Aqua Notes

The Importance of Inertia in Swimming Fast

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The definition of inertia is the following: a body in motion wants to remain in motion, while a body at rest wants to remain at rest. It was first described by Galileo and later incorporated into the first of Newton’s three laws of motions. What does the law of inertia have to do with swimming? Lots.

Another way of looking at inertia is that it is far more efficient to keep a body moving at the same speed than it is to start it and stop it, or even slow it down, repeatedly. Because of inertia, we get better gas mileage on the freeway driving a constant speed of 70 mph than in town, averaging 35 mph, with lots of starts and stops.

As coaches, I think we often get hung up on the word ‘efficiency’. Efficiency is defined as the number of calories we burn to travel a certain distance in the water; in other words, it is our ‘gas mileage’ in the water. While that is important, efficiency per se does not win races. No one asks the winner of the Indianapolis 500 how the gas mileage was during the race. They don’t care. They just know that he or she got the checkered flag. The same goes with swimming. In order to be swimming fast and win races, we have to burn lots of calories. We simply cannot afford to waste them on unproductive motion.

In the sport of swimming, two of the four strokes conform more to the law of inertia than the other two. I call freestyle and backstroke the ‘freeway strokes’ and butterfly and breaststroke the ‘stop and go strokes’. It is partly due to inertia that the latter are either more difficult or slower than the former. Nonetheless, the law of inertia applies to all four strokes, as well as to starts and turns.

The reason that freestyle and backstroke conform more to the law of inertia than breast or fly is that there are more propulsive efforts occurring during each stroke cycle, particularly with a six-beat kick. In other words, there is less propulsive ‘down time’. The amount of propulsive ‘down time’ is important because as long as we are moving forward, frontal drag has no ‘down time’. That is, with our non-streamlined shape, frontal drag is working to slow us down at all times and quickly. Therefore, the only way we can keep a constant speed is by maintaining constant propulsion, which doesn’t happen with any stroke.

There are three ways to get on the freeway and maintain speed while swimming freestyle and backstroke; six beat kick, increased stroke rate and reducing frontal drag. At The Race Club, we focus on the importance of inertia and how each individual can try to best comply with our universe’s laws that rule us in the pool.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Finesse Your Freestyle

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Swimming fast is a skill that demands great strength and stamina. Yet swimming is neither baseball nor boxing. One cannot hit the water like a ball crushed over the center field wall or knock it out in the first round. One cannot simply power through the water. To swim fast, one also needs great timing and swimming finesse.

What does finesse mean with respect to swimming fast? In water, where frontal drag forces are so compelling, swimming finesse means learning to swim with the lowest possible drag forces. It means pulling with an arm motion that may seem totally inept or awkward, yet works better. Finesse means timing the powerful, but rarely appreciated coupling motions of body rotation and arm recovery to augment the pulling and kicking forces. Finesse means using a surge kick, a strong down kick that occurs shortly after the opposite hand entry, in order to increase the body’s speed when its drag coefficient is low, another timing issue. It also means dipping the head slightly underwater after the breath, at the same crucial time of maximum body speed. Finesse means avoiding the temptation to dig your arm deep into the water and muscle yourself across the pool. In swimming, finesse means using your brain, not your brawn.

The nuances of swimming fast are not easy to learn. Some require extraordinary flexibility, such as in the ankles and shoulders, in order to implement. All require great strength in the legs, core and upper back in order to sustain well. Yet, if we do not learn to finesse our freestyle, we will all succumb to the drag forces, much sooner than we would like.

While swimming is not very forgiving with respect to technique, there is some margin for error. It’s just not much. I call the permissible angle or bend of a swimmer’s body or limb motion the ‘threshold’ for frontal drag force. Bend your knee 35 degrees for a kick and you may be ok. Bend it 60 degrees or more and you come to a screeching halt. Drop your elbow on the pull by more than a few inches and the frontal drag forces go up a lot. Bending the knee more or dropping the elbow more results in more powerful propulsion. Unfortunately, getting to those positions causes so much frontal drag that the additional propulsive forces can’t overcome it. Don’t forget the law of inertia. Each time we slow down more, it takes a lot more force (and energy) to get us going again. The key to finessing your freestyle is to know what the thresholds are and to learn to swim within them.

One of the best tools I have found for learning more precisely where these thresholds are is the velocity meter technology. With the velocity meter, we measure your body speed (and acceleration/deceleration) at all points through your swimming cycle and synchronize them with video. By doing so we can measure your peak and trough velocities for both right and left arm strokes velocity meter analysisrepeatedly. You would be amazed at how very small deviations in technique lead to significant changes in speed in a very short period of time, tenths of seconds. With this technology we can identify exactly where the mistakes in swimming technique are being made and often repeated over and over again and how big a price is being paid for them in terms of loss of speed.

In my swimming career, which has spanned some 55 years and included 3 Olympic Games, most of my best swims were not the most exhausting. In fact, those feelings belonged to some of my worst swims. It wasn’t the exhilaration of setting a PR or even a World Record that made me feel as if the race was easier. I may have been physiologically or mentally more prepared on those great days, but I can also assure you that I swam with more finesse. I swam smarter races.

At The Race Club, we teach swimmers how to finesse the freestyle, how to swim smarter and faster. No matter what your age or experience level, you can still learn how to finesse your freestyle, to swim faster with less effort, and to feel really good after your race. Are you ready for that?

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

 


2 Ways to Evaluate a Swimmer for Breaststroke Kick

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Flexibility is a huge part of a swimmer’s ability. In freestyle, backstroke and fly, there are two joints that require extraordinary flexibility in order to excel, the shoulders (particularly extension) and plantar flexion of the ankle. Obviously, the former helps in the pulling motion and recovery, while the latter helps in the kicking speed.

In breaststroke, the two most important areas of mobility are in the lower (lumbar) spine and the hip, particularly with external rotation. A flexible lower back enables the swimmer to elevate higher during the pulling motion and create more coupling energy both for the pull and the following breaststroke kick. The external rotation of the hip enables a swimmer to create more surface area of the instep during the propulsion of the kicking motion.

At The Race Club we often say that swimming is a sport of tenths of seconds, millimeters and degrees. What is meant by that is that there is a small margin of error between getting it right or not. There is neither a lot of forgiveness nor mercy in the water. Breaststroke kick is a good example of that.

For every additional degree of external rotation in the hip, I would estimate that the propulsion from the kick increases by 5 -10 %. In other words, if one were to increase the external rotation of the hip by 5 degrees, one would achieve 25 to 50% more propulsive force with the same amount of effort, just by increasing the surface area of the instep pushing backward. To me, that seems worth fighting for.

There are two very simple tests to evaluate your swimmers’ mobility and potential to kick breaststroke fast. The first is the hip test. Have the swimmer sit on a chair or bench and cross the legs with one ankle on top of the thigh of the other leg. Flex the foot of the bent leg to protect the knee. Then, with arms stretched straight overhead, have the swimmer bend forward at the waist with a straight back, allowing the arms and hands to fall toward the ground. A good breaststroker (or at least potentially) will be able to put the palms of their hands all the way to the ground. A swimmer with limited external rotation in the hip will not even come close.

For those with limited hip flexibility, the same stretch can be used daily, holding the position for a minute or longer on each side, in order to improve the breaststroke kicking propulsion. There are many modifications of this hip stretch and just like in swimming technique, some work better based on the individual. When I was at Indiana University, I was an IMer with a very poor breaststroke (an extinct breed of IMer). My coach, Doc Counsilman, had me walk around for hours with what he called ‘alligator shoes’ on. These were a pair of high top Converse All-Stars nailed to a board angled at 45 degrees to the ground. The hope was to increase my ankle dorsi-flexion by lengthening the gastrocnemius muscle and tendon (calf and Achilles tendon). Unfortunately, that is like stretching a Trans-Atlantic cable….and I never did get much faster. We were just focused on the wrong place. The hip, which is a ball and socket joint, is a much easier place to increase mobility than stretching the Achilles tendon and gastrocnemius muscle.

The other test I use for breaststroke is to evaluate the flexibility of the lower back. First allow a proper warm up to loosen the low back and strengthen the core. Then, hold down the ankles of a prone swimmer and have them arch upwards with the upper body as far as they can. Olympian Rebecca Soni, can bend her body to nearly a 90 degree angle. Or one can do a back pushup, which requires considerable spinal flexibility and arm strength. The closer the swimmer can bring their hands toward the feet on the ground, the more flexibility is present in the lower back. There are modifications to begin increasing low back flexibility to slowly work up to these back bending exercises.

A strong kick is a key to swim fast breaststroke. As much as 80% of a swimmer’s propulsion in breaststroke comes from the kick. The power of the kick depends on having a large surface area of the instep accelerating quickly backward, coupled with the energy of the upper body pressing forward and the head snapping downward. To do well, both motions require extraordinary flexibility in the back and hip, plus strong legs and core.

Do these two simple mobility tests for each of your swimmers. If your swimmers don’t have enough hip mobility, either develop a stretching/dryland program whereby they can develop more, or don’t focus on the IM or breaststroke. Either option is acceptable. Just don’t expect them to swim fast breaststroke without having this type of flexibility.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

Watch Swimisodes Breaststroke Wall Kick


What the Heck Am I Doing Here?

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Gary Hall Jr won Olympic silver medals at the 96 Olympics; he then took time off, and returned to win the gold at the 2000 Olympics.

When things inevitably get tough in life and in sport, the greatest threat often arises insidiously from within our minds in the form of the question: “What the heck am I doing here?”

This question is never asked when things are fun, the answer is just too obvious then, but it waits for us, lurking in our moments of greatest exhaustion, pain and weakness. A champion is so much more than just medals and titles. A champion is a good answer to this question.

This question cuts through to the very essence of our being. There can’t be a shadow of doubt. At that desperate moment, when faced with this profound self-inquiry, there better be an honest answer. If you don’t have one, or are not honest with yourself at that point about exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it, you are going to be in trouble as everything falls apart.

As Friedrich Neitzche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”. The answer to that profound question of “what the heck am I doing here?” is what makes your mind your weapon or your weakness. The answer gets you up before the sun and drives you beyond your comfort zone and sustains you out there. This answer is the essence of toughness and applies to everything, from enduring the last few miles of a marathon to the last few rounds of chemotherapy.

Rudyard Kipling so eloquently expressed this type of mental fortitude with these lines from his famous poem entitled If:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

Fundamentally this type of endurance only arises if your answer to the question of “What am I doing here?” is good enough. It can’t come from anyone else but yourself, and no one else has to know it. The actual answer is unimportant; what is important is that you believe it wholeheartedly.

For me, I know. The answer is always changing, but to me, it’s always a good one; it has to be. I do it because I love it, because I can, for those who can’t, and because it’s a beautiful thing. A very good answer can sustain a sporting career for decades.

To gain experience, be consistent and enjoy longevity, one must not be afraid take time out to get re-inspired, re-focus and set new goals. The answer to our question is going to change as we change. In order to have a good answer it will become absolutely necessary to take a step back from the routine and the grind to reassess things and re-answer that question from time to time.

This is as much a part of being a champion as the act of consistently performing at the top of your game. Gary Hall Jr won Olympic silver medals at the ’96 Olympics; he then took time off, and returned to win the gold at the 2000 Olympics. Then after again taking almost two years off focusing on other interests, he returned to live a spartan existence of tirelessly toiling after perfection for another two years, despite suffering from diabetes, to once again win the gold at the 2004 Olympics.

For him, the answer to that simple but profound question of “What the heck am I doing here?” was worth more than all the minor competitions missed and passionless days of going through the motions during his years away from the sport. His answer, even though he took time away to find it, ensured his longevity, which gave him the experience to finish on top the Olympic podium quadrennial after quadrennial.

I am always impressed by consistency more than anything else when it comes to athletes and their sporting careers. From experience, I know that behind the impressive consistency lies great willpower, tenacity and toughness that arises from having a perfect answer to the question, and I always wonder what it might be for each person.

-George Bovell

• Find George on Twitter: @georgebovell

Watch George Freediving and Spearfishing

Watch George in Swimming Technique

Watch George in Dryland Stretching Exercises

george bovell

How to Effectively Do a Slingshot Start

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There are two options for the track start using the back footplate, weight forward or weight backward (slingshot). Before the introduction of the footplate, on the elite men’s side, there was an equal mix of both techniques being used, with neither having a clear advantage over the other. On the elite women’s side, most women used the weight forward technique.

Once the back footplate was introduced, the dynamics of the start changed and today, most elite swimmers prefer the slingshot technique, shifting their weight to the more favorable angle of the back plate. But not all do.

The advantages of the slingshot start are that one can more effectively use the arms, shoulders and both legs to create the propulsive forces, first the back leg, then the front. With the weight forward start, while virtually all of the propulsive force comes from the front leg, this technique generally allows the swimmer to get off the block faster.

With either technique, when the command to take your mark is given, the fingers must grip the front of the block or the bars that run parallel on the top of the block tightly while the arms pull upward. It does not seem to matter too much if the arms are straight or bent slightly for this motion, so long as there is tension on the arms. At The Race Club, we believe that given the option of the bars on top of the block, it is better to grab a hold of them as far forward as possible, rather than grabbing the front of the block. That allows the bend of the knee and waist to be slightly less, creating a mechanical advantage.

If using the slingshot technique, while pulling upward with the arms, you want to feel the weight of the body shift from the front foot to the back foot, being careful not to lean back too much. If you are leaning backward too far, it simply takes too long to get off the block. Moving the body just five or ten degrees backward will cause the shift in weight to occur. Once you feel the majority of the weight on the back foot, stop the motion backward and wait for the beep. The back foot should not be flat, but the heal slightly off the plate. The head should be kept in the neutral or slightly forward-extended position. If using the weight forward technique, the body weight will remain on the front foot, while pulling upward with the arms.

To be in the best possible readiness for the start, there is a right amount of tension one needs to place on the arms and legs. If one is too tense, putting too much pressure on either arms or legs, there is a good chance of flinching, resulting in a disqualification. Too relaxed and one cannot react fast enough or with the required force to get a great start. On a scale of one to ten, where one is completely relaxed and ten is like a twig ready to snap, the right amount of tension will be around a seven. That amount of tension seems to enable a swimmer to create enough force without losing control.

A lot of attention is being given to so-called reaction times, posted for each swimmer on the scoreboard after the start. These times represent the time lapse between the sound of the beep and the front toes leaving the block, which is not really the reaction time. Since the weight-forward starters do not have as far to go to get off of the block, they will nearly always post faster start times. What really matters, however, is where the swimmer breaks out in comparison to all the other swimmers in the race, not how fast they left the block. Most of the elite weight-forward starters that I have seen stay under water for seven to eight fast dolphin kicks, so the speed of the dolphin kick can also influence the technique one chooses.

With either technique you prefer, by following these instructions, you will now be cocked and ready for the starter’s beep. Get ready for our Swimisodes Slingshot Start to launch next week. Watch the first video in our start series: Swimisodes -Swimming Starts – How to Position Your Feet https://theraceclub.com/videos/swimisodes-swimming-starts-position-feet/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Magic of The Relaxed Wrist

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Have you ever noticed that the fastest swimmers in the pool typically look like they are swimming with less effort than the slower ones? It is not a coincidence. There is a reason and it is mostly in the relaxed wrist.

The part of the swimmer we see during the freestyle race is the part above the water…the back of the head, the back, the feet breaking the surface, and the recovery of the arms. Although most of the real work is going on under the surface, the few tenths of a second that the arms are recovering above the water between each underwater pull turns out to be extremely important for the swimmer.

The human muscle can recover in a surprisingly short amount of time, if we give it a chance. If a muscle is relaxed for just a brief period, tenths of seconds, the ions involved in the exchange across the cell membranes, mostly sodium and potassium, necessary for a strong muscular contraction, can find their way back home in time for another good pull. If we keep the muscles tense and contracted, they fatigue much sooner. The muscles are simply unable to sustain the strong contractions for very long.

I am not certain what percentage of our total available muscle fibers are contracting during any one single freestyle pull, in any of the muscles involved in this motion (likely less than 50%), but it is significantly higher when the muscles have had an opportunity to recover than when they haven’t. Relaxing the wrist and hand on the recovery of the freestyle stroke enables the muscles in the arm to recover better than when the wrist is stiff and the fingers are clenched together. You don’t even need to be in the water to figure that out.

It seems like a simple proposition. Relax the wrist and fingers during the recovery and you will likely pull stronger and for a longer period of time, two desirable outcomes, particularly if you want to swim fast. Yet many swimmers don’t get it. In their overzealous attempt to quickly get to the other end of the pool, they never let go of their intensity. They never chill out on the recovery. When the arm moves over the top of the water, they look as if rigor mortis is setting in, completely stiff and un-relaxed. As a result, they get tired and don’t keep swimming fast.

Don’t underestimate the importance of relaxing the wrist and fingers during this recovery period. I haven’t seen a great swimmer yet that hasn’t learned that. At The Race Club, we spend a lot of time on one particular drill, the six-kick, one-stroke drill, stopping the hand at 12 o’clock, straight above the shoulder. At that point, the swimmer dangles the wrist from side to side for a second or two, before continuing on with the freestyle recovery. Even this simple drill is a challenge for many swimmers. At the top their recovery, the dangle looks more like a parade wave, rather than a hand that is connected to the forearm by a few threads, hanging down toward the water, pulled by gravity. In order to recover well, there has to be complete relaxation of the wrist and fingers.

It is surprising how this single act of relaxation of the hand and fingers during those few tenths of a second can not only make you look like a great swimmer, you will actually start to act like one, swimming faster. In life, it is commonly held that taking vacations is a good thing. They help to keep us energized and strong during our working months. The same could be said of taking a few ten-minute breaks during our workday. They keep us fresh and more productive.

Make your swim more productive. Take the break when you can get it, on the recovery, by relaxing your wrist and fingers to sustain a faster, stronger pulling motion. As my Masters coach in Phoenix, Troy Dalbey, used to tell me, “Swim with soft hands on the recovery”. Troy was right. Softer, relaxed hands make for faster swimmers.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Brian MacKenzie and Erin Cafaro MacKenzie join The Race Club team of Expert Technical Coaches

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Announcing strength training, nutrition and recovery consultants to expand the Race Club’s unparalleled swimming resource for optimal performance.

The extended Race Club family welcomes Brian MacKenzie and Erin Cafaro MacKenzie to their staff of consultants. Brian MacKenzie is a world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. He authored the book “Power Speed Endurance: A Skill Based Approach to Endurance Training”
and co-authored “UnBreakable Runner”. MacKenzie created CrossFit Endurance, which specializes in movement mechanics and programming. Believing nutrition is the foundation of all athletes, MacKenzie developed his own performance and recovery supplement, 3FU3L. All of MacKenzie’s companies, under Unscared Inc., are geared towards helping athletes of all levels and sports to push past their fears and limitations and actualize their true genetic potential. MacKenzie and his methods have been featured in many publications from Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Body to Men’s Journal to Triathlete Magazine and many more. He trains elite athletes from all over the world.

Erin Cafaro MacKenzie, a two time Olympic gold medalist in rowing, is an avid competitor in sport and life. Erin graduated from the University of California Berkley and was a member of the varsity team that won the 2005 and 2006 NCAA Division I Rowing Championships. At the International level she was a 19 time medalist, which included earning prestigious Gold Medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Summer Olympics in the Women’s 8+. Erin is currently a highly sought after coach within the competitive athletic community for helping beginners to elite level athletes of all sports get on the right track to winning. She is the Vice President of 3Fu3l (Sports Fuel), a nutrition company very conscious of clean and ethical products which allows tested and health conscious athletes a viable option for supplements. 3Fu3l was actually tested and created on Erin during her buildup to the London 2012 Olympics out of the necessity for a good clean supplement to fuel performance and recovery. Erin is also the Director of Operations at Unscared, Inc. As a decorated Olympian and high level coach Erin loves to share her experience and knowledge with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance.

Brian and Erin are based in Orange County, California. As Race Club consultants, they skype with clients from around the globe and do personal consultations with clients in the Orange County area. Swimmers and triathletes appreciate the individual and skill based approach to swimming faster. Brian and Erin enhance the Race Club ideologies and methods in the disciplines of Strength Training, Nutrition and Recovery. Click here to see rates and schedule skype appointments.


What Grade is Your Freestyle Recovery?

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When you fill up your tank at the gas station, usually you are offered three grades of gasoline, regular (low octane 87), mid range (about octane 91), and premium (high octane 93). The high-octane gas is more expensive, but it increases the energy and efficiency of the engine. It makes your car go faster.

In swimming, I like to describe the freestyle recovery as having three octane grades; low, medium and high. The lowest octane recovery means that the elbow is bent almost maximally, the length of the arm reduced by half, as it recovers from the release phase after the propulsion and moves to the front of the body for the next stroke cycle. This form of recovery requires the least amount of energy for a given stroke cycle rate, and not surprisingly, it is what we see in most distance freestyle swimmers.

When we get to shorter, middle-distanced races like the 100 and 200 meters, we often see the hand elevating from the water, with the elbow less bent on the recovery. This middle-octane form of recovery requires more work than the low-octane recovery, but produces more kinetic energy for the same stroke rate.

Finally, in the sprint freestyle event, the 50 meter, we often see the hand elevated even further, or even a complete straight-armed recovery, the high-octane recovery. With the arm straightened, the radius of the arm has now doubled from the low-octane recovery stroke. If the stroke rate is the same as with the low-octane recovery, the kinetic energy in this motion is quadrupled. In fact, we often see the stroke rate in the 50 sprint at around twice that of the distance swimmers, which means the energy in the recovering arm may be 8 times greater than for the distance swimmer. That requires a lot more work of the swimmer to create all that energy. So why do it?

Once the stroke rate gets above 80 or so, the recovering arm becomes one of the two coupling motions of the freestyler. The other is the rotating body. The degree of coupling, augmenting the force of the underwater pulling arm, or the kick, is proportional to the energy in the coupling motion. In other words, the more energy in the recovering arm and/or the rotating body, the further down the pool we swim with each pull, so long as the two motions are connected.

Just like in the car, the faster we want to swim, the more octane we need in the recovering motion. Sprinters need high octane in order to win, while distance swimmers often like to use low to medium octane recoveries, saving their energy for the body rotation and the underwater pull and kick.

It makes no sense to use a high-octane recovery, requiring a lot of effort, if the stroke rate is around 60 or slower, a hip-driven freestyle. The reason is that the pulling arm is held out front during most of the recovering motion and by the time it starts its propulsion, the recovering arm is already in the water and lost its kinetic energy. In other words, there is no coupling going on with the pull with this slow of a stroke rate. The motions are not connected.

Because of the sheer mass of the upper body, the rotation of the body is the most important coupling motion we have in freestyle. Therefore, regardless of the level of octane used in the recovery motion, one should always use a fast body rotation with the pulling arm in propulsive phase.

In teaching these various forms of freestyle technique at The Race Club, we often imagine that there is a string going from the shoulders straight up to the sky. With each stroke, we try to get the swimmers to bring the elbow up to the string. In this way, regardless of whether the recovering motion is low, medium or high octane, with the elbow at the string, the body (or at least the shoulders) must be rotated fully. That means that the body must turn quickly to the other side in order for the other elbow to reach the string. The quickness of the body rotation creates a lot of coupling energy for the underwater pull. One can then add the recovering arm’s energy to the body rotation, low for distance, medium for mid distance or high for sprints, to optimize the technique for each race.

No one leaves The Race Club without having at least two freestyle techniques, because there is no one technique that works well for all distances. Some, like Race Club swimmer and Olympic champion Nathan Adrian, change their technique during the race. Nathan often goes from a mid-octane freestyle recovery to a high-octane, straight-armed recovery with a higher stroke rate to finish his 100-meter freestyle. Nathan wins a lot of races that way.

If you need to tune up your engine, come to The Race Club and let us help you determine what grade of arm recovery you need in your freestyle events.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Gary Sr. Podcasts All Things Triathlon Swim Training with Kevin Koskella

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Kevin Koskella from Triswimcoach.com interviews Gary Hall Sr. on all things triathlon swim training in this podcast.
-Gary Hall Sr. background
-How to accomplish varying goals
-Triathletes, masters, and age group swimmers
-Mindset – “I am a swimmer”
-Body limitations & core strength
-Minimizing drag and maximizing propulsion
-Hip driven/Shoulder driven freestyle
-Velocity meter 
-Importance of high elbow & stroke rate
-Importance of drag drills
-Swim bench
-Tips for triathletes: flip turns & more

References:

The Race Club – http://theraceclub.com
Velocity meter – http://theraceclub.com/swim-camps/swim-video-analysis/
Tempo Trainer – Tempo Trainer
Freestyle Pull- drag drills: http://theraceclub.com/videos/swimisodes-freestyle-how-to-pull-underwater/
Upcoming Race Club swim camps: http://theraceclub.com/swim-camps/

Listen on iTunes or by clicking here.


The Power of the Surge

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At The Race Club, I often ask our campers where is the fastest place one can swim in the water. As you can imagine, most of them say below the surface, but the answer is, of course, above the water, or hydroplaning. Unfortunately, it is estimated that in order to hydroplane, the human body needs to be going around 15 miles an hour, or faster. With world record speed in the 50 at just over 5 miles an hour, I don’t think we will be seeing anyone hydroplaning soon.

So, if we can’t swim on top of the water, where is the next best place to be? Under water is the next best place (our campers aren’t too far off). In fact, swimmers with very strong kicks are able to go faster underwater, with legs only, than they can swim on the surface with arms and legs going at full speed. Part of the reason for this is because the pulling motion contributes to both propulsion and frontal drag. However, the biggest reason is because of surface or wave drag.

Surface drag occurs only when the swimmer is on the surface and is caused by the body moving through the interface between air and water. Just like a boat, swimmers create a small bow wave, mostly from the head, as they move through the water on the surface. Surface drag is as significant for a swimmer as it is for a submarine. Submarines go much faster under water than they go on the surface, and so do humans.

When we speak of underwater movement of the swimmer, most coaches think in terms of starts and turns, and after 15 meters the swimmer is, by the rules, relegated to the surface. Indeed, the underwater speed on both starts and turns is extremely important. What most coaches don’t realize is that each stroke has an underwater phase…or at least it should. Breaststroke is the most obvious one, where in all but the 50, where stroke rates approach 60 or higher, the body submerges completely during the strike phase after the kick propulsion. That is when the breaststroker achieves the greatest speed; when he/she surges forward.

Though it is less noticeable, there is also an under water surge phase in freestyle, fly and backstroke. The under water surge should occur at the peak velocity in the stroke cycle, so the drag coefficient is lowest when the speed is highest. Frontal drag is proportional to the speed squared, not just the speed. In freestyle, the peak velocity occurs when one hand first enters the water. For hybrid freestylers, like Phelps, Lochte or Ledecky, or hip-driven freestylers, liked Sun Yang, the surge occurs right after the breath stroke, when the head submerges momentarily. In butterfly, the underwater surge occurs after the second down kick, when both hands have entered the water and head is tucked down. In backstroke, one often sees a slight trickle of water come over the face of the swimmer as the hand is nearing entry into the water, the surge point.

In order to surge, a swimmer has to create propulsive forces to surge with, and, at the right time, the swimmer must be under water. The propulsion comes from two sources substantially, the hands and the feet. One can augment the propulsive forces of the hands and feet by using coupling motions in all four strokes. In freestyle and backstroke, the coupling motions are the rotating body and, depending on the stroke rate, the recovering arm. In breaststroke, the coupling motions that augment the kicking force are the downward pressing of the upper body and snapping down of the head. The coupling motion that augments the pull is the upward motion of the upper body and head. In butterfly, the coupling motions are primarily the arms swinging forward and the head snapping down, timed with the second down kick. We are just beginning to understand how important these coupling motions are to swimmers to increase power, speed and distance per stroke.

I never would have believed that someone could swim a 200 meter butterfly in 1:55 with a stroke rate of 31 (typical stroke rates are 48 or so in the 200). Yet Yajima Yuma from Japan did that in the World University Games recently, maximizing the force of his strong kick with an elevated diving body, strong forward arm swing and head snapping down, all coupling motions, into an underwater surge in a streamlined position. That swim is a testament to the power of coupling.

Do not underestimate the importance of getting the head and most of the body underwater during the surge phases of each stroke. One millimeter under water is enough to eliminate the surface drag. Although in the 50 sprints, because of the high stroke rates, we would be hard pressed to say that there is any significant surge point, in all other races, surging underwater is a key to fast swimming.

Best in swimming,

Gary Sr.