2010

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Nov 12, 2010

Should I Wear a Swim Cap? (How To Choose a Swim Cap?)

To answer the question if you should wear swim cap, let's first think about why you are swimming and to what purpose would the cap be to you. So why do you swim?

If you are out there stroking from one side of the pool to the other for fun or great exercise and you have short hair, buying a swimming cap could be an overkill, therefore not necessarily something you'd need or enjoy. Only thing you need is a swim suit and and some decent goggles and you are set. On the other hand, if you are out there to become a competitive swimmer or you are already competing, it could be beneficial for you to wear a swimming cap and spend some time researching the types of caps that are out there.

Here are some resaons why you should or shouldn't wear a cap:

1) Do you have long hair? If so, I'd suggest you do wear a swim cap as it isvery hard to swim with the right technique, with the right head position while trying to lift your head to keep the hair out of your face. Also, some folks say that using a swimming cap does prevent your hair from chlorine damage, but I wouldn't too much thought to this. Chances are, you don't spend 40hrs a week in the pool for your hair to get damaged anyway, so you are safe there.

2) For the group of you that will be swimming in competitions and you don't suffer from long hair disease :), I'd suggest you DO NOT wear a swim cap in your regular swim practices on most occasions. The reason for this is that you want your time spend in the swimming pool practising to be harder and with more drag than while you are racing. Your head without a swimming cap, has ears flopping around and more pores, so the drag is much higher. If you work harder in practice, just by having more drag, your racing will feel much faster. So, to keep your drag larger in swim practice, stay away from swim caps. Not to be confused with minimizing resistance while swimming.

3) There are times in swim practices, however, that you should swim at competitions speed and practice certain things you will do in your swim meet. For example, practicing relay starts, relay exchanges, starts, turns or plain all out sprints. During these activities, you might want to consider wearing a swimming cap as it gets you used to the feeling which you will have while competing. When you swim with a swimming cap, your body and head feel a bit differently than without swimming cap. Because you have less drag with a swimming cap, you will glide further in streamline positions and could go much deeper in your starts etc. So, practicing these with a swimming cap once in a while, before you go to your main swim copetition is a good idea.

4) If you are an open water swimmer or do swim often in a very cold water, it is a very good idea to wear a swim cap as it helps with keeping your body heat. Most of your body heat usually escapes through your head, so by placing a swim cap on it will keep you warmer for longer. On the other hand, you can also easily become overheated in a warmer pool, so be careful.

5) If you think swim caps are uncool and you are out there to make a fashion statement by not wearing a swim cap, then think again as swimming caps come in a huge variate of colors, designs, materials, you can even design your own swimming cap, so don't worry about the way you look and get the cap that serves your purpose.

As mentioned above, there are swim caps made from many different materials. They range from lycra to latex and to silicon caps. If I have to give you just one advice about swimming caps, DO NOT buy Lycra caps. Pardon my french, but they are just dumb. First, they add more drag, they will not stay on your head and they will definitely not protect your hair from chlorine. For everyday swim practices, it is better to invest into latex or silicon caps. Latex caps are cheaper, but they do not last very long, so it could be better to invest into silicon type cap. However, be careful that the cap is not very tight on your head as your ears will start hurting after few minutes in the pool. From my personal experience, I'd suggest Latex caps for practice swims.

Finally if you are after a minimal drag in the water, the newish no-crease swim caps which are very smooth might be the way to go for you.

Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Oct 27, 2010

What's Your Swim Type? (Custom Tailored Swim Classes)

The guys over at SwimSmooth have done it again. After introducing us to the Wetronome (tech gadget to help you with your stroke rate) and Mr. Smooth (an application to show you how swimming is done from all angle at at all speeds), SwimSmooth has now produced SwimTypes.com.

SwimSmooth's swim coaches came up with a new angle on how to teach swimming. The fundamental idea is that we are all build differently, which makes us swim in varied ways and therefore we require a customized swimming class instruction to effectively improve our swimming stroke. I am sure that most of you were in the situation where during your swim class you were asked to perform certain drill which you just could not muster and did not understand why the drill was important. It could have just been the case that your body just could not do it, because it wasn't build for it. Now, don't take me wrong, I don't mean you never can do it, I am just stating that perhaps some other less complicated, more targeted drills for your swimming style are more appropriate.

Hover the image to learn more about SwimTypes

You can choose from 6 different types:

1) Arnie or Arnette

Assuming this is an anlogy to the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can just imagine what that looks like :). You are probably an american football player, judo wrestler or weight lifter. Basically, you got too much muscle :), so swimming which requires long, lean muscle mass and a lot of flexibility is quite difficult for you. In other words, your Arnie or Arnette body is not buoyant enough in the water, so you have to work extra hard to stay afloat. To help you with this, you need to work on your body position.

2) Bambino

If you are a small person with a light build and you are having problems with breathing and propulsion through water, you could fall into the Bambino category. In other words, you need to build up more strength in your upper and core body and improve the catch in the first part of your stroke during your swim class. So, next time you are in the pool stroking away wondering why you are not moving forward and your arms are slicing through water like butter, remember that maybe you are a Bambino.

3) Kicktastic

Well, the title says it all, you just kick too damn much :). Kicking is a bread and butter of very fast sprint swimming, but constant fast kick does not belong to longer distance or practice swimming unless instructed to do so or during fast sets. Kicking is very exhausting, due to its use of your largest muscles in your body. Your legs should more or less be just floating inline behind your body with a kick rhythm which helps you turn to breath (for longer swimming, probably only 2 beat kick). If you look at this underwater video of Grant Hackett it shows you how he does not kick all the time, even though in his case, he still kicks quite a bit. You can, however, see the rhythm he has. So, if you are a Kicktastic, relax and try not to kick that much. Use your arms instead and focus on strengthening your core body in a gym for example.


4) Overglider

Again, very good descriptive name for this swim type of a swimmer. Overgliders tend to do just that, overglide their stroke. They do it to that extent that it actually creates a dead spot in their stroke.  Don't despair though, there are things you can work on during your swim classes to get you out of this group and swimming smooth. As always, catching the water earlier is better, but in your case, you should also increase your stroke rate slightly. How about giving the Wetronome a go, it could just help keep you on stroking away at the right speed, thus eliminating the over glide effect, so you can graduate from being an Overglider to being Smooth.

5) Swinger

No, don't worry, we are not going to tell you that you swing too much. That is fully between you and your sex partner :). The Swinger swim type means that you swing your arms around your body to swim, instead of rolling your hips to help you move your arms. In other words, you spend too much time on your belly while swimming and you should spend more time rolling from one hip to another. Also, this type of swimming could have pretty severe medical repercussions for your shoulders, so, next time you are doing your laps, keep your head down and only roll your hips. Here are very helpful couple of pieces of swim equipment to get you started on rolling your hips during your swim classes. Say no to being a Swinger and become Smooth.

6) Smooth

If you made it this far and you consider yourself to swim smooth, congratulations. You will enjoy swimming much more if it appears as if it is effortless. For some inspiration check out Alexander Popov's video. There is always, however, something to work on, be it stronger core body, better catch, better kick and so on. Being Smooth means you do well, but don't fall asleep behind the wheel. There is no such thing as a perfect stroke, but more on that next time.

So, after you have discovered the different swim types (Arnie/Arnette, Bambino, Kicktastic, Overglider, Swinger and Smooth) which one are YOU?
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Oct 22, 2010

Learn to do a proper butterfly and breaststroke turn

I've been swimming and coaching for many years and one thing that I see the most room for improvements, even in competitive swimmers, are butterfly and breaststroke turns. Let me give you a few tips and tricks on how to improve and speed up your butterfly or breaststroke turn.

1) Do not be lazy on your turns. This is a very simple rule. You shouldn't think of swimming walls as a place you hang out and rest. If this is your habit, I am sure you always see your opponent swimmers take off at the wall and then you play catch up the next 25 or 50m before another turn. If you need to rest, just do it in the middle of the pool, but not the walls. To speed up your turns, we'll use a simple visualization technique. Everytime you get ready to do a breaststroke or butterfly turn, pretend/imagine that the wall is a hot stove and if you let your hands rest there, they will get burned. This will help you to get off the wall quicker and you will not burn your hands twice:).

2) Know your body position when doing a breaststroke or butterfly turn. Some folks tend to touch the wall, then they lift themselves out of the water, using the pool wall as some sort of a box to push upon and then they fall back down and push off. Here, you need to think of yourself as a stationary object which does not move its axis. Once your hands touch the wall, tuck your legs under your body and push off. There is no reason for you to bop up and down during the turn. In other terms, you simple move your hands from the front to back and legs from back to front, sort of switching them around with the chest staying stationary at one place.

3) Definitely do not wait to move your legs until the bottoms of your hands (palms) touch the wall. The first thing that touches the wall during breaststroke and butterfly turn are the fingertips. Once this happens, the momentum will bring your palm to the wall, however, at the same time you should already move your legs forward and start driving your knees to the wall.

4) Finally, focus on switching the direction of your swim as fast as possible. To help you with that, once your hands touch the pool wall, you should right away spring your elbow in the direction you will swim now which is away from the wall and this will help you switch your legs with your arms on the wall. See the video for a great example.

5) Last, but not least, make sure you use your stomach muscles and your core body during the breaststroke or butterfly turn to quickly bring your legs to your chest and to the wall. To practice this, you can just lay face down into the water in the middle of the pool and just practice quickly switching your legs with your ams, so you always end up facing in the other direction.

Some swimmers have experimented with butterfly flip turns, however, from my own experience, do not try it unless you are very very flexible at the shoulders as you might tear some ligament from the momentum and  the surgery to get this fixed ain't pretty. Also, if you go this route, you might notice that you actually end up much closer to the wall then during a regular freestyle flipturn, because you actually have to touch the wall. This will cause you to spring much slower off the wall, but on the other hand, your push off is going to be very powerful.
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Aug 12, 2010

How to learn arm movement during freestyle swimming?

Based on your comments from the blog and the poll, it looks like you are requesting some information and guidance on how to move your arms when you swim freestyle? So, here we go. Freestyle is what you would call an asymmetric swimming style. Well, asymmetric is a strong word, but almost. What I mean by this? Imagine you are laying on a floor on your stomach (Note: Freestyle is not swam on your stomach, but rather on your sides. This is only for visualization purposes.), face down and your arms are along side of your body. Move one arm along the floor to the front of your head. Now you have one arm in front of your head and one at a side, this is quite asymmetric, isn't it. As opposed to symmetric swimming style where both sides of your body do the same things, so both arms would move from the position along side of your body to in front of your head at the same time.

Now that we have that covered, let's focus on freestyle swimming. It is very similar to what I have described above with your body being on the floor face down with one arm extended in front of your head and one arm alongside your body. Keep one arm extended and now roll on the hip which is on the side that your arm is extended. So you are now laying on your side with the bottom arm extended and top arm resting on your hip. Just imagine you are in the same position in the water and start rotating your straight arms at the same time. So the sequence would be to rotate your upper hip towards the floor, your upper arm towards the front and then when your upper arm is about 45 degrees between your hip and the front of your body, start moving your front arm towards your hip. Like a very slow windmill where one arm always has a bit of a head lead. If someone tells you that you should start the freestyle stroke only when your back arm reaches/touches your front arm, they are wrong as that is not how to properly swim freestyle. This type of freestyle swimming is called the catch up drill (one arm catches the other) and is only used for fine tuning of your arm movements in slower speed. So, do not let your arms catch each other. As I mentioned earlier, the back arm is not a mirror image of the front one, but it is not a full blown catch up. The reason why the arms are not fully opposite of each other is that if you start moving your back arm up and front arm down, you will be in a cross like position with your arms at one point and then what happens if you need to take a breath? You cannot as you do not have your front arm's support in front. So hence you need to wait with the front arm a little and let the back arm start the motion sooner.

Chances are though, that it is not the arms that you should focus on first. I'd suggest starting with your body and head position and then moving onto the feat of moving your freestyle arms. Once you have the windmill arm rotation going, you can focus on other things like how to catch more water (how to move your arm/hand through the water to go faster) or how to position your head while swimming freestyle, what to do with your hips or finally what to do with your arms when they are above the water which I will discuss in my next posts, so stay tuned.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Jun 15, 2010

How to get a Swimming Scholarship in USA? (Higher Education and Top Swimming Combined)

This is a guest post from Craig Bradford from UnitedSportsUSA.com who is an expert on foreign swimmer scholarships in the American university athletic system.

With Michael Phelps domination at the Olympics and the World Championships since he burst onto the scene at the Pan Pacific Championships in 2003 there is little wonder that many young British Swimmers have been looking at the opportunities to improve their swimming and higher education simultaneously in an American University environment.

Unfortunately, swimmers from every country in the world are also waking up to this possibility, so the competition for the best places, especially for boys, is intense. A male swimmer hoping to get to a Top 30 swimming college will need one (and preferably more) of the following:

1. Nationally ranked within the UK
2. International experience in a national team
3. Have the ability to swim multi-events

and, even then there is no guarantee that a full scholarship (tuition, fees, housing, food, books and all swimming- related expenses) will be offered. This is because all universities are limited to a maximum dollar-equivalent of about 10 scholarships and the average squad is 25-30 players.

Girls are in a much better position. Girls teams are allowed 14 full scholarships, so girls swimming at top county level or one event specialists can often get excellent funding.

There are universities and colleges that will look beyond your current swimming ability and base your awards on development potential, academic achievements and desire to attend that institution.

Academic quality in America.

Students, parents and teachers frequently ask about the value of an American degree. In America you will achieve a Bachelors Degree just like you would in the UK and will have to complete an internship in your field of study to enable you to graduate. This will give you the opportunity to gain valuable experience in your field of study whilst still at university helping you prepare for working life upon graduation.

There are 2000+, 4-year, degree-granting colleges and universities in America (as against around 150 in the UK). There are 100 American colleges that would equate academically with the Top 10 from Britain and, then, there would be the next 100 and then the next 100 after that right down to schools that will take just about anyone with the absolute minimum, just as in Britain. If you have good GCSE s and A-levels or Standard Grades and Highers and a good score on the American entrance exam, the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test), then you should be able to gain entrance to colleges in the USA that would be on a par with the ones you would normally choose here.

Academic requirements

British students are technically eligible upon completion of GCSE s or Scottish Standard grades. However, most students will not attend until the following year giving them the opportunity to develop fully and mature. It is recommended by University and college admissions that students who are capable of doing A-levels and Highers, take this option. You should may get degree-level credit for your work and most people are much better equipped to be several thousand miles from home competing against 18-24 year olds if they are that little bit older. The table below sets out the minimum NCAA(National Collegiate Athletic Association) requirements and for more information regarding the three sports governing bodies, the NCAA, the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) and the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) please visit: Swimming Scholarships

MINIMUM ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS

A swimming scholarship is firstly an academic pursuit. Therefore the NCAA(National Collegiate Athletic Association) has the following minimum core requirements:

1. C or 3 grade average in a minimum of five GCSE's or Scottish standard grades, including the four mandatory subjects:

- Mathematics
- English
- Social Studies (geography, religious education, psychology, sociology, economics, history, integrated humanities, Spanish, etc.)
- Science (chemistry, biology, physics, anatomy and physiology)
- Any elective subject (a second subject from any of the above, computer science, or a foreign language, but not drama or PE which the Americans consider vocational . The BTEC National is considered a transfer qualification, but a GNVQ is not accepted.

2. A/S, A-levels and Highers are not necessary but will satisfy the above requirements and you can have your A-levels assessed for degree level credit.

3. Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). This The SAT is a globally recognized college admission test that lets you show colleges what you know and how well you can apply that knowledge. It tests your knowledge of reading, writing and math. The test is offered six time per year at various testing centres across the UK.

Why should American colleges want British Swimmers?

Due to the competitive nature of recruiting swimmers from within the USA some colleges and Universities will cast their net further afield to in order to find talented swimmers to boost a program and raise their Universities profile internationally. Coaches are paid to recruit athletes, organise schedules, arrange practice sessions and develop your technique. The coach faces losing their job if their team continually performs poorly in their leagues (conferences). Most coaches have found that athletes from the UK find it easier to settle in the USA and are generally more committed to their academics and swimming than students from other countries.

How good do I need to be?

To gain scholarship funding you need to be at least swimming at county level and competing nationally. You must also meet the minimum academic requirements to be considered as a coach wants athletes who will be able to adjust to life inside the classroom as well. There is also an opportunity to gain academic scholarship funding meaning that the coach does not need to use as much swimming funding and may be able to make you a larger scholarship offer. Lots of swimmers who go out on partial scholarships and then do well can get more money after a year or two when some of the older players graduate and free up money from the budget.

How much does it cost?

American universities divide fairly equally between public and private institutions. Public (state-funded) universities are usually cheaper and cost between $18,000 and $25,000 per year for tuition, fees, housing, food and books. Private sector schools do not have access to state and federal grants and are, on average, $5,000 to $15,000 more expensive each year. Most of the top academic universities such as Princeton and Harvard are private colleges and would require academics equivalent to that of Oxbridge or Cambridge for admission.

How to get a scholarship?

You will not get a scholarship if coaches do not know about you. Some high profile athletes are headhunted by US coaches over here to scout the main junior events, tournaments and meets. Other swimmers contact coaches directly by sending their own CVs. This can sometimes work, but if you are going to go down this route, you need good advice, extensive research and some good luck to make sure that the college you choose offers the academics, swimming and the ambiance that will make you happy over the next four years of your life. Many coaches will not communicate with athletes who send them their CV as they often believe that these swimmers embellish certain details in order to catch their eye. They also struggle to understand the level of
competition or what you have achieved and how it translates to the USA. Alternatively you can use the services of United Sports USA. They are the British based sports-marketing company and help to generate scholarship funding for qualified student-athletes with appropriate universities/colleges. They advise about academic requirements, entrance exams, Clearing House procedures, immigration documentation and visas, as well as giving in-depth information about each college and help to negotiate scholarship offers on your behalf. United Sports USA are committed to putting the client's needs first and through a tailor made and personal service have helped countless young athletes realise their dream of studying and competing in the USA. Time is precious, so don't waste another minute just thinking about moving to America, Apply Now For A Swimming Scholarship

Here is some additional information on swimming at an American University and scholarships.
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