Aqua Notes

Develop Explosive Power and Flexibility – Dryland Training

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

There are three different facets of dryland training, all of which are important; strength training, stretching and fitness. I am not aware of any elite swimmer that does not incorporate a dry land program into his or her training. It is that important. The following reflects some of our philosophy at The Race Club regarding dry land training for freestylers.

DEVELOPING EXPLOSIVE POWER

When it comes to developing explosive power in the water, which is particularly critical for sprinting, dry land contributes more than swim training. However, because of the exquisite sensitivity to increasing frontal drag with small changes in shape, one has to be extremely careful about developing bulk strength. Swimming is a sport where bigger and stronger does not necessarily make one faster. In fact, we often see the opposite. Consequently, most good strength trainers familiar with our sport have evolved into programs focusing on developing swim-specific strength, building the core muscles involved in the correct swimming motions, while largely ignoring the rest. Becoming strong while remaining lean is a key to fast swimming.

HOW & WHEN TO STRETCH

Most of the elite freestylers of the world also have hyper-mobility of certain joints, most notably the shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles. Even so, there is controversy about stretching; how it should be done, when it should be done and if it should be done. Some of the controversy revolves around the question of whether hyper-mobile joints are more prone to injury. Certainly in contact sports that is true, but most of the injuries in swimming are due to overuse, not blunt trauma, and in such cases, hyper-mobility of the joints is not likely to be a contributor. It may even be a preventative measure for joint-related pain.

WHY FLEXIBILITY MATTERS

When it comes to flexibility, however, I do know this. In a sport where small degrees of angles make huge difference in the amount of propulsion that can be generated or the amount of frontal drag that can be reduced, freestylers must have great flexibility in certain joints. Ankles are a good example. To develop a fast flutter kick, one must have extreme plantar flexibility in order to get the surface area of the top of the foot to push backward on the down kick. Not having it is like trying to be a good gymnast without being able to do the splits. It doesn’t work.

Finally, we use dry land training to develop fitness, particularly with the core muscles and the kick. Throughout a swimming race, the core and leg muscles never stop working. Consequently, they are normally the first parts of the body to give out. To swim fast, much strength and fitness is required of both. If we lose the ability to sustain the tight strength and motion of either legs or core, what follows is not pretty.

Japan has enjoyed great success in swimming in the recent few Olympic Games. One of the reasons, I believe, is that their coaches spend more time on dry land training than we generally do. The result has been stronger, fitter and faster swimmers. Perhaps we need to learn something from them.

I hope you will enjoy watching some of the dry land exercises we use at The Race Club on the #swimisodes below.

http://theraceclub.com/videos/swimming-workouts-dryland-stretching-exercises/

http://theraceclub.com/videos/dry-land-training/

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


4 Creative Kicking Sets to Pump Up Leg Strength

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

Leg strength and good ankle plantar flexibility are required to develop a strong flutter kick, but more is needed. Fitness of the leg muscles used in the kicking motion must also be developed to an extraordinary level. If a swimmer is determined to use the kick for strong propulsion, the way that most great swimmers do, then a six-beat kick is necessary and the legs need to be relatively fitter than the arms. Consider the following.

If a swimmer’s freestyle pulling stroke rate is 100 per minute (50 right arm pulls and 50 left arm pulls) then the kicking stroke rate with a six-beat kick is 600 per minute (300 down kicks and 300 up kicks). Further, unlike the arms that have a brief recovery period between each pulling motion, the legs never really get to recovery during the race. They work in one direction then in the other, relentlessly, in order to create meaningful propulsion. It requires a lot of conditioning in order to sustain that kind of effort for very long.

Think about it. What is the first part of the body that usually gives out during a race? The legs. Once the legs go, the rest is not pretty. Yet in spite of this, most coaches devote a small percentage of their workout time to developing a stronger kick. Too many coaches allow social kicking on sets, where swimmers will talk to each other while kicking along at a modest speed. That is not what is required to get the legs in shape for racing.

There are many creative kick sets to help get the legs fitter. One does not need to rely solely on traditional kick sets. First, I prefer kicking with a snorkel and Finis alignment board, rather than a traditional kick board. It creates a preferable body position, similar to the one has while swimming, and it eliminates social kicking. Here are a few of my favorite kicking sets that are tough, but will make the development of the legs more fun.

  1. TUG-0-WAR KICKING. CUT A ¾ INCH PVC PIPE INTO 18-INCH SEGMENTS. FIND TWO SWIMMERS THAT ARE APPROXIMATELY EQUAL WEIGHT AND KICKING STRENGTH. HAVE THE TWO SWIMMERS WEAR SNORKELS AND LINE UP AGAINST EACH OTHER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE POOL, ONE SWIMMER GRABBING THE PVC PIPE ON THE INSIDE AND THE OTHER ON THE OUTSIDE. KEEPING THE PIPE AT THE SURFACE AND THE ARMS STRAIGHT, INITIATE THE TUG-0-WAR AND SEE WHICH SWIMMER CAN KICK THE OTHER TO THE END OF THE POOL. SWIMMERS WILL KICK HARDER THAN YOU EVER IMAGINED IN THIS COMPETITION…AND GO FOR MINUTES.

  2. VERTICAL KICKING. WITH OR WITHOUT FINS, HAVE THE SWIMMERS KICK VERTICALLY FOR 45 SECONDS, FOLLOWED BY 15 SECONDS REST. REPEAT FIVE TIMES. WITH FINS, I LIKE TO HAVE OUR RACE CLUB SWIMMERS HOLD THEIR ARMS IN THE STREAMLINE POSITION FOR ALL 45 SECONDS OF EACH SET. WITHOUT FINS, MOST SWIMMERS WILL ONLY BE ABLE TO KEEP THEIR ELBOWS AT THE SURFACE WITH THE FOREARMS AND HANDS POINTING UP. I ALSO LIKE TO USE VERTICAL KICKING BETWEEN SWIM SETS. FOR EXAMPLE, SWIM 20 X 25 SPRINTS WITH A 20 SECOND VERTICAL KICK BETWEEN EACH ONE ON 30 SECONDS.

  3. WALL KICKS. SIMILAR TO THE VERTICAL KICKS, HAVE THE SWIMMERS KICK AGAINST THE WALL WITH A SNORKEL ALL OUT FOR 45 SECONDS, FOLLOWED BY 15 SECONDS REST. SEE WHICH CAN MAKE THE BIGGEST SPLASH AND HOLD IT FOR ALL 45 SECONDS. REPEAT 5 TIMES.

  4. KICKING WITH WEIGHT. USE 5 TO 10 LB FREE WEIGHTS, HELD WITH BOTH HANDS TIGHTLY AGAINST THE CHEST. KICK WITH THE SNORKEL AND NO FINS FOR 20 X 25, AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. THE IDEA IS TO NOT SINK. REST THE LEGS OR SLOW DOWN AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS.

In summary, work hard on ankle flexibility, leg strength and leg fitness and see how much faster a swimmer you will become. It is the speed of the kick that most differentiates the greatest swimmers from the not-so-great ones.

http://theraceclub.com/videos/swim-kick/

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Dolphin Kick The Fifth Stroke

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The development of a fast dolphin kick depends on several important nuances. Although the propulsive force is generated by the top of the feet during the down kick, the power to do so originates from the combination of a large undulation of the hip, a strong core, hip flexors and quadriceps muscles. The force is delivered with the right amount of knee bend and finally, and most important, extreme plantar flexibility of the ankle. It is the latter ability that creates the larger surface area to be pushed backward in the water.

While the up kick produces no direct propulsion by itself, it does play an important role by creating a vortex of water behind the feet, moving in the same direction. Then, on the following down kick, the motion against the moving stream of water creates more powerful propulsion to move the body forward.

To be an effective dolphin kicker, there is no rest period. The legs and core must move continuously first in one direction, then in the other and with much effort. No one has ever captured the nuances a great dolphin kick pictorially as well as Richard Hall in our newest #Swimisodes release, featuring Olympic champion Roland Schoeman. The Race Club is very proud of this release, perhaps our best ever, and hope you enjoy it. Here is to #thefifthstroke! Watch Swimisodes.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Launch of the Race Club Swimisodes

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This week The Race Club is launching a new video series, called ‘Swimisodes’, that will be featured on our website, Youtube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/theraceclub) and Swim Swam. We will release a new Swimisode weekly on Tuesdays. We are really excited to bring you these Swimisodes starring an incredible cast of athletes. Olympians Rebecca Soni, Roland Schoeman, world champion Junya Koga, and world-class swimmers, Zach Hayden and Lexie Kelley were incredibly gracious and willing participants that shared their strokes and techniques for all four strokes, starts, transitions and dry land training during filming and now we are honored to bring you their talents online.

We would like to thank all five of these incredible athletes for allowing us to share their extraordinary talent with the rest of the world. I believe that you will enjoy seeing the intricate details of their techniques that enables them to swim so fast. We have tried to dissect their strokes carefully, provide viewing angles that have never been seen before and explain their methods in language that is easy to understand and will help you improve your own swimming. Though we share much information in our Swimisodes, we cannot begin to cover all that we do in our camps or lessons and hope you will be inspired to visit us for more!

Finally, I want to thank my son, Richard, who produces, directs and edits all of the Swimisodes for the Race Club and who produced all three of our DVD’s. Richard’s quest for the highest quality production in every aspect is genuine. All of us at The Race Club are proud of him and we hope you will enjoy his work. Most important, we hope that the new Race Club Swimisodes will help you swim faster.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr


Ramp Up Your Freestyle Kick The Race Club Way – Swim Training

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The propulsive power that one derives from the freestyle kick depends on pushing a large surface area backward in the water quickly. The backward movement of the kick occurs in the down kick and depends on the strong muscles of the quadriceps and the hip flexors to drive the foot back with speed, along with the core muscles. The fastest kickers in the world have developed these specific muscles into very powerful ones in order to achieve this goal.

MAXIMAL POWER

To build maximal power in the kicking motions, some of the muscle development will come from doing lots of kicking in the pool. The rest must come from doing dry land or strength training, where the resistance to motion can become much greater than that produced by the water.

LEG EXTENSIONS IN THE GYM

One of my favorite exercises for the down kick is leg extensions in the gym. Enough weight should be placed on the machine while in the sitting position to make 50 reps manageable, yet the last 10 reps need to feel as if the legs will fall off at any moment. The muscles must scream with pain. Doing 3 sets of those, while allowing only about 30 degrees of knee bend, will simulate the motion of the down kick. Remember that in the water, too much knee bend results in too much frontal drag.

DRY LAND KICKING

freestyle kickTo work the hip flexors and core, at The Race Club we do lots of dry land kicking. My favorite is 3 sets of one-minute flutter kicks on shoulders (vertically), elbows (horizontally) and what I call flick kicks, which are extremely fast-motion kicks with the ankles loose and a modest amount of knee bend. The last ones are the most difficult. We repeat these three-minute exercises three times, the last two using 3-5 lb ankle weights secured with Velcro straps.

DEVELOPING THE UP KICK

To develop the up kick, we use the leg flexion machine lying face down, but instead of bending the knees, we recommend lifting the legs straight, using lower back, hamstring and calf muscles. Since the muscles used in this motion are not as strong as the quads, 30 reps are recommended. The straight leg motion is closer to the actual up kick motion in the water. On dry land, we recommend alternating leg and arm lifts from the prone position, keeping both arms and legs off the ground for one minute.

Traditional leg squats and leg presses are a good way to help your starts and turns, but don’t do much to help the actual kicking motion.

VASA / ERG – THE RACE CLUB WAY 

Finally, working in collaboration with VASA, the swim bench company, The Race Club has made some modifications to their Ergometer model to be able to develop kicking strength using shock cords. The motions on the new bench are very similar to the kicking motions in the water and the tension on the cords can be varied to the desired resistance. We build them on demand.

You can find some of these recommended exercises on the following Race Club Swimisode: http://theraceclub.com/videos/swimming-drills-secret-tip-legs-inertia/

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Freestyle Kicking Power Requires Plantar Flexibility

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

Having great plantar flexibility of the ankle is a prerequisite for developing a stronger, faster flutter kick. Having the plantar flexibility alone does not insure one of having a fast flutter kick, as that also requires strength, fitness and the proper mechanical motion of the legs. However, without having the flexibility of the ankle, one has no chance of kicking very fast.

The way that most elite swimmers increase plantar flexibility of the ankle is through years of kicking freestyle or dolphin kick. Over time, the force of the foot backward in the water will stretch the anterior ankle ligaments, enabling a greater surface area to push against the water, creating a stronger force.

If you don’t want to wait years for this to happen, there are ways to shortcut the process using dryland and stretching exercises. One of the best devices for this purpose was called the Rack, and was produced by Finis. With this device, the swimmer would place his foot under a nylon strap mounted on a plastic frame. Then he would lie back with the knee bent slightly. By placing pressure against the knee from above, the anterior ankle ligaments could be stretched. Unfortunately, Finis stopped making the device a few years back, undoubtedly because coaches did not appreciate its value.

One can achieve a similar stretch by placing the foot under a heavy couch that is no more than a few inches off the ground. By lying back with the top of the foot under the edge of the couch will put a big stretch on the anterior ankle ligaments.

I also like the exercise of sitting on the tops of the feet with the knees perched in the air, hands off the ground. For those with poor plantar ankle flexibility, this position may be very difficult, if not impossible, to reach without support of the arms or by leaning backwards. The bum should be placed all the way back on the feet and the duration of the stretch is two minutes.

By doing this stretch daily, I have seen significant gains in ankle flexibility made in less than one week. Once a certain level of plantar flexibility is achieved, the swimmer can advance to a more challenging exercise, called freestyle squat pushups. This exercise improves ankle flexibility and also develops leg strength for the kick. You can see how these pushups are done in the following Race Club video link: http://theraceclub.com/videos/secret-tip-dynamic-static-and-proprioceptive-stretching/

In conclusion, if you want to build a stronger kick, start by improving ankle flexibility. By doing these recommended ankle stretches or exercises every day, you will begin to see your kicking times improve right away.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Why Strong Freestyle Kicks Really Matter

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

This is part II of Building a Better Freestyle or Flutter Kick.

THERE IS MORE TO A STRONG KICK THAN FLEXIBILITY.

For the down kick, the quadriceps, hip flexors and core muscles have to be incredibly strong in order to create a quick snap of the foot backwards. Since the kicking motion occurs over and over again at a very high rate, the leg muscles also need to be incredibly fit. With a freestyle stroke rate of 100 (fifty right arms, fifty left arms per minute), a six beat kick produces a kicking stroke rate of 600 kicks per minute. To sustain that for very long, the legs had better be fit.

SO WHAT ABOUT THE UP KICK?

The 600 kicks per minute would also include 300 up kicks. How important are those? It turns out, they are very important. Working the legs and feet on the up kick, using the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles, hamstrings, and lower back, produces a nice vortex of current (a wake) following the path of the foot. Add this to the wake of the body moving forward in the water and one has a nice stream of water to push against on the down kick. In other words, a good up kick leads to a more powerful subsequent down kick. It gives the foot more to push against than still water. It also leads to a faster kick cycle, meaning a higher kicking stroke rate.

THERE IS NO RECOVERY TIME FOR THE KICK.

One of the biggest differences between the pull and kick is that there really is no recovery time for the kick. Granted, no one can sustain a really hard six beat kick for 800 meters or longer, but for any race of elite swimmers shorter than that, the legs never stop working. Furthermore, the kicking speed really determines the baseline speed of the swim. If you want to elevate your game in freestyle, improving and sustaining your kicking speed is a good place to start.

Read The Importance of the Upkick: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/importance-upkick/

Watch Secret Tip on Legs: Stabilizing Force:http://theraceclub.com/videos/secret-tip-legs-stabilizing-force/ 

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


How to Build Stronger Freestyle Kick Mechanics

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To build a better freestyle kick, one must first understand where the propulsive power of the kick is derived and how to balance the two opposing forces of propulsion and frontal drag, in order to maximize the kicking speed.

THE BATTLE BETWEEN FRONTAL DRAG FORCES AND PROPULSIVE FORCES

As with the pulling motion, there is a battle going on between frontal drag forces and propulsive forces. Unlike the arms, however, where some propulsion is attained from the forearm, wrist and hand, all of the propulsion from the kick is derived from the foot. In fact, all of the propulsion from the kick comes from the down kick of the foot, not the up kick.

AN EXTREMELY FLEXIBLE ANKLE

In order to create a propulsive force in the water, the foot, like the hand, must be moving backward relative to the water. There is really only one point in the kicking cycle where that happens and that is at the beginning of the down kick. For a very brief time, perhaps a tenth of a second or so, with the contraction of the strong quadriceps and hip flexors, enabled by an extremely flexible ankle, the foot moves backward in the water, creating the propulsive force. The amount of the force depends on the surface area pushing backward and speed or acceleration of that area. Both of those depend on strong leg muscles and great ankle flexibility.

INCREASING THE PLANTAR FLEXIBILITY OF THE ANKLE

There are only two ways I can think of to increase the surface area of the foot pushing backward on the down kick, short of growing a bigger foot. One is by bending the knee more in preparation for the down kick. The other is by increasing the plantar flexibility of the ankle, enabling the foot to start from a different position on the down kick. Bending the knee too much is a bad choice, as the frontal drag forces will more than compensate for the increased propulsion. What is the right amount of knee bend? You will see exactly in some of our upcoming Race Club webisodes. So that really leaves us with one good option for improving the kick, improve ankle flexibility.

Here’s some exercises to increase ankle flexibility: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/power-swim-kick-flex-appeal/

Understand the Propulsive Phase of the kick: http://theraceclub.com/videos/secret-tip-legs-propulsion/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Pace Edwards

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Hi Amy,

I wanted to pass on a note to Richard and your dad [Gary Hall Sr.]. First, I wanted to tell your dad that the story he told about being a great 10 and under and then how he was in a major slump for the 5 years following that with a break out season at 16, was very impactful on our Son, Pace. So thank you for that! Second, I wanted to give a huge compliment to Richard. He was amazing with the kids. He has a true gift of connecting with the younger swimmers. His patience and ability to change things up when they are not understanding, balanced with his ability to offer encouragement while correcting them is a unique talent. The kids were able to take in a lot of knowledge while having a great time! Pace, our oldest son, had lost a lot of confidence in his ability and was close to throwing in the towel this season, but because of your dad’s story and Richard’s ability to connect with him and give him some new found passion and confidence he is more than excited to race this season. Thank you all so much for making this weekend happen!

Emily (mom of Pace, 11, Dash 9, Scout 7)


Freestyle Flip Turn: Why the Breakout Matters

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Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The breakout is the final part of the freestyle flip-turn and it is also where mistakes are commonly made. A bad breakout can easily transform a good turn into a….not-so-good one. There are several important elements to performing a great freestyle breakout.

DOLPHIN KICK TRANSITION TO FLUTTER KICK

First, after the completion of the final dolphin kick, there must be an immediate transition to flutter kick. Any delay in this change over will cause the body speed to slow quickly, as the legs are the only source of propulsion, since leaving the wall.

PULLING MOTION INITIATED FROM THE STREAMLINE POSITION

Second, the pulling motion of the hand should be initiated from the streamlined position. There is a common tendency of swimmers to separate their hands and arms in front long before the first pull is started, increasing frontal drag.

PULLING MOTION IS STRAIGHT BACK, UNDER THE EDGE OF THE BODY

Third, the pulling motion of the hand should be straight back, under the edge of the body, not out to the side, then back. Avoiding the out sweep of the hand and arm will also help reduce frontal drag.

LEADING ARM STAYS STRAIGHT IN THE STREAMLINE

Fourth, the leading arm needs to be kept straight, in a streamline. Most swimmers will relax the front arm, while the other is initiating the pull. Even a small bend in the elbow of the leading arm will increase frontal drag significantly. I often tell swimmers to push the lead arm forward at the breakout, while the other pulls backward, as if they were finishing the race and reaching for the wall.

KEEP THE CHIN DOWN ON THE CHEST THROUGHOUT THE BREAKOUT

Finally, keep the chin down on the chest throughout the breakout. It is so tempting to want to look up to see where the surface is, but don’t do it. Lifting the head up has a horrible impact on increasing frontal drag. Trust that you pushed off the wall straight enough that when you take your first recovery stroke, you will find air up there.

BREATHING

With regard to breathing, if the race is 100 meters or less, it is preferable not to breathe on the first stroke or more. For 200 meters and up, that becomes impractical, as the need for oxygen outweighs the potential time gain of holding the breath on the first stroke.

In summary, don’t treat your turns lightly, as I did as a swimmer. Treat them with respect and as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience. Work all four parts of the freestyle turn diligently and constantly strive to make your dolphin kick faster and stronger. If you work your turns hard in practice, you will soon find that you are leaving your competition behind, rather than the other way around. That alone is worth the effort.

Watch Freestyle Flip Turn: The Pushoff and Breakout http://theraceclub.com/videos/fast-swimming-techniques-freestyle-flip-turn-push-breakout/

Read More: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/how-to-freestyle-flip-turn-part-iv-the-breakout/

Whether you’re a Masters Swimmer, triathlete or age group swimmer, come train with The Race Club in Islamorada, FL or Pacific Palisades, CA. Click here to signup.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


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