes, it is significant.

For this reason, virtually every world-class distance swimmer pulls with a high elbow motion. That is not true in the 50 meters, where one sees elite swimmers using a range from deeper pulls to mid-range pulls, opting for more power. Any race over a 50 is considered a middle or distance swim and for best results, should involve pulling with a high elbow. With practice and strength training, this important pulling motion can continue to get stronger and stronger, resulting in a faster swim. Here are a couple drills to practice the high elbow pull: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/high-elbow-pull-freestyle-stroke/

Yours In Swimming,

Gary Hall Sr.


Learning to Pace

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Pacing a race correctly 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.

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.

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.


The Science of Coupling

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Recently, a physicist here in Florida informed me that I didn’t quite have the physics right in some of my explanations. In one of my recent blogs on the various energy systems of the body swimming down the pool, for example, he stated that the only forces that can really move the swimmer are external forces. In the case of the swimmer that means the foot or hand pushing back on the water, the starting block or the wall. Other energy systems, like the arms swinging through the recovery phase, might transform some energy into the water at the collision, but cannot, by themselves, move the body down the pool. He is right.

The paradox is that we don’t get to isolate any of these energy systems, the arm recovery, the body rotation or the head snapping down. They are all connected to the body and therefore, the action of one ‘system’ influences the others. We call this coupling. Some coaches refer to it as the connection. Read more


Gary Hall Sr. for Swim Swam

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Gary Hall Sr. is now a regular contributor to Swim Swam .com. Here are his first few published articles discussing The Fundamental Laws of Swimming.

At The Race Club, we pride ourselves in teaching fundamentals and paying attention to details. In order to excel in swimming, arguably the most technique-sensitive sport of all, one needs to be mindful of millimeters, degrees and tenths of seconds. A few millimeters away from the correct head or elbow position, a few less degrees of ankle flexibility or hip rotation, a few tenths of seconds in delay of a pull or a kick can lead to…well, the loss of a race.

Understanding the fundamentals of swimming requires knowledge of the basic scientific laws that govern the technical aspects of our sport. For the most part, these laws for the underwater and surface movements are Newton’s three laws of motion, redefined for a swimmer. Read more


The High Elbow Pull of the Freestyle Stroke

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Freestyle Stroke article Originally published in Triathlete Magazine by Gary Hall Sr.

One of the most difficult swimming concepts to understand is why one should pull with the elbows near the surface, also referred to as “high-elbow pull” or the early vertical forearm position (EVF). If you’re not familiar, read on—it could be the most important change you make in your technique.

RELATED – Swim Speed Series: Body Rotation

How To:

Begin with the arm outstretched directly in front of the same shoulder. Rather than dropping the entire arm to a lower position to initiate the pull, only lower the hand and forearm, leaving the elbow close to the surface, with the hand directly below. Continue on the path downward until the hand falls almost immediately below the elbow. At this point, it can’t go any farther without changing the position to the upper arm, so sweep it quickly rearward, remaining as close to the surface as possible. From the front view, the hand should travel relatively straight back, with very little motion from side to side. As the hand nears the end of the pull, it should not go underneath the body but rather stay at the edge of the bodyline. Read more


The Importance of the Upkick

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Recently, I wrote an Aqua Note entitled The Kick is the Y Factor, emphasizing the importance of a strong kick to implement all four potential functions of the legs. Those are lift, propulsion, stabilizing forces for the pull and inertia. In the article, I discuss the reason why the upkick is so important for the propulsion. It is worth mentioning again.

When a fish propels itself with its tail, it moves the tail equally hard in both directions, side to side. As the tail pushes through the water, it creates a wake or vortex behind it from the pressure drag. The vortex creates a small stream of water that follows in the direction of the tail. When the tail quickly reverses its direction and pushes back with force, it is pushing against the stream of water now moving toward it. The result is that the propulsive force is greater than if the tail were pushing against still water. The stream creates a counter force for the tail to push against, almost as if the water becomes more like a stabile solid rather than a movable liquid. Read more


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