Swimming with control, stability and balance, are key for an adult onset swimmer to capture as early as possible in a lesson sequence; they obviously serve as the foundation on which to build a solid and efficient stroke.
Without movement control and, understanding how to stabilise the body in a very unstable medium (water), a swimmer will continue to make extremely inefficient movement patterns.
Generally moving limbs through the water, yet not propelling the body forwards – which is our aim.
What a difference 40 minutes makes! Observe the video below.
The lower clip – the swimmer’s initial video. Typical upper body and lower body disconnected movements, typified by high head, low hips and legs, rapid windmilling arms – the obvious response to sinking legs!! Somewhat erratic leg movements that are merely counter balancing all of the instability.
After a single lesson and a week’s focussed practice. The swimmer is beginning to connect differently with the water. Movements are calmer, slower. Head position has improved, there by raising hips, there is a gentle and controlled torso rotation, allowing for a different arm recovery and entry depth.
The swimmer reports typical internal feedback cues at this early stage feeling that the swims are
- it feels easier
- it feels smoother
- it feels more powerful (easier to generate more power)
Great work on session 1 of 5!
How do I know my swimming is improving?
Whilst coaching swimmers, I am often asked the question – how do I know I am improving when practicing?
As Total Immersion coaches, we encourage our swimmers to become aware of internal and external cues, for feedback. Initially, we encourage swimmers to tap into ‘internal’ cues for feedback, improving a swimmers ‘proprioception’. This is an awareness of the ability to sense feedback related to body position, movement, balance.
It soon becomes apparent to the swimmer, what the optimal movements are, that create balance, stability, streamlining and propulsion.
Hone your proprioceptive skills and ask yourself if a practice
- feels easier
- feels smoother
- feels more stable
- feels more powerful (easier to generate more power)
- I travel further will less effort
- I didn’t get out of breath
- I have no pain or feeling of restriction eg. in the neck, upper back and shoulder
As the swimmer progresses through the initial stages of imprinting new muscle memory, into a more autonomous phase with full stroke becoming well imprinted, fluid and consistent; a variety of external feedback cues are coached and added to the swimmers tool kit. External feedback cues involve measurement of a number of metrics.
- Distance swum without stopping increases
- Stroke length improves (counting strokes per length)
- Stroke length does not deteriorate over longer distances
- Stroke length does not deteriorate over small increase’s in tempo
- My time improves
- I can take less rest interval and maintain consistent spl and time for a given distance
Practice well, practice with purpose and pick up on your proprioception!
Do you want to swim more efficiently, faster or further, but find your stroke too exhausting, unsustainable or deteriorates over time?
Probably the biggest issue for adult learner, improver and even advanced swimmers, in some cases, is the 'drag' effect, created by sinking hips and legs.
- Reduce your 'drag' and you will:
- improve your times
- improve your swimming efficiency/ decrease the amount of energy needed to complete a swim
- swim longer distance's without stopping
- be more likely to stay in your aerobic energy zone
- increase your stroke length (decrease my strokes per length)
2. What causes 'drag'?
The position of your centre of gravity when horizontal - is in your sternum!!!! Think about it! No wonder our back ends sink, with the weight distributed mostly in the torso and legs. But we add to this dilemma with
- Head position - too high
- Arm entry position - too high, flat and reaching
- Rigidity and tension throughout the body, inhibiting fluid relaxed movement patterns
- Lack of engagement through core stabiliser muscles causing a sagging torso, and hyper extended spine
- Kick mechanics that include too much flexion at the knee
- Less that optimal forwards propulsion, relative to the needs of our body mass and weight distribution. If we're not moving our bodies forwards, (only moving our arms through the water), there is lack of an upthrust force, that gives some lift to the legs. This is often over looked by many coaches.
Optimal propulsion is indicated by your stroke length. If a swimmer has a good stroke length ( optimal SPL ) and is converting a around 60-70% of their wingspan into forward propulsion - I bet you, their legs won't be sinking (assuming correct head and arm entry position). However, a swimmer who is converting under 50% of their wingspan, and exhibiting 'windmilling' arms (high SPL) is more likely to have the challenge of drag. Improve your efficiency and you will reduce your drag!!
Get coached this season and learn how to problem solve these fundamental swimming problems. Simple, effective skills and drills that improve your swimming
Why does swimming present as such a challenging activity? What are the Universal Swimming Challenges faced by all human bodies in water?
Well, lets think about a few things that happen to our bodies (and brains) when we hit the water.
- We are no longer on/over our centre of gravity, but hanging from it
- Humans tend to move around in water, and move the water around (very uneconomical)
- We have reduced visual cues
- Our faces are submerged in a medium with no accessible oxygen
The result of these factors, leaves us marginally in, or close to triggering our flight / fright response ( even in confident and regular swimmers).
In addition to these fundamentals, there are 4 key challenges that are universal to the human swimming problem. Each of these affects any individual in differing amounts, depending on multiple factors….. skill, confidence, body mass, mass distribution, breath control to name but a few.
- The human body is heavier that water
- 5% of our bodies ‘rest’ above the water
- Gravity pulls you down
- We are trying to move in an unstable medium
- Instability itself, creates an unstable body position
- We use energy to stabilise the body – for many in the form of movement, which is hugely energy wasting and costs us precious heartbeats
- Water is 880x denser that air
- As we increase our swimming pace, drag increases exponentially
- Form drag – through body position (see below)
- Wave drag – through noisy turbulent strokes
All too often, and until we know otherwise, the direct result of drag and instability which tend to cause sinking is to….
Limb Churn (windmilling arms)
- Disconnects us from our true power source
- We move water around, instead of moving through the water
- We emulate ‘wheel spinning’ like a car wheel spinning in ice or mud, with no traction
- Generally causes a low level of efficiency, less that optimal forward propulsion for the effort’ used
Shinji – Before and After
Some of you may be familiar with Shinji Takeuchi, TI Master Coach, and self taught TI swimmer. Check out his before and after video.
Before – by no means a poor stroke, he is able to move, at pace, and on observation – swims like many swimmers you and I know; however observe all of those stroke issues listed above, the instability, limb churning and turbulence (bubbles indicate wasted distribution of energy), low efficiency for lots of effort
After – what do we now observe? A more balanced, streamlined, stable stroke with higher efficiency, we observe less movement for more propulsion (relative to the lane rope markers). Of course this is a low effort, cruisey demo swim, but the mechanics allow for a platform on which to improve further, and he will gain the benefits of conditioning programs that include increased distance and pace.
Basic water confidence is a pre-requisite, if your end goal is to learn to swim with ease and enjoyment! Many ‘beginner’ swimmers harbour a water phobia of sorts, where our confidence in the water has been challenged at some point. This can happen through past trauma in and around water, near drowning experience’s, even the over zealous parent who ‘threw the kids in at the deep end’; or for many, never really receiving any formal swimming lessons, hence there is a gap in knowledge around how the human body behaves in water is limited.
Being water confident means:
- You ‘feel’ comfortable in and around water
- You can put your face in the water, both with your feet on the ground, and suspended in the water
- You float, comfortably on your back and front
- You can exhale air slowly and with control when your face is in the water
- You can ‘right’ your body to a safe standing position, from a floating position
All of these skills and many more, are covered in our Water Confidence program and will help you prepare for your first full swim program.
From basics to beginner…… read Noah’s swim journey so far:
“Over one year ago I decided to take swimming lessons for freestyle swim stroke. I started out lacking confidence, with only a very poor breast stroke swimming ability.
I attended lessons for about 1 year, and by the end, was able to swim around 50m without stopping, but still felt my stroke was disconnected and lacking in some way; I still felt some underlying nerves and lacked trust in my stroke. I would get tired very quickly, the breathlessness making me extremely nervous, I also felt that my movement was un-coordinated, and even though I had progressed, I knew I could achieve more.
For that reason, I searched out some new programs at Waverley College pool. The foundation of the program included a lot of water confidence skills that I would not have ordinarily seen as necessary to help my swimming. I began to understand some very different aspects of how to move and control my body in the water. The material and techniques were very different from what I’ve learned so far in my first swimming classes.
Claire coaches the Total Immersion methodology which for me seemed a more holistic approach; it’s not so much about ‘pull hard’, ‘kick more’ and ‘R-E-A-C-H as far a you can with your hand’. The approach is a calmer, more relaxed approach and a real education; my movement in the water started to become ‘less’ rather than ‘more’, yet a could swim further and with less effort. I feel I can relate to the water differently and have a sense of co-operation with i, rather than fighting against it! It’s still a work in progress but already feel a vast improvement, largely down to the difference in content, delivery and over all approach between SWIMLAB and the previous swimming classes I have tried.”
Swimming improvement means many things to many swimmers.
From the ability to swim relaxed confident laps for health and wellness, to breaking personal records in your next open water event or Masters race.
Yet for most, the words 'I want to swim faster' are a popular desired outcome.
When I hear this though, I clarify the response with the following question.
Do you mean flat out, short distance, sprinting (<100m), or the ability to hold your pace, and be able to inject spurts of increased pace but maintain consistency, over longer distance's.
Nearly 100% of answers fall in the latter case.
Both have some underlying principles of
- Increasing stroke rate, partly dependent on your metabolic conditioning at any given time
- Increasing power output
- Minimising the loss of stroke length
Read this great post by Mat Hudson, as it highlights the issues faced by so many regular 'squad' swimmers, who churn out the hard yards and the big sets yet, fighting to get back to the wall before the next interval starts.
If I had a dollar for every time a regular squad swimmer came to me and said - "well I am swimming 3 x times per week but getting no faster."
READ ON -
Mat highlights so many important point here.
"If all other things are equal between the two, Swimmer B’s faster curve is a result of having a better ‘hull shape’. In other words, the two swimmers are applying the same amount of power but have different technique for how that power is applied during the stroke. Shape is the most obvious reason why."
The need for power training, for most translating into 'hard work sets', is not denied but it must not come at the expense of technique.
As we say in the TI world efficiency first, speed second! This boils down to being able to hold your stroke mechanics and minimise excess loss of stroke length as you increase power.
Matt hones in on the underlying principle of 'vessel shape' being crucial to progress through the hard yards.
And in his final paragraph explains that good old 'plateau' that so many swimmers reach in their swimming journey
If you liked that read - here's the next one in the series:
- The overall movement pattern
- Muscle group engagement
- Joint range of motion
- To get the brain operating a controlled elbow led recovery - not a hand swing
- To feel the full trajectory of the elbow recovery - towards a 'tipping or weight shift point’, passed the horizontal centre of gravity
- To recover with a short compact lever - quicker, and less compromises to the stroke, and stability, than long arm swing
- To allow your lead arm to 'wait' for the co-ordinated switch - allowing a good catch and optimal propulsion
Next time you're at the pool:
Take time to practice the sequence, noting the free flowing movements of the arm, the weight of the arm, and suggested entry point.
Push off and complete just 4-6 strokes applying the focal points: