Aqua Notes

How to Maximize Swimming Starts With the Back Footplate

Leave a comment

Originally published on SwimSwam.com

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.


Coupling Motions Boost Distance Per Stroke

2 Comments

Published on SwimSwam.com

Have you ever noticed that leaner men or women often swim faster than bigger, stronger men or women? Reducing frontal drag is certainly one of the reasons why a leaner body may have the potential to swim faster, but there is another reason, called coupling motions.

A coupling motion is defined as kinetic energy created within the body that augments the effect of the propulsive forces. These motions can occur either at the same time the propulsive forces are acting, or while the effect of the propulsive forces are still occurring. In swimming, the propulsive forces are nearly all derived from the hands and the feet, as those (along with the forearm) are the only parts that actually move backward in the water as the body moves forward. Yet there are many other motions of the body that can be used to enhance those propulsive forces.

Perhaps the easiest way to comprehend the effect of coupling motions is by visualizing a great relay takeoff. As the swimmer in the water approaches the wall, the swimmer on the block will step forward, first with one foot, then with the other. This sets the body in motion toward the desired goal of jumping as far out over the water as possible, taking advantage of the law of inertia. This motion is similar to the result that a long jumper running down the runway will have compared to a standing long jumper.

The swimmer on the relay also will swing the arms fully extended in a backward circle as fast as he or she can while pushing off the block with the feet. The kinetic energy of the arm swing is increased by lengthening the arms maximally (radius) and by swinging the arms as fast as possible (angular velocity). The act of swinging the arms does not lead to any direct propulsive forces that help the swimmer get off the block, but when coupled with the force of the legs pushing the swimmer, that motion results in a longer jump. The parts of the body are not working as an isolated system, but rather connected together in an open system, where all the motions of one part affect, either positively or negatively, the propulsive forces created by another. Further, all motions are also affected by outside forces in this open system, such as gravity and frontal drag, which impact our swimming speed.

There are other less important coupling motions that occur on the relay start, such as lifting the head forward during the jump and kicking the back leg up in the air, but the net result of all of these coupling motions acting during the time the force of the push off the block is still taking place, result in a better relay take off. Coupling motions not only occur in swimming, but in virtually every sport. The long jumper continues to move his legs and arms while in the air. The golfer or baseball player rotates the body and swings the hips forward to get a longer drive or a hit the ball more powerfully.

The coupling motions of a swimmer differ for each of the four strokes. In freestyle and backstroke, for example, the rotation of the body and the recovering arm swinging over the top of the water during an underwater pull can augment the distance a swimmer travels from the force of each pull (Distance Per Stroke or DPS). The faster the body is rotating and the longer and faster the arm is recovering, the greater the effect of the coupling motion. In breaststroke and butterfly, most of the coupling motions occur during the kick, not the pull. In breaststroke, the lunge forward of the upper body and head, timed precisely with the backward kicking motion, results in a longer glide after the kick. In butterfly, the swing of straight arms over the top of the water and the snap down of the head are coupled with the second down kick, resulting in more distance traveled from that kick.

If coupling motions really make us swim faster, why doesn’t everyone do them? The reason is that they require work, over and over again. It is much easier to swim by minimizing the energy in these coupling motions, but we swim much slower. In order to swim fast, we need to put a lot of energy into the effort, but it must be spent intelligently. Motions that do not couple with our propulsive forces or that lead to a huge increase in frontal drag will simply wear us down.

No one said swimming fast was easy, but one must also swim smart by using coupling motions. Read more about the Science of Coupling here: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/freestyle-recovery/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Why Head Position in Backstroke Matters, Plus 2 Drills for Head Position

2 Comments

Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The fundamentals of backstroke are the same as for freestyle. Although the biomechanics change some when one rotates from the freestyle to the backstroke position, all of the basic laws and forces governing technique remain the same. In other words, we want to reduce frontal drag as much as possible, increase propulsive power as much as possible and try to comply with the law of inertia.

COMMON MISTAKES

When it comes to reducing frontal drag, one of the most common mistakes made is elevating the head too much. As in freestyle, the elevation of the head creates two problems. It causes the hips and legs to drop down resulting in a bad body position for drag and it increases surface or wave drag by not allowing the bow wave to go over the face.

HEAD POSITION

Head position in backstroke is an example of the conflict between the positions of propulsive power and reduced frontal drag that occur in swimming. For maximum biomechanical propulsive power in backstroke, the head needs to be elevated and the back straightened, while the body rotates from side to side. To reduce frontal drag, the head needs to be laid back with extension of the lumbar spine just enough to allow a small trickle of water to go over the goggles. Fortunately, because the times at which maximum propulsion from the pull and maximum body speed during the stroke cycle occur are different, with respect to both frontal drag and power, one can have his cake and eat it, too.

A SMALL STREAM OF WATER OVER THE FACE

Frontal drag is exponentially related to the object’s speed, so it is important that the position of lowest drag occurs precisely when the speed is highest and that is when the hand enters the water. At that point, or slightly before, one should be able to see a small stream of water pass over the face. To the backstroker, as opposed to the freestyler, where one cannot tell if the water is going over the back of the head or not, the end point is easily discernible by seeing a small amount of water stream over the goggles.

ACHIEVING MAX POWER

To achieve maximum propulsive power from the arm pull, the backstroker needs to be on his side with the back flexed slightly and the head elevated some. This position of power should occur just a few tenths of a second after the hand enters the water, during what is called the catch phase of the pull.

THE MINI-CRUNCH

The different times in the stroke cycle that these two important facts occur enable the swimmer to move from one position to the other with each stroke taken, taking advantage of the different forces that occur at each position. This slight change from extension to flexion of the lumbar spine essentially requires the same motion as doing a mini-crunch in the water, over and over again. This motion, along with body rotation, requires tremendous core strength to do well and often.

TWO DRILLS FOR HEAD POSITION

Two of our favorite drills to help establish good head position for backstroke are kicking in a streamline on the back, allowing the face to go slightly underwater after each breath, followed by swimming backstroke using a similar head motion. The second drill is sculling on the back with arms extended over head, allowing the face to drop beneath the water after each breath, followed by a swim in a similar head position.

You can learn more about head position in backstroke by watching our recently released Race Club swimisode featuring World Champion backstroker, Junya Koga.

HTTP://WWW.THERACECLUB.COM/VIDEOS/SWIMISODES-BACKSTROKE-JUNYA-KOGA-HEAD-POSITION/


10 Ways to Improve Health and Swimming Performance

8 Comments

Nutrition is so important for swimmer’s health and performances, I consider it to be one of the five essential disciplines needed to reach maximum potential in swimming. The other four are swim training, strength training, mental training and recovery.

Nutrition is also one of the most controversial of the five disciplines. It is hard to find two people that agree on what one should or should not eat. Also, it seems that recommendations change from one year to the next. I was fortunate to have two parents that were genuinely concerned about nutrition and that, as an athlete, I was eating what they considered to be ideal foods. The thinking about what was ideal then compared to what is ideal today is much different.

The greatest education I have received regarding the value of nutrition occurred in 2000, when The Race Club was training 13 sprinters for the Olympic Games in Sydney, including Anthony Ervin and my son, Gary Jr. For the first 2 months of training, we covered four of the five disciplines mentioned above, but forgot about nutrition.

Our swimmers were on a very tight budget and were eating inexpensive junky fast food at least twice per day, rotating among McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s. Their performances in practice, under coach Mike Bottom, were severely lacking in quality. Finally, Mike and I huddled one day about their lackluster training, took a trip through their apartments, checking the cupboards only to find mostly sugar cereals and processed foods. It then dawned on us that bad nutrition was the cause of the poor training.

We immediately called on Mike’s friend from Los Olivos, California, Dr. Doug Herthel, founder of Platinum Performance products. Dr. Herthel flew over to spend a day with us and changed everything about the Race Club swimmers’ diet.

Two Platinum bars were given to each swimmer for breakfast each morning to replace the sugar cereal. Freshly baked chicken and beef pot pies were brought in for lunch with fresh vegetables and fruit. Platinum Performance supplements were given between practices. Dinner was on their own, but since it was the only meal they had to pay for, the rule was no fast food nor processed food allowed.

The results of this change in diet were immediate and impressive. Within days, practice times improved dramatically and recovery times shortened. Confidence levels rose so much that 10 of the sprinters made their country’s Olympic Team and the six Americans in the group won 10 Olympic medals for the USA, one tenth of the total medal haul for our country in all sports combined. Had we not changed their diet and added the Platinum supplements, that never would have happened.

To improve health and swimming performances, here are 10 of our most valuable nutritional recommendations from The Race Club:

  1. Avoid all fast food restaurants
  2. Avoid all processed foods
  3. Avoid gluten (bread, pasta, grains etc)
  4. Avoid dairy products (butter is not a dairy product)
  5. Eat a lot of protein (fish, chicken, meat, nuts)
  6. Rely more on healthy fat for calories
  7. Hydrate during and after practice with a non-sugar carbohydrate drink (Vitargo S2 for example)
  8. Eat sweet potatoes and fresh fruit often as a source of complex carbohydrates (organic)
  9. Eat lots of fresh or lightly cooked vegetables (organic is better)
  10. Post-pubescent swimmers supplement meals with products from reliable, high-quality-controlled manufacturers. Pre-pubescent swimmers should take daily vitamin supplements, including D3.

For further reading on the subject, I recommend the New York Times bestselling book, Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC. Click here for more information about Platinum Performance supplements. No supplements should be taken that are included on the anti-doping association lists of banned substances, nor that have known harmful side effects when taken in recommended dosages.

Here is to leaner, healthier bodies and faster swimmers!

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Dolphin Kick Breaststroke with Rebecca Soni

3 Comments

We asked Olympic Gold Medalist, Rebecca Soni what she thought of using dolphin kick breaststroke drill in practice. She shares how she got through some tough workouts and how important it is to feel the water. Reb explains some of the qualities that make strong swimmers in racing and in life.

“Dolphin Kick Breaststroke drill is one of my favorites! For me, the biggest benefit of this drill is being able to work on the timing of the stroke. To me, the timing is the most important variable in this stroke! And there is no better way to work on it than through different drills. When doing this drill, I always like to harness the feeling of falling forward in the stroke. It is this feeling that I chase, both in practice and in competition.
Whenever I think back on my swimming career, there are many memories that come up of workouts, those great workouts, and the not-so-great workouts. But the biggest thing to remember is that even during a rough workout, you are still getting a lot out of it! In fact, I think you are learning more from a workout that doesn’t go so well. You are learning how to deal with challenge, and how to be patient and open and accepting of yourself. These qualities are much more important than having a perfect workout!”

 

-Reb Soni, 2 time Olympian and 6 time Olympic Medalist

Watch the Swimisode: Dolphin Kick Breaststroke with Rebecca Soni and Zach Hayden

 


Vinyasa Yoga for Swimmers – Shoulders

Leave a comment

At The Race Club, we believe that Yoga is one of the best forms of dry land training for swimmers. In 2008, all of our Race Club swimmers training for Beijing incorporated two Vinyasa Yoga sessions per week in which movement is synchronized with breath. The swimmers liked Yoga and felt that they benefitted from these sessions. In 2008, Rebecca Soni abandoned her traditional strength training and stretching routine in favor of doing Yoga. As a result, she felt stronger in breaststroke and swam faster.

Yoga can help swimmers in several different ways. First, it improves flexibility of key joints used in the swimming motions. Second, it can help reduce the chance of injury from overusing selected joints or muscles. Third, it can help build strength and stamina in the core, upper body and legs, depending on how it is done. Finally, it helps improve breathing, relaxation, recovery and mental training, all needed to become a better swimmer. Yoga is more than exercise. It helps improve health and lifestyle.

There are so many different types of and moves in Yoga, that one cannot really refer to the benefits of Yoga without being more specific. Consequently, we have developed different Vinyasa Yoga workouts for swimmers that focus on three different areas of strength; core, shoulders and legs. This first Yoga #Swimisode will focus on strengthening shoulders and features all of our Race Club Olympic and world-class swimmers, led by Race Club coach, Amy Hall.

With Amy leading, you won’t need to have a Yoga instructor come to your swimming practice, nor take your swimmers to the Yoga studio. Just set up the computer near the pool, lay down some mats and get your swimmers started. Watch Yoga for Swimmers Shoulders.

Use #yogaforswimmers when you tweet about yoga or share your yoga pics on FB or insta.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Develop Explosive Power and Flexibility – Dryland Training

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

4 Comments

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

1 Comment

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


« Previous   1 2 ... 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 ... 28 29   Next »