Aqua Notes

Freestyle Kicking Power Requires Plantar Flexibility

3 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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

2 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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.


Freestyle Flip Turn: Streamline Dolphin Kick, Dolphin Kick Technique, Number of Kicks

1 Comment

originally published on SwimSwam.com

THE STREAMLINE – THE PHELPS METHOD

What happens between the time the feet leave the wall and the breakout is the most controversial and variable part of the freestyle flip turn. It is also when the most time is either gained or lost. The first controversy is over the best way to streamline. While not all coaches agree, I believe the technique that Michael Phelps uses is the fastest way possible. His elbows are squeezed together behind his head (not against his ears), such that two arms become nearly joined as one. His arms are pushed forward in the shoulder joint as far as possible, which tightens and lengthens the entire body. The chin is held very near the chest.

Since the body is leaving the wall (with a strong push) at a speed of around 8 miles an hour, the push had better be straight and the arms streamlined. Otherwise, with the frontal drag forces being proportional to the velocity squared, any non-streamlined shape will amplify the problem. The streamline must be maintained diligently all the way through the underwater pathway, including the breakout.

NUMBER OF DOLPHIN KICKS

The second controversy has to do with the number of underwater dolphin kicks to be taken. In my opinion, that depends on the speed of the underwater dolphin kick versus the speed of the swimmer on the surface doing freestyle. The faster the kick relative to the swim, the more kicks underwater should be taken up to the number needed to reach the maximum allowable 15 meters (For Phelps that is seven kicks). Since most swimmers have kick speeds considerably slower than their swim speeds, they should be taking the minimum number of dolphin kicks to reach the breakout. Typically, on a turn, that is two dolphin kicks and on a start, three kicks. In an effort to be like Michael, too many coaches are advocating that their swimmers stay underwater too long. Build the kick first.

DOLPHIN KICK TECHNIQUE

The technique of the dolphin kick is also frequently wrong. The kick needs to start from the hip rather than the knees to avoid increasing frontal drag from too much knee bend. The kick cycle time needs to be fast and the forces need to be applied in both directions with the feet, not just with the down kick. No whale kicks….just snapper kicks. Too often, swimmers apply way more effort to the down kick than to the up kick. A strong up kick will make the subsequent down kick more forceful. I often tell my swimmers not to let go of the water with their feet, so that they apply force in both directions.

When the swimmer leaves the wall, the feet should be planted with the toes pointing upward. The rate of rotational speed back to the stomach is important. The swimmer does not want to stay on his back long, nor does he want to flip over too quickly on to the stomach. The best rotational speed seems to be a steady, continuous rotation from back to side to stomach. So long as the body is straight, a slower speed of rotation will not slow the body speed down, nor will a faster rotational speed increase the body’s velocity. When it comes to rotation off the wall, a steady medium speed wins the race.

PUSHING OFF ON YOUR SIDE

Some coaches advocate that the swimmer stay on his side for as much of the underwater segment as possible, with the final quarter turn to the stomach occurring just at the moment before breakout. The rationale for doing this is that the swimmer is faster on his side (less frontal drag) than on his stomach. While I have no objection to using this technique, I do not agree that the frontal drag of the human body is less on its side than it is on its stomach. I believe it is about the same, as the kicking speed is about the same in both positions.

Finally, the question of when to start the first dolphin kick is important. Since the body’s speed is so high when the toes leave the wall, bending the legs for the first kick too early will decelerate the body’s speed too much. Gliding too long, even with a great streamline, also creates a problem as the speed will have slowed so much by the time the first kick occurs that the propulsion must be greater, overcoming the loss of inertia, to get back up to speed. As a general rule, the larger the mass of the swimmer and the stronger the leg push off the wall, the longer the glide can be before initiating the first kick. For the most part, swimmers will error in gliding too long, rather than not long enough.

There are vast differences among swimmers’ dolphin kick speed, so more time is gained or lost from the freestyle flip turn on the underwater portion than during any other segment. If one wants to develop a great freestyle turn, it is essential to have a strong dolphin kick and apply it aggressively.

Use a great streamline, hold it throughout the underwater, initiate a strong dolphin kick at the right time and in both directions, use the right number of kicks and rotate evenly and steadily to your stomach. No, it is not easy to swim fast nor to turn fast.

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

Read more about Freestyle Flip Turn: The Push Off http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/freestyle-flip-turn/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


3 Common Freestyle Flip Turn Mistakes

Leave a comment

Originally published on SwimSwam.com

On the flip itself, there are three common mistakes being made by most swimmers. The first is that the knees are not tucked tight enough toward the chest, so the feet take too long to get to the wall. The second is that the swimmer rotates the body during the flip, so part of the rotation back to the stomach has occurred by the time the feet hit the wall. This also requires too much time. The third is that the arms are bent at the elbow over head when the feet hit the wall. This results in either a delay to get the arms back into the streamlined position, or a bad body position for the push off the wall, if the swimmer elects to straighten the arms as he pushes off. Let’s discuss the first mistake.

If you have ever watched a figure skating competition, you may have noticed that the skater often ends with a twirl. The twirl usually begins with the arms either fully or partly extended and the revolutions occur at a slower rate. Then, when the skater tucks the arms up tight to the chest, the speed of the revolutions increases dramatically…often so fast, you cannot even see the details of the skater’s face.

THE LAW OF CONSERVATION OF ENERGY

The skater’s angular velocity increases when he tucks his arms in, not because he is applying more force to the twirl, but because of the law of conservation of energy. That law states that the energy of a rotating system about one axis is related to its mass, the radius of the mass and the angular velocity squared. Therefore, if the radius of the mass is shortened or decreased, the angular velocity must increase accordingly, for a given energy in the system.

That same law applies to the diver on the ten-meter platform trying to do a quadruple summersault or to the swimmer making his/her flip turn. The smaller and tighter the tuck, the faster the rotation goes. Making the effort to bring the knees closer to the chest and creating a tighter ball makes a huge difference in the speed of getting the feet on the wall.

The fastest way to get the feet on the wall is straight over the top with the toes pointing toward the surface. Adding a little twist or rotation to the body during the flip just costs more time. There is no need to do that. All of the rotation back to the stomach can occur during the underwater phase after the push off the wall. So long as the body is kept in a straight line, the rotation of the body during this phase will not slow the swimmer down.

THE GEORGE BOVELL STYLE

I also like to teach swimmers to have one foot slightly higher than the other when planted on the wall, something I learned from watching Olympian George Bovell. I am not certain how much of difference it makes, if any, but it feels more comfortable to me that way.

Undoubtedly the most common mistake being made on the flip is what the swimmer does with the arms underwater. As the legs come over the top, swimmers use the force from their hands pulling downward overhead in the water to help get the job done. By the time the feet are planted on the wall, most swimmers have created a small to large bend in the elbows in an effort to gain more leverage for the flip. Unfortunately, they are now in a bad situation. They can either delay the push off the wall until their arms are back in the streamline, or they can push off the wall in this non-streamlined shape and straighten the arms as they go. Either way, they lose.

THE CESAR CIELO STYLE

A much better idea, which I first saw done by Cesar Cielo, is to keep the arms straight on the pull back. Then, when the feet hit the wall, there is no need to delay the push off the wall and the arms are nearly in the streamlined position. The result is greater speed off the wall with no hesitation. I have also noted other great turners that bend the arms slightly on the pull back, rather than keeping them straight, but by the time the feet are planted, the arms are back in the streamlined position. Either way, the swimmer is assured of getting off the wall faster.

There is nothing easy about doing a fast flip to the wall. In fact, in every aspect a fast flip is harder than a slow turn. More core strength is required and more attention to detail. The only way that a swimmer is assured of doing these fast flips in competition well is by developing core strength and by doing them correctly in practice…over and over again.

Watch the Video How to Flip Turn Part II: The Fliphttp://theraceclub.com/videos/fast-swimming-techniques-flip-turns-flip/ 

Read More about How to Flip Turn Part II: The Flip –http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/flip-turn-in-freestyle/ 

Gary Hall, Sr.,  Technical Director and Head Coach of The Race Club (courtesy of TRC)

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


Gary Hall Sr. Interview at ASCA World Clinic

Leave a comment

Gary Hall Sr. talks about the future of The Race Club and the lessons he’s learned from his time as a swimmer under “Doc” Counsilman’s tutelage as he coaches swimmers in south Florida. Interview originally published on SwimmingWorld.com.


Freestyle Flip Turn: Mastering the Approach

Leave a comment

Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The Freestyle Flip Turn Part I: The Approach

The important law of inertia comes into play at several key times during the flip turn and the approach to the wall is one of them. If a body in motion truly wants to stay in motion then the worst thing we can do is slow down while approaching the wall. Yet nearly every swimmer does.

There are two primary reasons why swimmers tend to slow down as they approach the wall. The first is that they fail to keep swimming to the wall. Too often, swimmers will use the T on the end of the black line on the bottom of the pool, as if that is a queue to stop swimming, and glide until they feel it is time to make the flip. With the compelling frontal drag forces imposed by the water on a swimmer’s body during that glide time, they begin to slow down immediately. Their speed drops like it is falling off a cliff. In such a case, by the time the flip is initiated from a much slower speed, more work is required to get the legs over the top and on to the wall than if the swimmer had elected to take another stroke and maintain a higher speed. It also takes more time to get there. Even a partial stroke is better than none and a glide.

The second reason that swimmers slow down as they approach the wall is that they lift their heads up, usually to see the cross on the end of the pool, in order to judge the timing of their flip. Lifting the head up, whether swimming or gliding, causes an immediate increase in frontal drag with a resultant slowing down. Even worse, since the head needs to drop down under water in order to make the flip turn, lifting the head and arching the back is moving it in the wrong direction. While the head lift may create a little more downward force, since it drops down from a higher position, the energy required to get it there and the loss of speed are not worth the trade.

While keeping the head down going into the turn, utilizing the T on the bottom to judge the distance to the wall, may be faster, it also involves more risk for the swimmer. Without actually looking at the wall, there is a greater chance of being too far out or too close to the wall, once the flip is made. In either case, the penalty is greater than the reward.  More time will be lost on the turn than if the swimmer looked up and nailed the wall.

The only effective way to prevent this problem is by practicing the “no look” turn over and over again, and by doing so at or close to race speed. With enough practice, a swimmer can learn to make the turn accurately at high speed and without looking straight ahead at the wall ahead. Or a compromise is to look at the bottom of the wall, rather than the cross, resulting in less head lift. The only exception is when the pool is extremely deep or with a deep-water bulkhead. In those situations, looking up is necessary. Otherwise, remember ‘fast in…fast out’. Keep the head down and swim to the wall.

Watch the video: http://theraceclub.com/videos/fast-swimming-techniques-freestyle-flip-turn-the-approach/

Read more about the Approach in the Freestyle Flip Turn: http://theraceclub.com/aqua-notes/flip-turn-part-approach/

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Freestyle Flip Turn: Introduction

1 Comment

Originally published on SwimSwam.com

The Freestyle Flip Turn: Introduction

I will devote the next five articles to performing the freestyle flip turn. Because more time is gained or lost on the turns than in any other part of a freestyle race, it would seem reasonable that coaches would spend a considerable amount of time trying to perfect the turn. They don’t. Like so many aspects of swimming technique, it is much easier to do a turn wrong, but it is also much slower. Performing a fast flip turn requires core strength, discipline, attention to detail, some risk, great streamlining ability and a very good underwater dolphin kick.

It also requires knowing what to do, so over the next several weeks, I will break down the flip turn into four components: the approach, the flip, the underwater and the breakout. Each of these components is important and I commonly see mistakes made in all four of them, often by the same swimmer. Performing great turns also requires practice. Once you learn the correct technique, it is one thing to do a good turn when you are fresh. It is quite another to do that same turn when you are exhausted on the final lap of a race. As the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said, fatigue makes cowards of us all.

I must also confess to you that, as a swimmer, I was one of the worst offenders. I rarely did a legal turn in practice and made a habit of doing lazy turns over and over again. As a result, my turns in races were poor and I often lost considerable ground against other, more disciplined swimmers who trained hard on their turns. Perhaps that is why, as a coach, I am more meticulous and more emphatic about our Race Club swimmers doing their turns well. I do not want any of our swimmers losing ground on turns, so we work on them in nearly every session.

Finally, it is important to understand that the turn needs to be customized for each swimmer, depending on the speed of the underwater dolphin kick. If every swimmer could kick like Michael Phelps or Natalie Coughlin, then we would have all of them stay underwater off the wall for seven or eight kicks, but they can’t. Most swimmers are considerably slower underwater with dolphin kick and streamline than they are on the surface swimming freestyle, so it makes no sense for them to stay underwater any longer than they have to. We will discuss the optimization of the underwater component in more detail later.

Whatever turn technique works best for each swimmer, it must be practiced over and over again in order to perfect it. One of my favorite sets for doing that is racing swimmers from 10 to 15 yards off the wall and back, while deducting points or time for any mistakes I catch them making. Another way is to reward your swimmers for doing good turns by allowing them to get out of part of set, rather than yelling at them for doing their turns poorly. Rewarding good behavior or practices is often more effective than criticizing bad behavior or practices.

As the Byrds once sang years ago,

To everything….turn, turn, turn

There is a season….turn, turn, turn

And a time for every purpose under heaven

This swimming season, take the time to improve your turns as your purpose.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.