The swimming stroke is not unlike a golf swing: a complicated, interconnected series of fine and gross muscular movements. For the few who do it well, it appears fluid, natural, unified, and effortless. For most, the movements of swimming and golf can feel unnatural, difficult to integrate, and frustratingly unamenable to brute force.
Even those who have mastered the swimming stroke/golf swing can develop subtle technique flaws, of which they may not even be aware. One must maintain constant vigilance against these creeping flaws, ideally through a combination of mindful practice, well-selected drills, coaching, and video analysis.
One method I find useful in maintaining proper form and guarding against creeping flaws is: stroke thoughts. I didn’t invent this phrase or idea, but I define it as: simple, succinct technique pointers repeated subvocally (internally) while swimming.…
After his victory at MIMS, Paul Newsome and his Swim Smooth business partner Adam Young embarked on a cross-continental road trip to experience America via swimming.
Along the way, they stopped in Boulder, Colorado and met up with 6-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott. Paul did an interesting video interview with Dave on the topic of open-water swimming technique. It’s worth your time to watch all 7 minutes, 46 seconds of this video. Here’s the money quote from Dave:
“I’m not concerned about distance per stroke. I like an effective front-end of the stroke, on the catch.”
Beginning with the catch, and continuing through the finish of your pull:
Keep your fingers pointed straight down toward the bottom of the pool,
palm facing directly behind you,
This is a distilled version of the “paddle stroke,” which has been taught in elite USA Swimming programs since the mid-1990s, but has only recently been widely taught in adult Masters programs.
I like this stroke tip for several reasons:
It’s simple and easy to understand, even for new swimmers.
It’s high-leverage, meaning it can produce large gains in speed.
It’s useful for swimmers of all abilities.
I use this “stroke thought” almost every time I swim these days. If I’m feeling fatigued or unfocused, it’s surprisingly easy to fall back on an “S” pull pattern (an unconscious but ineffective attempt to gain more purchase on the water), or to let my elbows slip.…
Chris Derks is a pretty OK swimmer — course-record holder and four-time winner of the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, 2004 MIMS champion, competitor in numerous pro races, and owner of an 8:32 English Channel crossing in 2001.
Yesterday Chris posted a video of his English Channel swim to the Marathon Swimmers Forum. It’s a quirky video – 30 minutes long, with random cuts to other races, and ending in the middle of a conversation (apparently Chris plans to upload the rest separately) – but I enjoyed it quite a lot. Chris is one of the best in the business, and it’s a rare treat to see him in action. Also, I dig his taste in music.
Interesting discussion going on in the comments section of my Tampa Bay race report, regarding a comment I made about Total Immersion. If any readers feel like chiming in, I’d be happy to hear your ideas.…
People sometimes ask me what I think of Total Immersion. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say: While I may quarrel with a few of the details, I think it’s general emphasis on “harmony with the water” is quite valid – and its validity increases with swim distance.
T.I. coaches teach their students to not “fight” the water. Beginning swimmers often fight the water (almost by definition), but advanced swimmers aren’t immune. I often catch myself doing this when I’m fatigued and trying to hold a pace slightly beyond my comfort zone. I’ve paid much more attention to not fighting the water since I started doing marathon swims. You might be able to get away with fighting the water in a 50, or even a 200, but in a marathon this is death.…
A coach recently alerted me to a couple non-canonical things I’m doing with my freestyle technique. Of course, I had no clue I was doing these things. It occurred to me that it’s been years since I’d seen my stroke on video (my brief appearance in the Swim the Suck documentary excepted). Actually, probably about 15 years – at least as far back as high school. What else am I doing that I’m unaware of?
Having multiple underwater cameras positioned at different angles is ideal, but can be expensive to set up. On the theory that something is better than nothing, I bought a small tripod to mount and secure my trusty Canon PowerShot, which shoots HD video. Then, it was just a matter of propping it up at the end of my lane and pressing the shutter button.…
As Chris Anderson described in The Long Tail, the internet has made possible a previously unthinkable wealth of content for niche interests – e.g., Masters and open-water swimming.
Here are two great examples from the past week:
First, Rich Abrahams. The consensus “swimmer of the meet” at the recent Masters Nationals in Atlanta, Rich threw down a 49.4 100 Free and 22.1 50 Free. Fast times for anyone, but guess what? He’s 65 years old. In other words, not just fast, but almost-unbelievably fast.
How did Rich do it? Through several candid posts on the USMS forums and a video interview with Swimming World, you can gather hints. The most interesting nuggets, to my mind:
his focus in practice on lots of race-pace swimming
his approach to dryland training:
focus on overall, balanced strength rather than swim-specific strength
one long workout Sunday morning, one shorter workout Wednesday (providing several days recovery between each)
the importance of long-term consistency (i.e., over several decades)
his preference for swimming with 1-3 like-minded training partners, rather than with a team
Tomorrow morning I will fly from Columbus to Atlanta, and from the airport will head directly to the pool and warm up for my first event, the mile.
The pre-meet warm-up is vitally important to how well you swim on a given day. Aside from getting a good breakfast, there’s probably nothing as important. Some people approach their meet warm-up mindlessly, without a plan – and that is foolish. I’ve even known people to skip warm-up entirely – and that’s just crazy.
The purpose of a meet warm-up is to prepare your body for optimal performance. That means bringing your heart-rate up, but not too far and not for too long. By the end of the warm-up you should feel loose but not tired.