The Forgotten Way To Improve Your Body Position In The Water

The easiest way to improve your body position in the water and lift up your legs is, ironically enough, the one most overlooked by swimming coaches.

Your body acts a little bit like a see-saw in the water, pivoting around your centre of mass which is just above your hips:


If you lift up at the front end then your legs will sink down low in the water creating lots of drag. For a large number of swimmers, particularly you Arnies and Arnettes out there, this is a huge limiting factor. You're putting out lots of power but it’s mostly lost to drag meaning you travel much more slowly through the water than you should for your fitness and level of effort.

Coaches: The temptation when trying to improve a swimmer’s body position is to look at their core control, leg kick technique or catch technique. These are certainly important factors that might need addressing but here at Swim Smooth we always start by looking at a swimmer’s exhalation into the water. Most swimmers hold their breath when they swim and this gives them excess buoyancy in the chest and so puts downward pressure on their legs. By learning a smooth exhalation into the water they shed this excess buoyancy in the chest which helps bring their legs up.

Here are two quick tips on developing your exhalation technique:

- It may seem like a childish exercise but first perform some sink-downs in the deep end of your pool to tune into the feeling and technique of exhaling (see here). Don't worry, it's normal for exhaling to feel strange or even hard to do at first!

- When transferring this exhalation into your swimming, try breathing every three strokes ("bilaterally") straight away. This will give you sufficient time to shed air and buoyancy since breathing every two strokes is not normally enough time. Getting rid of the CO2 by exhaling makes bilateral breathing much easier too, a win-win!

On a related subject, we’ve been working with Blue Seventy on their wetsuit design for a while now and one of their design concepts that we’re a big fan of is something they call ‘balanced buoyancy’. This isn’t a marketing gimmick, it’s a concept that really works by making the upper body of the wetsuit less buoyant and the lower body more buoyant. If you are a ‘leg sinker’ then their Axis suit will be much faster for you as it lets your upper body sit a little lower, which lets the suit pull your legs up to the surface. On the other hand if you are someone with very good natural body position (such as a Kicktastic or a Smooth) then this suit would feel very unbalanced for you as it would bring your legs too high. You would be much more suited to a natural buoyancy suit such as a Helix.

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Curing The Overglider

Last week on Feel For The Water we took a look at the very different arm length and stroke styles of two Elite Triathletes, Kate Bevilaqua and Guy Crawford. If you missed this post first time around, it's here. We know from all the feedback we've had that this video clip really brought home how important it is to develop a stroke style that suits you as an individual.

But what if you have already gone down the path of trying to maximise your stroke length by introducing a glide into your stroke? How do you now go about improving your swimming? We affectionately call this group of swimmers 'Overgliders' and you can read a bit more about them here. Personality wise they are an intelligent bunch and have a diligent, thoughtful approach to their swimming, they've normally read all the books on stroke technique and studied lots of clips of swimmers on YouTube.

If you're an Overglider this blog post is for you. It's a little in-depth and slightly technical but with your analytical approach to swimming we doubt you'll mind!

Overgliders

Here in Perth we are inundated with Overgliders who are all visiting us for video analysis and stroke correction to try and understand why they have hit such a distinct plateau with their swimming speed. Over the last 20 years this group of swimmers has grown larger and larger, in fact amongst competitive triathletes and swimmers it's become the largest single group with 44% of our Swim Type Guide sales going to Overgliders. Overgliders now dwarf every other group with the next largest being the Arnies at 25%, who are the swimmers who have low sinking legs and tend to fight the water.

There are a huge number of frustrated Overgliders out there and this is the reason why we devote quite a bit of time on the blog to the dangers of actively gliding in your stroke and losing touch with your stroke rhythm.

Why Gliding Is Inefficient

Overgliders tend to hit a speed plateau between 2:10 and 1:40 per 100m depending on their height and arm length. This plateau is caused by three big inefficiencies:

1) The large deadspot in your timing causes you to decelerate heavily between strokes. This accelerate-decelerate-accelerate-decelerate stroke style is very inefficient and it tends to overload the shoulder muscles. Many Overgliders say that their "stroke falls apart" after a few laps of swimming, this is actually an issue of fatigue from poor stroke efficiency rather than a coordination problem.

2) By over-gliding you harm your propulsive efficiency. The catch is the point right at the front of the stroke when you begin to get a purchase on the water and press is backwards. A good catch starts early in the stroke timing and engages gently and continuously with the water, pressing it backwards to the wall behind you. By introducing a large pause to the stroke you start your catch late and then have to hurry it to make up for lost time. A hurried catch slips through the water and so becomes inefficient.

3) Whilst trying to maximise stroke length most Overgliders drop their wrists and show the palm of their hand forwards as they over-extend. We call this 'putting on the brakes', slowing you down directly through extra drag but also dropping your elbow which severely harms your catch mechanics:


Showing your palm forward like this can easily be misinterpreted as a good catch because of the pressure on the palm of your hand as the water strikes it. Read our post explaining why this is here.

A continuous flowing catch phase without a pause is the key difference between a true Smooth's stroke such as Jono Van Hazel and an Overglider's stroke. The absence of acceleration-deceleration and superior catch mechanics and timing explains how Smooth's can be so incredibly efficient in the water. A top level Smooth like Jono swims around 1:05 per 100m at a steady pace, just as an Overglider might swim 1:50 for 100m. They're not using fitness to do this, it's just great stroke technique and efficiency. Of course when these guys do press the gas pedal and unleash their fitness they are devastatingly quick and clock sub 50 seconds for that same 100m.

A long stroke is a good thing and in a truly efficient stroke it is the result of low drag and good propulsive efficiency, not glide. We're encouraging you to remove deadspots and pauses from your stroke but this doesn't mean we're asking you to artificially rush things, quite the opposite. The freestyle stroke should be naturally rhythmical and fluid without hitches or pauses, working with the water not against it.

Jono Van Hazel mid catch. At this point in the stroke an Overglider's arm will still be extended out in front gliding.

Curing The Overglider

Obviously the goal here is to remove the over-glide or pause in your stroke. After last week's post we received many emails and comments on the blog from Overgliders asking how to go about doing this. Here's our overview:

Don't!
Don't think of this as being about reducing your stroke length, you may end up with a slightly shorter stroke but that's not the object of the exercise. In fact many Overgliders find that by improving their catch and propulsion (see below) their stroke actually lengthens despite removing the glide phase.

Don't!
Don't try and actively increase your stroke rate (stroke cadence), at least not at first. Overgliders who set about this directly find that the deadspot is so heavily imprinted in their stroke timing that it stays in place and that every other part of the stroke speeds up instead, which will prove to be extremely hard work! The goal here is to keep the stroke movements at about the same speed but remove the deadspot.

Do!
Work on your catch technique by developing a continuous flowing catching action, engaging the water and pressing it backwards with a bent elbow. A poor catch technique presses the water downwards, to the side or even forwards with a dropped wrist. This adds a delay into your stroke because water is 800 times more dense than air and changing its direction takes time. By improving your catch you start to press the water backwards, helping it on its way, this takes less time and naturally lifts your stroke rate.

A quick numerical example of this: if you improve your catch technique and remove just 0.2 second from the deadspot in your stroke this will lift your stroke rate by around five strokes per minute. A very significant improvement which you'll immediately notice in your speed and efficiency.

Shameless Plugs

Our full stroke development guide for Overgliders is here. It's just US$20 and includes Swim Smooth's process, drills, visualisations and training sessions to remove the glide from your stroke and take your swimming to the next level.

You'd also benefit greatly from our new Catch Masterclass DVD, not only does it take a detailed and insightful look at the process of improving your catch technique but it shows Jono's and two other elite swimmers' catch technique in incredible detail.

Making The Change

Stroke timing changes are perhaps the hardest thing to change in swimming as they involve coordinating multiple movements at once. If you have a heavily imprinted glide and pause in your stroke this is a habit that will take some time to break. You may find this frustrating at first but bear in mind that as an Overglider there are many good things already in place in your stroke such as good alignment in the water and good body position. Other swimmers have multiple problems holding them back, you have one big one (pause and glide) so it makes sense that it will take a little time and persistence to overcome this in your stroke.

How should your stroke style evolve? By working on your stroke flaws you will naturally gravitate towards either the classic เกมยิงปลา HappyFishingSmooth Style or a refined Swinger Style, this is true whatever your Swim Type. Which style you evolve into depends on your individual make-up, build and personality. Both are extremely fast and efficient strokes and are used by elite swimmers and triathletes at the very highest level of competition.

One final thought which runs to the very heart of the Swim Smooth philosophy. When developing your swimming it's simply not necessary to compromise your stroke in any way. Many Overgliders have been told that by swimming with anything other than their minimum stroke count they are imprinting bad habits and losing efficiency. As we have seen above this is simply not true, by introducing an active glide you are compromising your stroke and imprinting a large deadspot into your timing. As any Overglider who's worked on this aspect of their stroke will tell you, glide can be extremely challenging to undo once imprinted. For the beginner level swimmer Overgliding is best avoided in the first place, after all prevention is better than cure.

Whatever your Swim Type, have a fantastic Easter holiday.

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Arm Length And Swimming (Ape Index, Part Deux)

Whilst working with professional triathletes Guy Crawford and Kate Bevilaqua, Paul Newsome takes a few minutes out to highlight why they swim with very different stroke styles. Check out the video clip:

youtube clip of kate and guy
(don't miss the last minute of this clip showing Kate and Guy's swim strokes)

This is a great example of the importance of an individual approach to swim coaching. Many swimmers are told that they need to swim with a very long stroke to be efficient and whilst this suits someone with very long arms like Guy it does not suit swimmers with shorter arms such as Kate. If Kate tried imitating Guy's stroke style she would become a much slower, less efficient swimmer.

Here in Australia 40 strokes per 50m is commonly used as a 'benchmark of efficiency' and swimmers are told they must take 40 strokes per lap or less to swim well regardless of their individual make-up or experience level. Frankly, we find this a bit ridiculous and are working hard to change this attitude. The right strokes per 50m lap could be anywhere between 35 and 60 depending on your height, arm length and also the size of your hands.

If you have shorter arms than Guy then don't despair, it's perfectly possible for you to swim quickly and efficiently like Kate. You will find that a slightly shorter stroke with a faster stroke rate works best for you and you can do this without fighting the water.

If you are tall with long arms then a long stroke style can work well but don't over do it and be prepared to adapt your stroke depending on conditions. For instance, in open water Guy shortens his stroke and lifts his stroke rate to help him punch through chop and the wake from other swimmers. This is something that comes naturally to Kate with her faster stroke rate.

A big thanks to Kate and Guy for letting us share this with you, find out more about them on their websites:


Also see: our original post on Ape Index

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Have You Taken A Look Right In Front Of You?

Have you ever lifted your head a little to take a look at your freestyle hand entry, extension forwards and catch? It's so simple it's amazing we don't do it more often:


You might never have tried this before but it can be very revealing about your stroke. First, check that you are not crossing the centre line in front of your head, a stroke fault known as a 'crossover'. Aim for a nice straight hand entry and extension forwards without crossing the centre line:


It's best to try this exercise whilst swimming with fins on to keep your body position high in the water, bring your head up so your goggles are just underneath the surface and you'll get a great view of the action right in front of you. You can also check that you're entering the water fingertips first, not thumb first:


A thumb first entry is very bad for your shoulders and harms your catch.

Also check you are not dropping your wrist and elbow as you extend forwards, if you've worked on lengthening out your stroke this often happens and introduces a dead-spot to your stroke:


Finally look for what happens when you start catching the water. Are you pressing downwards? Or using a much better technique by pressing the water backwards with a bent elbow? :


This is just an exercise and will probably feel quite strange to look this far forwards but believe it or not there's quite a few swimmers who need this head position when they swim. The legendary Ian Thorpe looked straight forwards with his goggles just beneath the surface:


Ian had such a powerful kick he would literally start kicking air without lifting his head to look straight forwards. To see his amazing kick in action, watch the last 10 seconds of this clip with Ian swimming at race speed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDpxZyUYvqU

You might not have an incredibly powerful kick like Thorpie but if you are naturally buoyant in your lower body you too may feel very unbalanced with a low head position. Try a mid-head position, looking at the bottom of the pool about 1½ meters in front of you.

Or if you have very sinky legs, which the Arnie Swim Type tends to suffer from, then it may be necessary to look straight down towards the bottom of the pool to bring your legs up.

When looking at swimmers in the pool, always remember that head position is very much 'horses for courses', experiment with yours to see what feels best for your stroke. If you can maintain your body position then a higher head position is advantageous for your swimming posture, coordination of your stroke and for open water navigation.

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Sorry! We Hope Our Free Worldwide Shipping Offer Eases Your Frustration

** Coaches - still time to apply for our Coach Education Courses in Loughborough and Stirling here **

Wow! After the announcement on the blog last week, demand for our May 2011 UK Clinic Series has once again been overwhelming with all the clinics filling up in just a few hours and over a hundred people sitting on the waiting lists. We've received a flood of frustrated emails from people that missed out and countless requests from around the world - particularly the US and Canada - for us to visit your shores as soon as possible. We've replied to you all by email but for everyone else, please accept a big apology from us, we know it's very frustrating missing out.

We've had a team meeting here in Perth and decided that the least we could do for you is run a special period of free-worldwide shipping on all our coaching DVDs and Waterproof Training Plans. That way your swimming will still experience a sprinkling of Swim Smooth magic this season!

To receive your free shipping, order from our website as normal and select your shipping destination in the cart, it will show at zero cost: www.swimsmooth.com/swimshop

Here's our quick guide on each of the products included in this special offer:


Training PlansSwim Smooth's Waterproof Training Plans
35 Session Training Plans for any swimmer looking to develop their stroke technique and swimming fitness.
These training plans are fully waterproof and designed to be taken poolside to follow as you swim. We wrote them to focus on getting your swimming into top shape for Olympic Distance triathlon, Half Ironman and Ironman races but can be used by any swimmer lacking a little focus in their swim sessions and looking to improve. Three plan levels, one for every abililty.

Catch MasterclassSwim Smooth's Catch Masterclass - Our Amazing New DVD!
For those swimmers who have worked on their stroke technique but hit a performance ceiling they can't break through - until now!
Developing a good catch technique and feel for the water is extremely elusive for most swimmers but is the key to improving your speed and efficiency in the water. In this detailed coaching program we show you exactly how elite swimmers develop efficient and powerful propulsion, and how to make these changes in your stroke too. Features footage of incredible clarity from our new Hi-Def filming rig.

DVD BoxsetSwim Smooth's DVD Boxset - Clean Up Your Stroke!
For those who can swim freestyle - no matter how badly - but need to improve their stroke technique.
The gold standard Stroke Correction DVD program on the market. Three discs to improve all aspects of your stroke including breathing, body position, rotation, kicking technique, hand entry, arm recovery and catch and pull. The second DVD contains everything you need to prepare for open water including techniques and strategies for starts, turns, drafting, pacing, sighting and swim exits. Features footage of Olympic Gold Medallist Bill Kirby and includes a full training program to follow in the pool.

Learn To Swim ProgramSwim Smooth's Learn To Swim Program
Can't swim freestyle at all? Get off on the right foot with our inspiration Learn To Swim Program.
Swim Smooth's Learn To Swim Program is DVD based and built around a simple to follow 10 Step process. The 10 steps start by getting you used to the water and show you how to become comfortable swimming (and breathing!) when face down. We build up the stroke step by step, helping you get the feel and timing of it. Includes waterproof session cards to take to the pool and follow.


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