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.
- Drills Isolate the problem
- Drills help correct the problem
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.