Aqua Notes

The Art of Swipping


Swipping is a conjoining of the words Swimming and Slipping. Swipping is a new word that I invented to describe swimming with the least amount of frontal drag possible.

In each passing year that I teach swimming technique at The Race Club, I gain more appreciation for the importance and the sensitivity of frontal drag to the swimmer. Because our sport takes place mostly in water, which is some 800 times denser than air, the forces of drag come into play at much lower speeds. Further, minute changes in body or arm or leg position can lead to significant increases or decreases in frontal drag. Swimming is indeed a sport of minute details.

For the most part, elite athletes, competing at the highest levels of our sport, have learned how to swip rather than swim through the water. Either through a process of trial and error, good coaching, a better feel for the water, or some combination of all three, these athletes have learned how to get through the water with a lower amount of frontal drag. While they are also quite powerful, it is the former quality, rather than the latter, that may have led to their ability to win races.

The real challenge of learning to swip, rather than swim, is that swimmers don’t feel the frontal drag forces as they are moving through the water. Typically, they feel the propulsive or lift forces on their hands, or if they really concentrate, they may feel forces against their feet as they are kicking. That is about it. Unfortunately, the positions of maximum propulsive power are not the same as those of minimal frontal drag. Consequently, most swimmers fall into the power trap. That is, they swim, instead of swip.

The high elbow pull in freestyle is a good example of learning to swip. While the deeper arm pull produces more propulsive power, the speed of the swimmer, which is determined by the propulsive forces minus the drag forces, ends up being slower (over the longer distances) than while using the high elbow pull. The high elbow pull is like the skate boarder cruising down the street who keeps tapping the asphalt backward with his foot to maintain his speed. He goes a lot faster and with less effort than the skateboarder who slows down nearly to a stop and has to push really hard with his foot to regain the speed over and over again. The tapping skateboarder is not only using less energy but is also taking advantage of the law inertia to stay in a more constant motion.

There are many other examples of swipping through the water, but the important point is that it doesn’t take much to change from a swip to a swim. Swimming is a sport of millimeters, tenths of seconds and degrees. Drop the elbow a few millimeters and the drag jumps way up. Begin the breaststroke pull a few tenths of a second too early and the drag during the kick goes way up. Reduce the external rotation of the hip by a few degrees so the knees must be wider on the breaststroke kick and the drag goes way up.

We don’t expect coaches to have the time or ability to spot every detail of stroke technique during a crowded workout. It is hard enough just to keep swimmers on the right intervals. That is what we do at The Race Club. We pay attention to the details above water and below water. We turn swimmers into Swippers.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

10 Swim Camps in 2016


We are excited to announce that we will increase the number of swim camps for next year, 2016. More options for you in this Olympic year will hopefully allow you to become a faster swimmer by coming to train with us. As always, you can choose which sessions you want to attend during any of our scheduled camp dates. We have a morning and an afternoon session every scheduled camp day.

February 12th – 18th, 2016 in Islamorada, FL

March 10th – 13th in Los Angeles, CA

March 25th – 31st in Islamorada, FL

April 21st – 24th in Los Angeles, CA – Triathlon Specific Swim Camp

June 18th – 26th in Islamorada, FL

July 8th -14th in Los Angeles, CA

September 2nd – 5th in Islamorada, FL

October 7th -10th in Los Angeles, CA

November 21st – 26th in Islamorada, FL

December 17th, 2016 – January 2nd, 2017 in Islamorada, FL (Christmas Eve PM session and both Christmas Day sessions are off)

You can schedule private sessions anytime during the year we have availability. You can also schedule Private Coaching for a Race Club coach to come to your city. Email us for more information.

We now have a small training group that trains year round in Islamorada, FL. Come for any amount of time to get customized training. The fee for the training group is very reasonable compared to our swim camps and private rates.

Two Distinct Breaststroke Techniques and Three Key Timing Tips


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Breaststroke is the most inefficient and slowest of the four strokes. It is also the key to a successful IM. It is also the one stroke that seems to come and go like the wind, and is perhaps the most challenging to master. How can a swimmer do so well at breaststroke one season, only to find that he or she is struggling to approach the same times the next season? It is all about timing.

When ESPN did a study on Rebecca Soni’s stroke they found that her kick provided around 100 lbs of propulsive force, while her pull provided about 20 pounds of propulsive force. While not many have the propulsion in the legs of Rebecca, the truth is that most of the propulsion from all good breaststrokers comes from the legs, not the arms. The key to a fast breaststroke is to develop a strong kick and to reduce frontal drag after the kick.

In the world, there are lumpers and splitters. Splitters would say that there are many different breaststroke techniques that are effective, each one perhaps having some subtle difference from another. As a lumper, I consider that there are two distinctively different breaststroke techniques today; the fast arm-recovery and the delayed arm-recovery technique. All of the elite breaststrokers of the world use some variation of these two techniques and the majority of them use the former.

The fast arm-recovery breaststrokers (Peaty, Cordes, Meilutyte) do precisely that. They get their hands quickly through the pull cycle, snapping the elbows downward and then pushing the hands forward over the surface into a streamline before the kick propulsion takes place. The delayed arm-recovery breaststrokers (Soni, Gyurta, Larson) either never drop the elbows on the pull and bring the elbows further back behind the chest, recovering with most of the forearm over the water (Soni) or slow the hands above the water before pushing them forward into the frontal streamline (Gyurta, Larson). The advantage of the fast arm recovery is that the swimmer gets a little more power out of the pull by pushing the elbows down and accelerating the hands through the pull cycle. The advantage of the delayed recovery is that it reduces frontal drag on the recovery by elevating most of the forearm out of the water (Soni) and augments the coupling effect on the kick by adding the kinetic energy of the arms moving forward to the pressing upper body and head energy (Soni, Larson and Gyurta).

With either technique, the timing of all motions is critical. During the pull, in order to reduce frontal drag, the hips and legs need to be near horizontal with the surface with the feet pointed (plantar flexed), while the upper body elevates to the highest point possible. That elevation requires full extension of the lumbar spine. The higher the elevation of the upper body and head, the more kinetic energy can be created in the press forward. Gravity and core strength have a lot to do with developing that energy on the way down. Some, like Peaty, press forward with tremendous force and speed to augment the power of the kick. In order for that upper body energy to couple maximally with the kick, the most powerful moment of force from the kick must occur precisely when the kinetic energy of the upper body is greatest. The most powerful moment of force from the kick occurs just after the feet begin moving backward and the moment of greatest kinetic energy from the upper body occurs just as the shoulders strike the water. In order for these two events to coincide, there is precious little time to get the legs up under the body in position to initiate the kick prior to the shoulders entering the water. Further, with both thighs pulled forward under water, the body’s drag coefficient goes off the charts, so it is in the best interest of the swimmer to not remain in that position any longer than necessary. For these two reasons, one sees all elite breaststrokers get through the kick cycle extremely fast, pulling the legs forward quickly to minimize time in that position and pushing the feet back quickly to generate more propulsion. When observing the speed of the legs of an elite breaststroker from above, all one sees is a blur, like the twitch of a frog leg.

The second timing issue with breaststroke is the initiation of the pull cycle. Often, breaststrokers begin the pull too early, during the moment of the most powerful force from the kick. If the hands separate out front too soon, then the drag coefficient goes up again and the force of the kick is wasted on a bad body position. It is critical that the breaststroker be patient enough to benefit from their kick during the strike phase by having the chin down nearly touching the chest under water, the hands held together out front and the shoulders pushed forward as far as possible. However, if the breaststroker holds in this position too long, reducing the stroke rate, then the body decelerates too much after the kick before the initiation of the next pull. There is very little margin of error between initiating the pull too soon or too late. Of course, the shorter the race, the higher the stroke rate.

The third timing issue in breaststroke is on the arm recovery. By delaying the recovery of the arms, the mass of the arms moving forward is added to the mass of the upper body and head to increase kinetic energy for coupling with the kick. With this technique, the hands must get into the propulsive phase of the pull quicker, once they are in the streamline in front, so there is little time spent there. With the fast arm recovery, the arms are already in the streamlined position before the kick propulsion takes place, so no coupling can occur, and they remain there longer before initiating the pull. Many breaststrokers using this technique (Cordes, Peaty) will snap the head down, rather than lay the head down, to increase kinetic energy from the head (which weighs around 12 pounds).

Because the timing of breaststroke is so sensitive, it lends itself to doing drills more than any other stroke. At The Race Club, we practice many breaststroke drills working on the fundamentals of a strong kick, great streamlining and perfect timing for all motions. Here is one of the drills we use for breaststroke pull:

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

breaststroke techniques

Why One Arm Backstroke Drill Matters

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Originally published on

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.


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.


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 Swimisode

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Triathlon Swim Camp with Gary Sr. and Andy Potts

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-Los Angeles, CA   The Race Club is proud to announce our first triathlon swim camp specifically for Triathletes and open water swimmers. This camp is be conducted in Pacific Palisades, CA July 30th through August 2nd, 2015. Coach and Race Club Director Gary Hall Sr., will be leading the camp in coaching. Professional triathlete, Andy Potts will be leading the camp on Saturday, August 1st, sharing his wisdom and expertise with the exclusive group of triathletes who sign up for camp. This camp will be unlike any other Race Club camp. We encourage all athletes to attend all 6 sessions since we need to cover so much about triathlon swimming during that time. We will try to cover but are not limited to; Fundamentals of Fast Swimming, swimming equipment to use, biomechanics in the water and what is best for each individual swimmer, nutrition, drills, 3 styles of freestyle, strength training, mental training, race strategy, breathing patterns, recovery, open water navigation, etc. We believe every swimmer is unique and needs individual guidance and coaching in training to reach your potential.

Here is the schedule for the camp (may change slightly):

Thursday, July 30th 5:30pm-7:30pm at Pali High pool
Friday, July 31st 7:30am-9:30am and 5:30pm-7:30pm at Pali High pool
Saturday, August 1st 9:30am-11:30am and 2pm-4pm at Pali high pool featuring Andy Potts 
Sunday, August 2nd 8:30am-10:30am at Tower 26 Santa Monica beach

*Optional one hour private sessions can be scheduled on Friday in between camp sessions. Fee is $225 per hour

*Optional custom video analysis can be scheduled on Friday in between camp sessions. Fee is $600

*Optional Velocity Meter session can be scheduled on Sunday afternoon. Fee is $850

The 6 camp sessions is a fee of $1495. If you only want to come on Saturday, the fee is $995. Sign up by filling out the registration form here.

Pacific Palisades Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center is located at 15777 Bowdoin Street Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. Tower 26 at Santa Monica beach is located at the beach and Ocean Park Blvd in Santa Monica, CA. During one hour private sessions, we can work on specific things with you or we can film you with a go pro and analyze your swimming on the tablet right after you swim within the same hour. Custom video analysis is filming your swimming above and under water with high quality footage. Then Richard Hall edits the footage into a custom video that is very clear and in depth footage. Then Gary Sr. does voice over analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the swimming. We send you the link about a month after the camp. Velocity Meter is cutting edge technology to measure your strength and propulsion in the water. We set up the whole system and we test you in the water. We then have an expert compile and edit all the data. Then Gary Hall Sr. analyzes the data and then skypes with you for one hour about the results, screen by screen. The skype call takes place a couple weeks after the Velocity Meter test is taken. You receive all the data and analysis.

The Race Club . . 877-794-6722 .

triathlon swim camp

Head Position in Freestyle… Have Your Cake and Eat It Too


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While swimming freestyle, the positions of least frontal drag do not necessarily correlate with the positions of maximum propulsive power. Head position is just one example of this conflict. When the head is in alignment with the body and the spine is straighter, the least frontal drag is encountered. Yet, to maximize the power of the underwater pull, the lower back should be arched some, which results in an elevation of the head.

With some of our freestyle swimming motions, such as the underwater pull, we need to choose between more powerful force and lesser drag positions and often compromise between them. Not so with the head position.

Because of the exponential relationship between frontal drag and speed, the most important time to have the lowest drag coefficient is when our body is moving the fastest within the cycle. That occurs precisely when one hand first enters the water. It is at that point that it is most critical to have the head down.

Two beneficial events happen when we tuck the head down at the hand entry. First, the bow wave goes over the top of our head, essentially putting the head underwater for a brief moment. There is less drag underwater than on the surface. Second, our body straightens out more, creating a better shape to surge forward.

Elite freestylers, such as Phelps, Sun Yang or Katie Ledecky, create a noticeable surge in speed with the head down right after the breath, accompanied by a strong propulsive kick. It is easier to do this with the slower stroke rates of the hip-driven or hybrid freestyle, than with the faster stroke rate of the shoulder-driven freestyle. Yet it works with any freestyle technique.

Once the hand is under water, about one foot in front of the shoulder, initiating the propulsive phase of the pull (when the hand starts moving backward), the body must change its shape slightly in order to increase power. One cannot maximize the force of the underwater pulling motion without arching the lower back, which also causes a small lift of the head, similar to initiating a pull up from a bar.

If one were to be able to see the movement of the spine as an elite freestyler propels down the pool, one would see a shift from a relatively straight spine to a slightly arched lower back with each stroke cycle, over and over again. This movement enables the swimmer to take advantage of both the power position and the least frontal drag position.

The real question is, if swimming with the head down is conducive to faster swimming, why is everyone swimming with the head up? The answer is defensive swimming. Within the environment of a crowded workout lane or a frenzied swim at the beginning of a triathlon, swimmers are watching out for themselves, looking forward, hoping to avoid an unnecessary collision. In a crowded pool, lead the lane or go 10 seconds behind, stay to the right and pray, but keep your head down. Once you are in a race, where you are given your own lane, or after finding your space in an open water swim, you have no excuse. Get the head down when the hand enters the water and enjoy the surge.

Watch Freestyle Head Position Swimisode.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Happy Feet Part II… The Sequel


All of that plantar flexibility of the ankle you have worked so hard to develop to become a fast kicker, aside from avoiding some seriously sprained ankles while inadvertently stepping in a hole, probably does no good deed for you on land. In fact, the excessive pronation (flat feet) of the foot that is commonly found among swimmers, may ultimately lead to some serious foot issues. I should know, because I have them.

Two problems that may develop from hyper-pronation of the foot are halux valgus, which is a turning out of the big toe, and hammer toe, which is a contraction of the toes where the middle phalangeal joint begins to rise upward in an inverted V shape. Both problems often progress and make wearing shoes more challenging or painful.

Part of the cause of these two problems may be genetic and not necessarily related to swimming. Many non-swimmers develop the same issues. The looseness of the ankle and hyper-pronation of the foot may merely be contributors. Regardless, I began to develop both of these problems with my own feet years ago.

In 2010, after a hammer toe began developing on my right foot, I decided to go to the Cleveland Clinic in Florida and have it looked at. The Orthopedic surgeon was a fairly young specialist in foot and ankle surgery. I should have been suspicious when he stated “I hate operating on this problem”. Nonetheless, I went ahead with surgery to try to correct it.

One year (and $34,000) after a painful surgery (6 weeks on crutches), my toes were back to the same as before surgery. There was almost no change whatsoever in the condition. For the next few years, the condition seemed to be gradually worsening.

In Spring of 2014, I checked around more thoroughly and this time elected to go to a podiatrist in Miami who had an excellent reputation. Of course, he stated that the previous surgery had been done all wrong and that he would operate completely differently, breaking this bone and fusing that joint. It sounded even more gruesome than the first one, which had left a pin sticking out of my middle toe for a month. Believing that I had no other good option, I scheduled surgery for the fall, when I had more recovery time.

At the end of the summer, just two weeks before my surgery date, I visited my son, Gary Jr. in Solvang, California. Gary Jr., was an extraordinarily fast kicker and was already beginning to develop the same toe problem as his father. Somehow, he had gotten the name of a Chinese foot specialist in Santa Barbara, a man named Harry Kim, who recommended orthotics. Within 6 months after wearing Harry’s orthotics, Gary’s toes and feet began improving. Before my pending surgery, Gary convinced me to go see Harry.

Harry at Happy Feet on State Street in Santa Barbara is not a doctor. He is not a podiatrist. He is a technician, and apparently a very good one. I was skeptical, as I had worn orthotics for at least 15 years with a continuous progression of the problem. I waited a long time to see Harry, sitting in his store. Three people were ahead of me waiting patiently to see him. He doesn’t take appointments. You just come in and wait for him. Don’t let anyone else there take care of you.

Each of the three people ahead of me told me Harry was a genius. Two of the people were physicians, like me. All were runners. Each told me of the miraculous cures of their problems with Harry’s orthotics. I was still skeptical.

Finally it was my turn. Harry had me stand on a German-engineered orthotic device that measures the weight bearing force of your feet while standing. From the printout, Harry then proceeded to describe why my foot was causing problems for my toes. Among the hundreds of orthotics hanging on the wall behind him, Harry picked out three and had me walk with all three of them to try them out, before deciding on one. I told him I was scheduled for foot surgery the following week.

“In foot surgery” Harry said, “only one person win…the surgeon”. I forgot to mention to Harry that I had been a surgeon. “Give 6 months…then decide”, he continued. “And walk like Chinese soldier”. He began walking heal to toe, pushing his arms backward with each stride.

It took about a minute and a half for me to make the decision to postpone my surgery. “What’s another 6 months if it doesn’t work?” I thought to myself. “It’s worth a try”.

So here I am 6 months later, wearing my new orthotics from Happy Feet every day, walking up and down the pool deck like a Chinese soldier. I even bought some of those strange Vibram five-fingered shoes to put them in, just to keep my toes separated.

I can now tell you that I will not be having any foot surgery soon. The problem is nearly resolved. My hammer toe is getting smaller every month. My feet are happy and I am happy. It might have been the best $100 I ever spent. Thank you Harry. Thank you Gary Jr.

If you are having foot or toe problems, go see Harry.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

If you’re wondering what Gary Hall Jr. is up to, check out his website here:

How to Maximize the Fifth Stroke


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Recently, I have spent a great deal of time using the Race Club Velocity Meter technology to analyze the dolphin kick. After all, the dolphin kick has become so important in all of the swimming strokes that it is now considered The Fifth Stroke. The Velocity Meter allows one to study the velocity and acceleration/deceleration of the swimmer’s body throughout the kicking cycles.


Surprisingly, not a lot of scientific research has been done on the propulsion of the dolphin or flutter kick. In one of our recent videos, The Fifth Stroke Part I, Olympic ChampionRoland Schoeman demonstrates a powerful dolphin kick with and without fins. These exquisite slow motion video images enable us to see the extraordinary flexibility of the ankle, particularly during the down kick, coupled with strong legs, which enables such great kick propulsion to take place.


The maximum propulsion from the kick occurs at the beginning of the down kick with a flick of the foot toward plantar flexion of the ankle. The more plantar flexion of the ankle, the more foot surface area is available to push backward in the water, creating propulsion.


While it is only during the down kick that the foot is actually moving backward in the water, I was surprised to find that there is some propulsion on the up kick, even though the foot is moving forward during this motion.

This can only be explained by the fact that the previous down kick and the swimmer’s body creates a stream of water moving forward and downward that is greater than the speed of the foot moving forward. Within this hydrodynamic system, the foot can still produce propulsion while it is moving in a forward direction. Acceleration of the body occurs in the up kick from the time the legs are horizontal with the body upward to nearly the end of the upstroke.


The velocity of the swimmer in the water reached after the down kick is about twice that of the velocity after the up kick. With the exponential relationship between velocity and frontal drag, that would mean the down kick likely produces roughly four times greater propulsive force than the up kick. Regardless, both the up kick and the down kick are important, so the fast kickers are working the legs in both directions.

In freestyle, I consider the speed of the kick to be the baseline speed of the swimmer before the arm pull is added in. It is almost as if a swimmer has a choice of swimming in a pool or a stream. With no kick propulsion, the swimmer is swimming in a pool where there is no current. With a kick, the swimmer is now swimming with the current in a stream. The stronger and faster the kick, the faster the current is moving in the stream. With a strong kick, when you add the arm pull, a swimmer can rip down the stream.

The kick is even more important in fly, breaststroke and backstroke than it is in freestyle. Yet it is important in all four strokes. Work on ankle flexibility, leg strength for the kicking motions and leg fitness to sustain those motions and you will see great improvement in your swimming times.

Watch The Fifth Stroke Swimisode

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Is Butterfly Swimming a Short Axis Stroke?


A short-axis stroke is defined as a stroke where there is desirable rotation of the body along the short axis through the middle of the hip, as opposed to the long axis, along the length of the body. Breaststroke is a short-axis stroke because the swimmer should extend the lower lumbar spine (arch the back) and elevate the shoulders as much as possible to augment the force of the kick. Freestyle and backstroke are both long-axis strokes as there is clearly body rotation around the axis in the line of motion down the pool with each. What about butterfly? Where does it fit in?

Butterfly is clearly not a long-axis stroke, but it is not really a short axis stroke, either. Unlike breaststroke, where the kinetic energy of the upper body and head moving angularly forward couples with the kick, augmenting its force, the underwater pull and first down kick of butterfly occur as the upper body and head elevate for the breath, not moving downward, so there is no coupling energy there. While the downward motion of the upper body in fly might couple with the second down kick, any advantage of that is negated by the poor body position caused by elevating the shoulders.

In breaststroke, the elevation of the shoulders occurs right after the underwater pull and before the next kick. In other words, it is a period of deceleration when the body’s speed is slowing and comes nearly to a halt, once the knees are brought forward under the body for the next kick. Since frontal drag is exponentially related to the velocity, putting the body in this poor shape (for frontal drag) during this slow time has less adverse effect than if the body were traveling fast.

In butterfly swimming, the elevation of the shoulders for the breath occurs during the fastest point in the stroke cycle, when both arms have completed the pull, timed with the first propulsive down kick. At this critical fast point, with more elevation of the shoulders (more vertical body position) a detrimental shape will more adversely affect frontal drag forces.

In order to get the head above water for the breath and because the preceding up kick requires some extension of the lumbar spine, there will always be some shoulder elevation for the breath and curvature of the body. However, the shoulder elevation can be minimized by allowing the neck to extend forward as much as possible. Indeed, when watching Michael Phelps take a breath, that is precisely what happens. It is as if he were a giraffe, extending his long neck forward, yet low to the water, to get each breath. By doing so, he minimizes the elevation of the shoulder. With the strong kick, he elevates the entire body to remain flatter and skates over the top of the water. That is the closest we may ever see a human being come to hydroplaning.

In butterfly, use your neck muscles to breathe forward, not upward, develop a strong kick and skate over the top of the water for maximum speed and distance per stroke.

Watch Improve Butterfly Technique Swimisode

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

How to Maximize Swimming Starts With the Back Footplate

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Starting with the back footplate

Part I: After the whistle blows

Getting off to a good start is one of the most important parts of the swimming race. The shorter the race, the more important the start becomes. Last spring at The Race Club, we had the opportunity to learn from one of the best starters in history, Roland Schoeman.

Once the whistle blows, signaling that the athletes can mount the starting block, it is important to get positioned properly. With the new adjustable back footplates, one needs to know where to position the plate (forward or backward) for the optimum attainable force. This will change depending on the swimmer’s height and whether he/she chooses to be weight forward or backward after the command. It is extremely important to practice some starts in warm up with the starting block in the racing pool to be absolutely certain where to place the footplate. Different companies manufacture these blocks, so one cannot assume that they are all the same.

Once you have climbed on top of the starting block, the front foot is positioned first with the longest toes hanging slightly over the front edge of the block. If you are not certain which foot should go forward, practice it both ways and see which way feels more comfortable. If you are still not sure, imagine doing a lay up in basketball. Which foot would you jump off of? That should be the foot that is forward.

After setting the front foot, position the back foot on the plate where you want it with the heel slightly off the plate, resting on the ball of that foot. The feet should be placed about shoulder width apart and both feet should be pointing forward.

When both feet are planted you do not want to stand up, nor do you want to place your hands on your knees, bent slightly at the waste. From either position, when the command to take your mark occurs, it will take too long for you to bend over, grab the front of the block (or the bars on top of the block) and lean backward into the cocked position. Starting from this elevated position, too many swimmers have heard the beep go off while pulling themselves backward, leaving them far behind. Instead, you should hang down from the waist, arms relaxed and loosely grab the front of the block or bars with fingers of both hands. Do not pull up tightly with your arms until after the take your mark command is given.

The head should be positioned in a neutral position or slightly extended. That means you will be looking down toward your front heel or toward the middle of the surface of the starting block. You do not want to extend the neck too far forward, as that will tend to make you feel tight and uncomfortable. At this point, you do not need to look forward and see the water in front of you. You know the water is out there.

With the head in this neutral position, the fingers loosely holding on to the block or the bar, your weight should be placed mostly on the front foot, with the longest toes of that foot wrapped around the edge of the block. No part of your body should feel extremely tense. You are now ready for the command of the starter.

For video images of good starts, please watch this Swimisode.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

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