2/1/11 - 3/1/11

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Feb 27, 2011

What does Javelin have in common with swimming? (Water entry, underwater kick and breakout during a start)

This is the second post in the series of articles regarding what constitutes a great swimming start. Let's recap what are the 5 key elements of a successful start from a starting block.

1) fast reaction to the start buzzer (previous post)
2) strong push off the block (previous post)
3) clean entry into the water
4) efficient and fast underwater kick in streamline
5) powerful and smooth breakout

3) Clean entry into the water - To continue the start lesson, we must examine the way your body enters or should enter the water after you have successfully pushed off with a fast reaction time. The best way to describe this is by an analogy. If you ever watch track and field (athletics) competitions, you have probably seen the javelin throwers. A good javelin throw is not too high and not too flat, the arc of it is just right. In comparison to the swimming start, we are only focusing our attention to the second part of the arc when the javelin is travelling, with the help of gravity, back to the green grass stadium flooring. In order for the javelin to stick, it has to have the right angle, same as in order for a swimmer to enter with the least amount of splash the angle has to be just right. Think of it in terms of your fingers creating a hole in the water and your entire
by dbwilldo
body has to pass through that hole in an angle, so tight streamline and head locked between your arms is very important as well as your feet together.

4) Efficient and fast underwater kick in streamline - Sticking with the javelin analogy. High javelin arc will cause the javelin to travel very high up and then stick itself in almost vertical position, same in the start, if you jump too high up, you will enter the water and go very deep which will cause you to struggle to come back up, thus loosing the speed you generate off the start. In the same manner, low dive/low javelin throw, will cause you to enter too shallow, getting too much wave drag from the top of the water and surface prematurely. Each person has an ideal depth at which they produce the least amount of drag and it is at this depth you need to stay as long as you can keep the speed off the starting block going strong (~2-3feet/60-90cm). To help you with that, you have the underwater dolphin or breaststroke kick. No matter whether you swim freestyle or butterfly, you will/should still use the dolphin kick to keep the momentum off the start going. The kick itself comes out of your sternum and continues in a whipping like motion down to the tip of your toes. Note, I said the kick starts in your chest. This means that your arms, head and shoulders are totally still in a tightly integrated streamline and are piercing through the water like a javelin would. This is very high level, so more on dolphin kick in a different post.

5) Powerful and smooth breakout - After a great underwater work at the right depth and for the right time you are ready for a breakout. Breakout is the act of coming out of the water to do some actual swimming of the stroke you choose. During the breakout, one would be tempted to do something similar to what is done during the dive clean entry where the fingertips pierce the water first and then the body follows. In the breakout, it is not really so, because you need to use your hands and arms for pulling, so they should never come out of the water first. Don't take me wrong, your arms are in a streamline, so they are leading you through the water, however, they don't actually break the surface of the water. Depending on your stroke, the first body part out of the water is either the back of your head and upper back (freestyle/butterfly), the back of your head (breaststroke) and your forehead (backstroke). During freestyle, you could even take it one step further and have your elbow break the water at the same time with the other body parts I mentioned. What I mean by that, is that you complete the first pull before you come out of the water. The pull actually pops you out of the water and then the recovery elbow could theoretically come out of the water first. So, one more time, imagine that you are using your arm or arms (depending if you swim freestyle or butterfly) to pull you out of that water. So your arm starts its pull right before any part of your body breaks the surface of the water. Is this confusing? This is actually quite hard to learn, because you need to judge the pull at exactly the right moment, so you don't add necessary drag to your body during breakout by starting your pull too deep. If you don't believe me, try doing a breakout where both of your arms come out of the water first and then try doing one where you start your pull right before your head breaks the surface of the water and then you be the judge of which one is faster. The fact is, if you let your arms/fingertips get out of the water first, you will loose the first pull, thus you will slow down from your burst speed after the start. One last important comment, KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN and do not look for the surface. Pretend there is some object directly below your head on the bottom of the pool that you have to watch at all times and this will help you keep the head down.

Well, that is all there is to it :). As one wise man once said, "practice makes perfect", so get out there and keep doing starts, underwater work, breakouts until it becomes a second nature and you get it right.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Feb 22, 2011

Blast Off the Blocks Like a Rocket (Perfect your Start from the Block)

We have now discussed the basics of diving at the beginning of your swim. So if you are comfortable with sitting dives lesson and then mastered the standing dives exercises or if you are already a competitive swimmer who just wants to improve at the start of your race, you can move on to more advanced tips for your dives.

You have probably heard this a few times already, but the key aspects of every dive are the following:

1) fast reaction to the start buzzer
2) strong push off the block
3) clean entry into the water (next post)
4) efficient, fast underwater kick in streamline (next post)
5) powerful and smooth breakout (next post)

If you can master all of the key characteristics of a great dive you will see the difference it makes in your racing. You will leave your competitors in the dust and come out for your first stroke in front.

1) Fast reaction to the start buzzer - How fast you can get of the block after the start whistle blows is called the reaction time. Reaction time is influenced by many factors, including gender, psychology, experience, health etc. As you can see there are a few factors we cannot influence, but some can definitely be improved. So for example, if you warm up your body before the race with light jogging and stretching, your reaction time will improve. If you listen to some adrenaline pumping music before you go on the blocks, it will also increase your alertness, so reaction time should be faster.

There are also many fun drills you can do in the gym and in the swimming pool during your practices. Any drills that you can think of that involve reacting on a command will work great. Drills such as, kick slowly next to your buddy, suddenly coach whistles and upon the whistle you sprint to the end of the pool. Another great drill could be during the practice of regular starts. Have a teammate stand behind the block, holding a kickboard with both hands in the air. Upon the buzzer/whistle the person with a kickboard needs to hit the kickboard to the back part of the top of the block and then smack you in the butt with the flat part of the kickboard. The goal is to get off the block before you are smacked in the butt. This reaction time drill also serves as an extra incentive to have a fast reaction time as being hit on the butt is not pleasant if your teammate is strong:).

2) Strong push off the block - Powerful dive depends on how good of a jumper you are and how well you are positioned on the block. You should aim to become a primed spring, so when the whistle goes off, you will explode off the block like a rocket. So, there should be no rocking back and forth after the buzzer. Focus only on forward motion.

Here is a good time to mention the two main different starts that are commonly used among top competitive swimmers: the track start and the conventional grab start. The one you choose is fully based on personal preference and what you are trying to achieve in your dive. Some swimmers swear by track starts and on the other hand some swimmers say that track starts are not as good. Both of them are correct in my opinion, because we are all individuals, so do things differently. Some basic rules, however, do apply. Track start (feet are staggered behind each other on the block) is thought to be slightly quicker, so is used mainly for sprint events (50-100 meter races). Track start also usually provides a slightly shallower dive. On the other hand the grab start (feet are about a foot apart with both feet's toes curled over the edge of the block) is more powerful as you are using both legs for the dive. The grab start should be used in for example breaststroke events where you do want to go a bit deeper to perform your underwater breaststroke pull. Then again, nowadays the fifth stroke, the dolphin kick, is used so frequently that having a powerful deeper dive would be to a benefit to the swimmers who have mastered the underwater dolphin kick. The discussion on how to perform each of these correctly, is for longer writing, so I'll leave that until some other time.

As usually, the post is a bit longer than I anticipated, so the next 3 phases of a great swimming start will be discussed in the next post. Happy diving.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Feb 19, 2011

Is swimming a real drag? (How do drag forces influence my body in swimming?)

"Streamline, streamline, streamline", if I had a dollar for each time I say this word, I'd be a multi-billionaire at this stage, live in a mansion and have my own private 50 meter pool with retractable roof. If you visit this swimming blog often, you have read it over and over in my posts. So, what is this mysterious streamline and why is it so important in swimming that everyone obsesses about it so much?

In laymen's terms, streamline, in swimming, means manuevering your body into a position of least resistance while in the water. So when you swim through the water, your body is as stretched out and straight as possible. Just think of a regular 1 meter straight pole like a broomstick without the broom part as opposed to a small tree with branches sticking out. If you throw the broomstick in the water in a vertical position, then it nicely slices the water until it hits the bottom. If you do the same with the small tree, chances are that it will not even get fully submerged. The same principle applies to your body in the water, the more streamlined your body is, the easier and faster you can swim with less effort. So if you think, this is only for competitor swimmers and not for me, think again. The better you are positioned in the water, the more enjoyment you will have from swimming and the more you can swim and learn.

Streamline graphic from the book
Swimming Fastest by Ernie W. Maglischo
The main force that we are fighting in the water when we learn to swim is gravity. If we didn't take a breath, our body would sink as a rock due to gravity. However, after we overcome the gravity factor and are strong and skilled enough to float without a hassle, we start focusing on reducing or eliminating other forces, mainly active drag forces. The swimming science experts have currently identified 3 types of drag: form drag, frictional drag and wave drag. The form drag is caused by our human non-fish like body shape which cuses the turbulance around our body when we swim. The friction drag is the result of the water flowing over your body and thus causing friction and slowing you down. The wave drag, as described in the Journal of Biomechanics in the scientific paper Wave drag on human swimmers is caused by the energy required to cause the waves which follow your body when you swim and it also accounts for a larger chunk of the drag on a human body from the three drag types. There are of course other forces that act on our body when we swim, but these are secondary in the streamline discussion.

Ok, now we know what slows us down in the water. So, how can we decrease these drag forces to become faster and more efficient in our swimming? Since the wave drag seems to play the biggest role on slowing our swimming down, let's focus on it first. As described in the many scientific publications, wave drag increases as our swimming speed increases. In other words, as you swim faster, you are also causing more waves to be formed behind you. And as we said above, the more waves you generate around you, the more wave drag.

1) Push off the walls at lower depths. Do not push off the wall at the surface. The research has shown that the wave drag is very small or non-existant in greater depths, so if you push off at about 1 - 1.5m under water you will actually swim faster than if you were at the surface. That is one of the reasons why underwater dolphin kick is the fastest stroke out there and was unofficially coined the "fifth stroke". This is also the reason why FINA has made a rule that a swimmer cannot swim more than 15 meters underwater from any turn or start.

Streamline by axeb
2) Hold your streamline when you push off the wall or right after start. Here we get into the term of real streamline and the form and friction drag reduction. When you read in my posts or hear your coach say, hold your streamline, this is what he/she means. Arms are extended above your head. Palms of your hands are on top of each other and are locked together by the top thumb. Arms are fully straight and are squeezing your head right behind your hears. If you are flexible enough, you can also try to overlay as much of a forearm over the other as possible and try to reach out of your shoulders as far as your body allows you to, so there are no airpockets around your neck.

3) Maintain a proper head position. Do not look where you are going and reduce the drag forces acting on your body at the same time. Always look down when swimming freestyle and up when you swim backstroke. On butterfly, your head is down for most of the stroke and only comes up to skim the surface during the recovery (when the arms come out of the water). On breaststroke, it is the same, your head is basically just an extension of your spine and it does not move at the neck it is still and only moves when your body moves.

4) Keep a proper body rotation. Rolling from side to side on freestyle and backstorke with one arm extended in front is another way to reduce the drag. By extending your body forward in a straight line we are aligning our body into more streamlined position, thus reducing our form drag and more than likely wave drag as well.

5) Wearing a swimming cap reduces the frictional drag as the surface on your head is more smooth. As well as wearing a more unconspicious goggle type helps reduce some drag.

6) If you ever wondered why competitive swimmers shave their bodies. Now you have your answer. Smoother, hairless skin reduces the friction that the swimmer body is subdued to in the water, thus making the swimmer glide better in the water.

7) Some swim suits also reduce drag and this is one of the reasons FINA (Swimming governing body) has band the full body suits from competitions and why there were so many world records borken in the last few years. The suits compacted the body into a more streamlined position and helped the body with friction.

And here you have it. So next time you are doing your laps or training in swim practice, remember, streamline is the key to success and repetition is the way you will get there. Why not learn more about how your specific swimming style can be improved to reduce drag?
Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Feb 17, 2011

When I feel I am drowning what should I do? (What keeps me afloat in the water?)

I am of the belief that every child should be taught how to swim at an early age, the earlier the better. Actually, infants are quite comfortable in the water and if not nurtured and practiced, we somehow loose this comfortableness in the water when we get older. Even though later in their lives, the kids who were taught to swim at an early age, might not continue with swimming as a sport, some basic swimming survival techniques will be retained which one day just might save their life.

If you weren't one of the lucky ones whose parents taught you how to swim or enrolled you into a swimming lesson program when you were younger, you are in a disadvantage, however, you can still learn to swim, so it is by far not a lost cause. There is never too late to start, so feel free to dig into our Novice swim lessons and go out there and get into your closest body of water and get wet.

by hoyasmeg
The most common question, I get from folks that are just starting to get used to water and the feel of your body in the water, is "what should I do when I feel like I am drowning?". The first thing, everyone says to that is "don't panic". Well, this is easy said, but much more difficult to do when you are already in a state of tension when you are in the water. However, by practicing a few simple swimming techniques over and over, you will become more comfortable in the water, therefore more relaxed and furthermore a bit more confident that panic will not set in if you happen to find yourself in a situation in which you feel like you have no more energy to stay afloat.

First thing to remember is that, a human body is naturally buoyant if the lungs are filled with air. What I mean by that is that if you take a deep breath of air, you will not sink :). Simple right? Yes, it is, until you have to take another breath which causes you to exhale the air that kept you buoyant and this moment of short sinking time could cause the panic and drowning if it ends in the worst case scenario. So, first thing to remember is that you will float if you keep breathing in air, so in a way, there is no reason to panic since we all breath many many times a day on a regular basis.

Second, the best way to take an air in the water is when you are on your back. If you are on your front, face in the water, it is much more difficult to raise your head and take the needed breath. Of course, it is possible. If you are on your front, make sure to take a breath to the side and not to the front. However, this is a skill you will learn later in your learn to swim endeavors. So, if you feel like you are out of breath and you start to panic that you will drown, just flip your body on your back, in the very same way you are when you sleep. Just lay your head back on the pillow (water) and relax.

It is very important, when you are on your back that you keep your head tilted a bit backwards, so your eyes are looking at the ceiling of the pool or the sky if you are outside. This head position will cause your legs to float to the surface or at least rise a little, so you are not vertically in the water. Then you are free to take as many breaths as you can, because your mouth is out of the water and it does not need to go back in. If you have troubles with sinking legs, you might want to try shinfin™ leg fins which do wonders with the sinking leg problem.

Third, so now you know that you will automatically float when you have air in your lungs, you also know that if you are on your back, you can get air in your lungs and you can relax, but one question remains, how big of a breath should I take to stay afloat. Well, let's think about it in a more detail. If you take a very deep breath, you will float very nicely, but when you exhale, you will also sink much deeper in the water,
because the difference of the air in and out is very large and it will take you longer to exhale and inhale again. The best practice is to inhale just enough breath to keep yourself afloat, hold for a few seconds and then exhale again. There is no reason to keep holding the breath for a long time as it causes CO2 build up, thus making you feel like you are out of breath more. If you keep breathing normally as you do during your regular day as a dry land walker, you will be just fine.

If you are already swimming around with easy and you do a lot of open water swimming, do not dismiss the above guideline on how to prevent yourself from drowning. You never know what can happen. It happens even to the best of us as we saw in the FINA Open Water 10-kilometer World Cup in Fujairah, south of Dubai with the tragic death of an elite swimmer Fran Crippen. To make swimming a safer sport, the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, have came up with a specific swimming safety floating device Swim Safety Device, which you can attach to yourself while swimming. When you get tired, you can use the Swim Safety Device as a resting buoy. In addition to the swimming safety device being a floating device, it also is a dry bag to store your valuables and to top it off, it is designed not to slow you down when swimming, it just floats nicely in your wake behind you.

That said, if you are just starting out with swimming, don't be alarmed and afraid. Swimming is a wonderful sport, but as it is with everything in life, the correct precautions should be taken before attempting something you are not familiar with. Be it swimming lessons, floating device, good health etc. Since you are reading this blog and you got this far, you are already on your way to an enjoyable swimming experience:).
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Feb 15, 2011

Extreme Apnea and the Guinness World Record (How long can you hold your breath under water?)

I am sure you have all tried it, holding your breath (be it underwater or above the water) as long as you can. I used to practice holding breath to break my own personal records during my English classes :). I guess this shows you how much interested I was in English, so if you find any errors in my post, just think ahh right, he must have been holding his breath when they were studying that stuff. The teacher probably wondered why I was so red in my face all the time hehe.

An average human being should be able to hold his/her breath for approximately 2 minutes. According to Dr. Ralph Potkin, a pulmonary specialist who prepared David Blane for his world record in holding breath, the 2 minute mark is just a starting point and it is possible to train your body to hold your breath for a much longer period of time. Check out this amazing video of what a human body is capable of.

The world record in breath holding is now set to over 19 minute mark, which on the first glance seems just incredible, however, let's examine one important rule that the Guineess folks put into place. The breath holding competitor is allowed to breath pure oxygen for 10 minutes before the actual breath holding event, so you can imagine how much more oxygen does one have in their blood stream after such a pure oxygen kick. Neverthless 19 minutes without breathing, pure oxygen or not, is still quite an amazing feat.

Now what does world record in breath holding has to do with swimming? Well, breathing is a very important aspect of learning to swim. Many beginners, especially if they come from a running/cycling background, have a problem adjusting to the breathing rhythm in swimming. In running, one can breath basically any time it is needed. Of course, there are some basic breathing techniques and patterns as well, but they greatly differ from swimming. During swimming, you have to have your breathing pattern even more fine tuned. This is why many people feel out of breath while swimming as they feel they do not get enough oxygen in their lungs. It is not because they are out of shape, it is merely the fact that they haven't discovered the right breathing pattern for them yet. So if you are one of these swimmers who feel out of breath all the time while doing your laps, don't fret, you can fix it with some minor adjustments of your technique and breathing pattern. Here are a few tips on how to improve your breathing during a swim practice:

1) If your freestyle coach or swimming lesson teacher tells you to breath every 3rd stroke (meaning you breath to one side, do a full stroke and then breath to other side), they have a reason for this and it usually is to keep your body in a symmetry. This type of breathing is also referred to as bilateral breathing. Because when you breath to both sides, you are evenly rolling on both hips etc. etc. However, as far as breathing is concerned, you do not need to wait that long to breath. Your body needs oxygen and if it doesn't get it, fatigue sets in. You can breath every other stroke (meaning: you breath on one side, take a stroke and then breath to the same side again) and rotate the breathing side per lap. So one pool length you breath to the left and the other to the right and this way you keep your oxygen intake appropriate and you are still practicing both sides of your body symmetrically. If you are a bit more advanced and you have the right head position during your freestyle stroke, you can try 2 breaths to one side, then right away rotate your head to the other side and then 2 breaths to that side. So it looks like - take 2 breaths every stroke to the left, breath the same stroke to the right and then take 2 strokes to the right). This is a bit more challenging, because if you breath directly from one side to the other, your head and body position needs to be right in order for you not to loose your speed.

by jayhem
2) Do not wait to exhale until you are about to take a breath. If you are breathing every 3rd or every 2nd stroke, you can start slowly exhaling right after you take your breath and your face is back in the water. This will help you in 3 ways:

a) Your breathtaking activity will take much shorter time, so you can, as we call it, "sneak a breath in" very fast without spending too much time with your face out of the water. If you wait until the last minute to exhale, you can feel the stroke stop until you finish taking your breath and thus totally throwing off your rhythm.

b) You will be more relaxed and feel less in need of oxygen, because if you hold your breath, you start to accumulate CO2 in your blood and you are also more tense. So, continuous exhalation will gradually let out the CO2 build up and will also relax you a little

c) If you incorporate proper gradual exhalation into your swimming stroke, it could serve as a great stroke rhythm holder. So your rhythm is inhale, slowly exhale, inhale, slowly exhale, inhale etc. etc.

3) Do some underwater swims or breathe every X strokes. For example, you can set a goal in one practice that you will do 5 dolphin kicks off each wall and in between you swim slower to catch you breath. This is will help you in breathing + you are also practicing your underwater kick which is priceless. You can also set a goal to breath one lap every 5th stroke and then second lap every other stroke, then every 5th stroke again etc. These types of breathing drills will help you to get adjusted to the breathing pattern in swimming. You can also see the post on lung capacity increase drills to help you master breathing during swimming.
Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Feb 12, 2011

Take Your Marks! Go! (How to Dive of a Starting Block)

Last time, we were discussing the proper streamline during a dive and also some basic exercises to get us more comfortable jumping and diving into the water. Today, we'll build on top of what we have learned and add a few more diving steps before we move onto a proper start from a block.

When you are comfortable with the sitting dive and squatting dive you can move on to practicing the following exercises. Note of caution, perform the below exercises only in a pool which as a deep end otherwise you are risking an injury by hitting the bottom.

1) Standing pseudo-dive - You are almost there, just a few more drills and you will be able to dive. Here you will require an assistance from someone who is quite strong and can carry some of your weight. If you are teaching your children, you will need to be the one here. Here it goes. Put your feet to the side of the pool (about one foot apart), toes over the edge and your arms in the streamline. Head is between the arms. Now start slowly moving your upper body with you arms towards the water. At this point, the other person who is helping you out will stand next to you and grabs you by the hips from both sides and gently leans you over the water, so you are about to enter, but not enter, because they are holding you. Your feet are still planted on the wall, so the supporting person is only helping you shift weight forward, so you can feel how it is going to be when you do it by yourself. You will end up in a downward "V" with the tip being the top of your butt (on the top). If you are comfortable in this position, you can let the supporting person know and they will let you go, so you can finish the dive. If you are not comfortable, just ask them to bring you back to the vertical position and try it again.

2) Standing dive - This diving drill is basically the same as the one above, except you are going to do this by yourself, therefore, you will have to travel a bit of a longer distance to the water. Let's start by moving into the streamline position as we discussed in our previous lesson, put your toes over the edge of the water (Note: once again, this is best done where the water sloshes over the edge into the gutter). When you are all set, bend your knees a little and start slowly bending at your upper back and waist towards the water. Depending on your flexibility, you will want to start bending your knees as well, so you can get your fingertips as close to the water as possible. This time, however, do not wait to shift your weight forward until your fingertips touch the water. When your fingertips are pointing about 1/2 meter(yard) from the edge of the pool you can start shifting your weight forward, so you move fingertips first into the water, followed by your nicely tucked in head and then your body. Remember, do not be tempted to look where you are going, just keep your head tucked into your arms and watch your legs. You will enter the water at an angle away from the wall. Just imagine that there is a floating ring on top of the water and your body needs to go through it without touching the sides. Your fingertips go first, then your head and shoulder, chest, hips, knees and then your feet. If you are still unclear, just mouse over the image of the stick figure and you will get some more explanation.

3) Standing dive with an assist - If you find it difficult to do the above standing dive by yourself, you can have your friend help you. The basics are the same as the regular standing dive, except at the time you start to enter the water, your friend or parent will cut your legs from underneath of you. Don't be scared, this sounds much worse than it is. Instruct your buddy to squat down next to you and put his/her forearm in front of your ankles and when you are entering the water, he/she will simply help you move your legs upward with sweeping their forearm away from the pool toward your legs in a slightly upward motion.

4) Sitting dive from the block - In a similar manner we did the sitting dive drill from the side of the pool, we will do the same from the block. If you feel that the block is still too high at this stage, I suggest you keep practicing from the side of the pool OR usually there is a slightly raised platform next to the starting block which is higher than the regular side of the pool, but still lower than the starting block, so use that as you work your way up to the pool. The most important part here is the head between the arms. If you get scared and do look up where you are diving to, you will more than likely hit a very nice faceplant or you will do a belly flop. Both of these can hurt for a few seconds afterwards, but nothing lethal :). It is actually good, you experience some small pain, at least it will be a good reminder to keep your head down in the streamline position when entering the water.

by IITA Image Library
5) Standing dive from the block - When you make it all the way to this stage, you are almost ready to have a good swimming start. First, we will, however, do the same exercise as we did during the standing dive from the side of the pool. So put your arms into a streamline, feet next to each other, toes over the edge, bent knees and start bending downwards until you are ready to shift your weight, so you enter the water with your fingertips. I'll say it again, no matter what happens ( for example: someone calling your name at the side of the pool), KEEP YOUR HEAD IN BETWEEN YOUR ARMS. If this will help you, think of it as if your fingertips made a hole into the water and the rest of your body has to go through that hole, so your body needs to be as small, tight, compact as possible. If you stick your head out, you will hit the side of the hole and it will be a bit painful. For the most common mistakes, mouseover the image of the diving children.

If you have made it through numerous belly flops and faceplants all the way this far, very well done and you are tougher for it. If not, just keep practicing, you will get there, don't worry. There is a bit more to doing a proper swimming start, but this is for a next more advanced lesson. In the meantime, keep practicing and happy diving.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Feb 8, 2011

Learning to Swim with your Xbox 360 and Michael Phelps (From the Swimming Pool to your Xbox 360)

The last few years has seen a tremendous explosion of miscellaneous games which require some physical and social activity rather than the traditional sedentary joystick control games. So what does this has to do with you and learning how to swim?

Microsoft just announced a new swimming game, called Push the Limit, featuring the multiple Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. The game is for the new Kinect on Xbox 360 and is meant to come out this summer (2011). Microsoft introduces Kinect as a no-controller game. The game simply responds to the movement of your body parts to execute game play. So, if you need to wave your hand or kick a ball, you just do so in front of the xbox set and your character will mimic your movement in the game itself. Pretty cool ey? We will soon be jumping up and down and doing crazy moves in front of our TVs like a chicken with its head cut off, but there is hope :).

The previous swimming games that we have seen are usually part of the Olympic sport series and are controlled merely by a controller, which is, truth to be told, very boring to use. Also swimming is not the highest rated sport out there, so making a game which features top level swimming athletes might be a much bolder move than just launching new NFL or NHL games featuring all your favorite athletes. Let's face it, if there is no swimming national hero, nobody would care about swimming at all, but since America has Michael Phelps which has marketed the hell out of swimming, more and more people start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and actually do watch or participate in swimming themselves. Which is of course great as everyone should know some basics of swimming.

Back to the reason why I am talking about the "Push the Limit" game here on the swimming blog. Depending on how good are the graphics and how well the authors captured Michael Phelps' movements, it could be a great teaching tool for the folks that would like to improve in their swimming technique. For example, let's say that you are doing your race against Michael in the game and you are at your turn, if you don't put your arms in a tight streamline, you will loose a few precious seconds after the turn as Michael's streamline is almost flawless and he cuts through the water with such ease that you will really need to perfect yours. Another example could be the swimming stroke itself. If you swim freestyle against Michael and you keep your head too high up, your legs will sink and you will swim slower. However, if you put your head down in the right position you will be faster.
(even though, I am not sure how you would actually see where you are going since you do not have any black T on the bottom of the pool to tell you to do a flip turn). But you get the point right? I guess we will have to wait and see whether the game authors did the swimming sport justice or if it is just one of those games where you flap your hands around your body as if you escaped from a looney bin and there is no hope of help for you. From having a quick glance at the video teaser for the game and the screenshots, I have to say that it does look quick cool, but the skeptic in me is still not convinced.

The game "Push the Limit" with Michael Phelps is now on pre-order, so if you are really interested and would like yours as soon as it comes out, feel free to order it. If you are not one of the lucky ones who has the pleasure to have Kinect for Xbox 360, perhaps a birthday gift is the way to go.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Feb 7, 2011

A Few Easy Steps to a Swimming Start (Learn the basics of a proper dive)

Learning to swim with the correct technique can be quite challenging during the first attempts, however, do not get yourselves discouraged. Many have learned to swim before you and many will follow, so what seems like an impossible task to master is, with a little patience and perseverance, conquerable. Let's forget for a few moments about swimming with correct head and body position and focus on how to actually get into the water to swim. In other words, in the next couple of posts I'll teach you how to
Streamline by axeb
dive into the pool to begin your lap swimming. Diving head first is also called "the start" and in shorter distance sprint swimming like 50s or 100s, it becomes a crucial part of the swim, so mastering your starts is a must if you are going to compete in swimming meets. If you are not competing, it is still a great skill to have, so you can share it with your children, fellow lap swimmers or just simply break up the monotony of going up and down the pool. So, here we go:

1) Streamline position - Before we actually start diving into the pool, let's talk about what your body should look like. Right after your dive, you are actually in the fastest part of your swimming, because your speed off the starting block is much higher than when you swim. Thus, it is very important to limit the resistance during the entry into the water. This is done by keeping your body in a streamlined position with your arms stretching up, one palm over the other and tightly squeezing just behind your ears. Go on and try it. When in the streamlined position, you can even get on your tippytoes and try to stretch your arms out of your shoulders as much as possible.

2) Feet first test - If you have passed the fear of water test you should be able to do the following exercise. Stand on the side of the pool (forget the blocks for a while), put your arms above your head in a streamline and jump into the water feet first. Note: make sure the water is deep enough, so you don't sprain your ankles :). You will look like a needle falling vertically into the water. Do this a few times to get used to jumping in and the small impact the water entry has on your body. When you are comfortable jumping into the pool feet first, you are ready to move on.

Sitting dive by navratil
3) Sitting dive - This is just a transitional quick exercise to get us thinking, fingers first, so do not spend too much time on this, but try it a few times. Sit on the side of the pool with your feet in the water. Note: use the side of the pool where the water comes over the side. Put your arms into the streamline as we practiced, bend your upper body over, so your arms and head move closer to the water and slowly keeping bending and shifting weight to the front, so you end up mildly easing yourself into the water and enter the water fingertips first when your body tips over. You can help yourself to tip over with the heals of your feet pressing against the wall of the pool.

4) Squatting dive - We have done our preparations and now we are ready to move forward to hands first entry into the water. Squat at the edge of the pool (ideally, at the edge where the water goes over the edge into the gutter, so you are quite close the water). Wrap your toes over the edge and put your arms into the streamlined position. Then as a next step, start slowly bending your arms with your head down towards the surface of the water. Important note: keep your head between your arms and DO NOT look at your finger tips. You might be tempted to look forward where you are going, so you don't loose your goggles, but believe me if I tell you that if you are in the correct streamlined position, you will not loose them. Your eyes are looking at your knees at this stage and your fingertips are or almost are touching the water surface. All is left now is just shifting your weight a bit more forward, so you can fall into the water with your fingertips entering the water first and your squatted body follows. And voila! You have done it, your first partial swimming dive is behind you. Keep practicing this exercise until you are quite comfortable with entering the water with your fingertips first and your body following.

This was it for today. Next time, we'll move on to the final stages of the dive and get ourselves onto the block to do a proper start.

Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start