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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Swim Drills

"It's a funny thing, the more I practice , the luckier I get."- Arnold Palmer

Today's blog comes from the USAT book, "Complete Triathlon Guide"   The swim leg is the weak link for most triathletes, I know it still is for me. So I spend at least part of every pool workout doing swim drills, some of which are from this book.

The purpose of the drills is to improve your body position and make you a more efficient and hopefully faster swimmer. Being a good swimmer can help your whole race. With good body position you will use less energy and have a better bike and run.

I like drills because they are fun. Swimming lap after lap can be boring and mixing in drills keeps it fun.  I start out my swim with about 15 minutes of drills or if I am feeling tired I will alternate the drills with my laps.

First a review of the parts of the swim stoke and then the drills. Try out a few and see if they help.

Five Phases of the Freestyle Stroke

1.     Entry and extension. In this phase, the hand enters the water and extends forward just under the surface, like putting on a long glove that is lying just under the surface of the water, parallel to the surface.

2.     Elbow bend or catch. Aft the arm is fully extended, the next phase involves internally rotating the shoulder and bending the elbow. This prepares the forearm to be used as a paddle to apply force backward and propel you forward.

3.     Pull. This is where the force is applied to the water, and the body then moves past the arm.  It can also be termed the power phase since it is where the majority of the forward power and propulsion come from in swimming.

4.     Round-off and release.  When the pull is finished and the triceps have been used to extend the arm along the side of the body, it is time to externally rotate the shoulder, which releases the shoulder joint and allows the arm to move freely to the next phase.

5.     Recovery. After the shoulder is released, the arm can then return back over the water to start the cycle again by going into the entry and extension phase.

Vertical Kicking Drill
The purpose of this drill is to make the kick efficient and improve long axis rotation. From a vertical position with your arms at your sides, use a flutter kick to keep your head above water. This is the part of the drill where you work on your kick. You can even look down on your legs and make sure you are not bending your knees too much or bending forward at the waist.  Utilize the upper muscles of the leg, and make small fast movements. Work your way up to 1 minute.
Advance Version- From the same vertical kicking position, rotate 90 degrees every 3 to 5 seconds to work on rotating from the core. Rotate the entire body as a unit from the kick and hips, 90 degrees to the right and then back to center, then 90 degrees to the left and back to center again. Repeat this for another minute, and focus on starting the rotation from the kick and hips, not the upper body.
Corkscrew Drill
This drill helps you find a balanced and comfortable body position and improves your long axis rotation.  This is the same drill as vertical kicking, only you move into the horizontal plane as you progress toward swimming.  Keep your hands at your sides, and again focus on turning the body from your kick and hips; do not lead with the head and shoulders. For this drill, rotate your body 180 degrees so you are either on your belly or your back. Keep your head back and hips up to have an aligned body position on your back. You should be looking either at the ceiling (when on your back) or at the bottom of the pool (when on your belly).  Be sure to take your time, and breathe out when your head is facing down; when your head is facing up, try to relax and breathe normally. You can stay on your back or belly as long as you like until you feel ready to rotate properly.
Kick on Side Drill
Another drill for body position and will help you to have the right head position when breathing. This side position is one of the most stream-lined forms a human can take in the water. The objective here is to get more comfortable with the head lying on the shoulder and having one goggle in and one out of the water. This is the ideal position for your head when you breathe.
To do this drill, lie on your side, with your bottom arm stretched out and your ear pressing onto the shoulder. This arm should be just under the surface of the water, with the hand parallel to the bottom of the pool.  The top arm should be on your side. Do a flutter kick, and strive to maintain one goggle in and one goggle out of the water. The natural tendency is to start lifting the head to get the mouth out of the water to breathe. This actually makes you sink and work harder. If breathing while keeping a good head position is difficult, simply roll your head and look up to allow your mouth and nose to clear the water and enable you to breathe.

Kick on Side Drill with One Stroke
This drill works the body position and also the rotation. You are again progressing toward swimming whole or regular freestyle. In this drill, you perform the kick on side drill, as just described, but every 5 seconds or so, you make a recovery with the trailing arm and pull with the leading arm as you rotate over to the other side. The focus needs to be on making a smooth rotation and keeping the body in alignment. The best way to do that is to start the recovery first and stay on your side until your hand passes your face, then start to bend the elbow of the leading arm; as the recovering arm enters the water, pull with the other arm and roll over to the other side. Keep your neck in alignment with your spine (do not lift the head) as though the long axis is coming out of the top of your head. Repeat over to the other side. Take your time; at first you may do only one rotation per length.
Kick on Side Drill with Three Strokes
This drill also works the body position and rotation in another step toward full freestyle swimming. This drill is the same as the previous one-stroke kick on side drill, but this time three strokes are used to rotate from one side to the other. Really focus on an integrated rotation in each stroke, driving it with your kick and hips, not the head and shoulders.
Catch-up Drill
This drill is great for working on exchanging one arm for the other in front of the head, ensuring there is always an arm in front of the head to glide out on. This makes the body longer, and in general, a longer body moves faster. Think of the long hull design of a speed boat.  In addition, the hands meeting in front of the head is a great reminder to pull and rotate. If you breathe on both sides, this drill can balance out your rotation. You continue to glide out on the arm in front as you recover with the other arm. When both arms are fully extended in front of your head, you then pull with the opposing arm. When first doing this drill, it is helpful to keep both arms in front of your head and kick awhile before switching arms. This gives you time to visualize a good pull with early elbow bending and good rotation during the power phase. As with all drills, take your time. The slower and more accurately you do these drills, the more you will retain when you swim fast.
Fist Drill
This drill will specifically help you develop the early elbow bend at the beginning of your stroke. Many swimmers get little to no benefit from this drill because they lack the knowledge of how to perform it correctly. It must be done slowly and with very conscious thought about feeling pressure on your forearm as you begin your pull. This feedback shows you are indeed bending the elbow early enough to feel pressure on your forearm as you pull against the water. What this drill does is take the hand out of the pull. In a sense this forces you to bend the elbow to try to “catch” some water. If you rush the strokes, you will simply make the same errors you make in regular swimming.  Never do an entire length with fists. The dynamic feeling of opening the hands and feeling the added power from the higher elbow is the positive feedback that makes the change carry over to your regular stroke. Since you actually do need to struggle though the water a bit to feel this pressure on your forearm, it is be to do this drill without fins.
Sculling Drill
This is another drill for working on the beginning of your pull. Sculling is defined as moving a limb from side to side to create lift. It is the motion one uses for treading water. This subtle skill can be helpful in getting that elusive “feel” for the water swimmers talk about. The goal is to get a feeling of pressure on your arm from the fingertips to your elbow. To do this, push off and bend both arms at the elbows, and rotate your shoulders medially so your fingertips face the bottom of the pool. Then as though your forearm and hand form a paddle, hinge at the elbow and wave your hand and forearm in and out repeatedly for 3 to 5 seconds. Then swim normally and take a few breathes; when ready repeat. While sculling, be sure to keep your neck neutral, and hence breathe only when you are taking the regular strokes between sculling.
The purpose of this drill is to make the swimmer focus on only on arm at a time. To perform this drill, use only your right arm to swim one length and then your left to swim the next. This drill is used to work all five phases of the freestyle stroke. It can be tricky because many swimmers try to work on all five phases at once, where noting is really worked on specifically, and a swimmer can end up make the same mistakes in the drill as in their regular swimming. However, if you focus on only one aspect or phase for an entire two length sequence the results are amazing. When in doubt as to which phase to focus on, the early elbow ben at the beginning of the pull is your best choice best choice because problem in this phase are very common, and every swimmer can benefit from improving it. If you your swimming analyzed on video and you can see in your mind’s eye other flaws to correct, such as poor entry or recovery, then do another two length sequence focusing on just that phase.
Catch-up Drill with Thumb Scrape
This drill will ensure you finish each stroke. Before you push off, extend your arm down your leg, and scrape your thumb on your thigh. At the finish of each pull, scrape your thigh in the same area. This is also the perfect drill to work on the release of the shoulder at the end of your stroke since with the touch you are sensitized to that part of the stroke.
Catch-up Drill With Fingertip Drag
This twist on the catch-up drill focuses on the recovery and entry of your stroke. For this drill, lie on your side and slowly drag your fingertips through the water’s surface as you recover. Ideally, you should see the palm of your hand as it passes about 8 to 12 inches from the side of your head. Your fingertips stay in the water from the release phase of the stroke until the hand enters the water.  After entry, the arm extends in front of the shoulder to full extension and meets the other outstretched arm.

Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 137 members in 27 states. We also have members in Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland and Iran. If you wish to join us visit our web site.

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

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