Stroke Thoughts

Stroke Thoughts

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.

In practice, I use stroke thoughts most often at the beginning of a session (while warming up), or when I feel myself lapsing (mentally or physically) in the middle of a workout or race. I repeat each thought by itself for a few stroke cycles, focusing on just that single part of my stroke, before moving to the next thought.…

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Dave Scott on open-water swimming technique

Dave Scott on open-water swimming technique

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.”



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My favorite stroke tip

My favorite stroke tip

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,
  • elbows high.

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.

fingers_down

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.

Yet another reason I love the FINIS Agility Paddles: it is much easier to “feel” the early catch, and sustain it throughout the pull. If you start pulling through at odd angles (rather than straight back), the paddle may slip right off your hand.…

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Watch and Learn

Watch and Learn

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.

Check it out:

A few of my favorite parts:

  • 0:35 – Cool postcard shot of the marathon swimmer and… is that a battleship?!
  • 0:50-3:37 – Interview with Chris. Background & motivations. “I still want to race against kids who are half my age, and beat them…beat them hard.”
  • 3:38-5:47 – Nearly indecipherable interview with his coach.


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Don’t fight the water

Don’t fight the water

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 relaxed, efficient stroke is essential.

On days when I’m not feeling so hot, I try to forget about going fast and just focus on relaxing and swimming efficiently. If I’m working out with a team, this may require slight adjustments to sets.…

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Adventures in video analysis

Adventures in video analysis

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.

I was mostly interested in looking at my freestyle (unlike some, I have no plans to swim around Manhattan doing butterfly). As long as I had the camera set up, though, I figured I’d check out my other strokes. Accordingly, I did a set of {100 free, 200 IM, 100 free, 200 IM, 100 free}.…

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