3/1/11 - 4/1/11

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Mar 28, 2011

Cross-country skiing, the winter alternative to swimming (How can cross-country skiing improve your swimming?)

Swimming is a sport that one can usually do all year round, however, depending on where you live on our water covered planet, you might have varied swimming conditions during the course of the year. Therefore, it might be necessary to do another alternative sport activity to supplement your swim training.
(Note: you should always do more than just swim if you want to improve and build core body strength). Same applies if you have only limited time to get into the pool during the busy work week. Having an alternative exercise which also helps you in swimming is a key to success. During winter, one such alternate activity could be cross-country skiing.

The northern hemisphere is now recovering from a beautiful snowy winter, so the minds of the swimmers are more geared toward sunny days and outdoor swimming pools, however, we can’t forget our brothers and sisters down under on the southern hemisphere who are now slowly transitioning into their fall and winter time, so talking about cross-country skiing at this time still feels appropriate. Actually, most of the skiing exercises can be done on roller skis or roller-blades as well, so winter is really not needed, but it is more fun.

I am not implying that cross-country skiing mimics the same movements you should do in the water when swimming with the right technique, however, there are some similar muscle groups being worked. As you might know there are 2 major types of cross-country skiing styles: classic and skate style. Different skis are usually needed for each, but if you have classic style skis, you should be able to perform skating style for a short distances no problem. If you are interested in learning more about cross-country skiing in general, go here.

One of the main body elements that gets utilized over and over during swimming is your core body. So, having a strong core is a must for a successful swimmer. First, it helps you to keep your body in line, second allows you to rotate your hips much easier and third, your kick relies on it as well. Now, in cross-country skiing, the first skill you need to acquire is a balance on the skis. So, the more you ski, the easier it is to glide on the skis and not feel like you are on a balance board. Guess what? This is exactly the right type of strengthening of your core you need for swimming.

Other muscle groups that are majorly used during swimming are your shoulders, lats and triceps. Similar concept applies in cross-country skiing when you use the ski poles to help you move forward. In the classic cross-country ski style, you can move your arms and legs in alternate directions or you can move only your arms in a parallel movement to propel yourself forward. Does this sound familiar? Hint hint, freestyle vs. butterfly arm motion. Now, here goes the disclaimer again, in swimming you work on not dropping your elbow and having a high catch, in skiing, this is not so much as you drop your elbow, but your shoulders and lats get definitely a workout. You can consciously keep your elbow high, but the power generated here is not as big, so it is more of a drill exercise which should be done with care. If you pay attention to your arm movement and finish your ski pole push all the way, extending your arms fully behind your body, both of your triceps will sing in harmony the next day. Finally, if you want to make it a bit more interesting, why not work on your oblique ab muscles and more of your core body. Instead of pushing with your poles on each side of the skis, just hold them together and push with both of the poles only on one side of the skiing trail. This way, you are also introducing a rotation of your upper body (sort of a cross over woodchipper exercise in a gym).

It is a well known fact that swimmers over-utilize their arms when they cross-country ski and forget about the kick they should have with their legs to help them go forward. So, next time you are skiing, also employ a powerful kick backwards with your legs and don’t just rely on your arms to do all the work. For this to work, you need to make sure your skis are waxed right.

During the skate cross-country ski style, your legs move in a V shaped pattern which makes it a pretty good alternative to breaststroke, especially if you remove the use of the ski poles and only use the legs. All the major muscles in your legs get a good workout after climbing up a few hills with the skis. You will also notice that the upper part of your foot might be sore from holding the tip of the ski up, same happens in breaststroke when you swim for a longer time while working on your breaststroke ankle angle. Disclaimer here again though, in breaststroke you should focus on pushing water behind you with your feet and legs, so don’t think that breaststroke is swum the same way as the cross-country skate ski style where you push down with your foot.

So as you can see, cross-country skiing will work on all the good swimming muscles starting with your core, shoulders, lats, triceps and ending with your legs. However, as any dryland activity, cross-country skiing also strengthens your ankle, which is not really ideal for swimming since your ankles need to be loose to create propulsion and eliminate drag. So, make sure you keep up with those stretches each time after you get done with skiing and before you go swimming.

And there you have it, if you live in a country where snow covers the ground for a part of the year, you now have an excuse to dust off those old cross-country skis from the cellar and enjoy the benefits of this wonderfully enjoyable winter sport. If you are less fortunate and don’t have the pleasure of skiing on the white powder, why not use ski poles with your roller-blades next time you are out for a skate. You will love it.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Mar 23, 2011

Do You Have the Right Swimming Mojo? (Blending into the swimming community)

There is no question about it, each specific niche community, be it formed around a sport such as swimming, arts or other hobbies, has its own code of conduct and non-written rules that the insiders follow and the outsiders trying to get in stick out like a sore thumb if they are not aware of
these guidelines. What I am talking about could range from special attire, body mannerism or any other specific thing that is embraced by that particular community. The members that have been in the community the longest don’t even think about these behavioral changes they have undergone when they first joined in, it just seems natural now. An outsider could be totally oblivious to the community code of conduct or on the other hand they might just find the behaviors very weird. Which sometimes they totally are.

How does this pertain to a swimming community? Let me put together a list of swimming community specific behaviors or codes of conduct which are embraced by majority of competitive swimmers around the world without even thinking about them. On the other hand, a regular lap swimmer might not even realize they stick out like a sore thumb in and around the pool because their behavior deviates from the community’s. Please take the below items with a grain of salt as this is not meant to embarrass anybody or put down the swimming community or the individuals that are learning to swim. The purpose of the below list is the opposite. To help bridge the gap between the lap swimmers and non-swimmers and the competitive swimming world, so we all understand each other better.

So, are you ready to awaken the inner swimmer within and explore the world of swimming through a different angle? Here is a list of swimming related behaviors that I’ve observed, witnessed and experienced in and around the pool.

1) Goggles around the neck - I put this to number one as this is the most obvious sore thumb like behavior a non-competitive swimmer can do. Swimmers never wear goggles around their neck. It is childish, it is hard to get them off the neck later and it just looks so weird. If you want to put them somewhere, stick one of the eye cups or the strap under your suit, they will hold just fine. What type of goggles you use is another issue, but that is not as clear, so I will refrain from comments on this topic at this time.

2) Swimming with a watch - whether you have ever done this or not, I am sure you have seen a person swimming with a watch. Unless, the watch is a computer which helps you with your stroke rate, stop watch (if there is no other), or a heart rate monitor receiver, there is no reason why you should keep the watch on. First, it creates a lob sided stroke as one arm weighs more than the other which could cause shoulder injuries. Just think how many strokes you do in a workout - it is a lot. Second, it creates extra drag when you extend your arm in front of your body. Third, it is just plain silly.

3) Showering before going to the pool - the pool operators are probably tearing their hair out about this, but competitive swimmers rarely shower before they go into the pool. There are several reasons for this. Usually, there is a stretching session before one gets into the pool and doing your stretches when you are wet and cold is not nice and even not very safe. Another reason could be that, most swimmers dread the split second moment when the body temperature changes from being nice and warm to cold when water hits the skin, so they try to prolong this moment until it is totally necessary. Thus, waiting until they actually jump into the pool to experience this dreadful feeling. If you don’t understand this, try swimming 2 times a day, 6 times a week and see how long you can last taking showers before you get in :).

4) To pee in the water or not to pee - that is the question :). Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most competitive swimmers don’t even bother thinking about this question and just do it. The chemicals and the sheer amount of water in the pool will dilute it and eventually absorb it. So, if you are now very disturbed and you hear this for the first time, don’t worry. It is not as bad as it sounds and it never hurt anybody. Just think of how many kids are in the pool every day. Do you think they get out to pee? Of course not. To put your mind at ease, every swimming pool has a functional filtration system which keeps the water clean and many chemicals that are put into the water just for the purpose of diffusing the stuff that is not suppose to be in the water.

5) Using jammers or a full body suit in practice - I am not sure if this item still holds true since the jammer style swim suit is so popular, but I think it does. Swimmers do not use jammers or full body suits in practice, unless they are practicing their race speeds. Jammers are usually seen on smaller kids and there is probably at fault the parent as they don’t really know what to buy for the kids to swim in practices. Or there is a common problem in America where boys and many males are embarrassed to be seen in public in a skimpy swim suit, so they think jammers will fix it and they feel like they are in shorts. So, please, next time you buy a swim suit, forget jammers, unles you are competing. Jammers just look silly when you swim your regular laps.

6) Swimming with a locker key around your ankles - In some swimming pools it is necessary to lock your locker with a key or some kind of a magnetic thing. Many lap swimmers choose to put these on their ankles or wrists to keep them safe. This makes sense if you are really in a crowded place where thievery occurs, but usually it is pretty safe in swimming pools. Swimmers do not put these keys on their body. Keep it outside of the pool on your water bottle or in a bag. Or if you swim with a drag suits over your regular swim suit, just attach it to the string on the outside suit, so it doesn’t not dangle around and slow you down or keep you off balance (if it is on your ankle or a wrist).

7) Brushing teeth in the shower - Next time you are in the pool for a morning swim session, try it! You will never want to brush teeth anywhere else again. It feels so nice and free to brush your teeth in the shower and it saves you some time. This is a common behavior in many swimmers after morning practices, so don’t be afraid and don’t worry that other people thing it is weird or disgusting.

8) Faster swimmers have a right away - It is the most annoying thing if a slower swimmer does not yield a right away to a much faster individual. In swimming practices and in open swim hours, there are usually lanes which indicate the speed swimmers swim in them. This keeps the order pretty much most of the time, however, once in a while there is the occasional rogue lap swimmer who does not know the conduct that he/she should not swim in the middle of the lane and not let anybody pass or that he/she should not push off the wall right when the faster swimmer is coming in for a turn. This causes frustration, probably in both involved parties, which could result in a confrontation, mouth full of water for the slower swimmer or a black eye for the fast swimmer from the slower swimmer kick. So, slower swimmers, don’t take this the wrong way, it is amazing that you are in the pool and doing your laps (you are better for it), however, now you know the rule about faster swimmers and have no excuse to obey by them next time you are doing your laps.

9) Swimming with paddles - swimmers do not swim with paddles all the time. It is a big misconception amongst lap swimmers. Usage of paddles depends on a particular coach, however, the majority of swimming is done without them. Paddles are only used for some drills geared towards a specific goal like better catch or in sprinting etc. So, if you are guilty of using paddles for majority of your swimming workouts, because you think this is the way to do it, think twice and let your shoulders rest a little. You might prevent an injury or two.

10) The infamous goggle spit or lick - if you hang out around your local pool on weekly or daily basis, chances are you have probably seen the goggle spit or tongue lick ritual performed on many occasions by the seasoned swimmers before they get ready to jump into the pool. Sometimes, it even seems like a bad fetish as some swimmers have their goggles attached to their mouths at all time and their tongues perform a sexy dance on the inside the goggle material. This behavior, however, does have a very good purpose. The spit actually serves as one of many proven anti-fogging solutions. After licking the inside of your goggles, they will be fog free. If you use goggles and they fog up, lick them good before you get into the pool next time and see if it works. If you are on a hunt for anti-fog goggles, don't bother. There is no such thing, even though all the goggle companies keep advertising their goggles as such.

11) Relaxed swimming stroke - the last item on the swimming community code of conduct is smooth and relaxed swimming. Many beginner swimmers think that they have to fight the water as fast as possible to get to the other side and then they are proud of themselves. Or many swimmers think that they always have to compete against the person in the next lane. If this is you, don’t do it. Real swimmers relax in the water and try to be one with the water and not fight it. As far as racing your neighbors, this is great in a certain swimming sets, but most of the time you should be concentrating on your technique and how the water feels instead of the person next to you. I know, to be relaxed in the water is easy to say, but very hard to do for beginner swimmers. Don’t worry, you are not alone and with following the proper drill sequence and applying your mind to it, you will succeed.

There you have it. Agree? Disagree? Well, either way, maybe you learned something new:). Feel free to add more into the comments.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Mar 21, 2011

SaferSwimmer Float Review: Swimming safe without hindering your performance

Mar 21, 2011 Final rating: 5/5

The sport of swimming has seen many innovations over the last few years, some of which we have covered here on the Swimator Blog (new full body suits, technique improvement related swimming equipment or new insights on how to swim faster). However, one aspect of swimming that is being pushed to the background is the safety of the sport. When was the last time you heard about some new swim safety equipment being introduced around the swimming pools? If you think about it, there are numerous designs of life vests, floating rings from many materials, arm floaties (inflatable arm bands) for children, the long stick that a lifeguard extends to a swimmer in distress, lifeguard rescue tubes and swimming safety belts. All of these pieces of safety equipment are great to help a person to stay afloat, however, they all are either impossible to swim with or make swimming quite cumbersome.

Bottom line is that personal safety during swimming does not get as much attention as it deserves, even though drownings during the popular mass triathlon races are not uncommon, however, this is about to change. A new revolutionary swim safety device was introduced to the open swimmer community which keeps you safe if you need it to, but it also does not hinder your swimming capability as the other swim safety tools do. Say hello to the "SaferSwimmer Float (Swim Safety Device or SSD)".

What it is the SaferSwimmer float (Swim Safety Device or SSD) and what does it do for you?

I have already very briefly mentioned this product in the drowning prevention post earlier. As the name indicates, the Safer Swimmer keeps you or your children safer during most swimming activities (be it in the pool or open water). It basically works as an inflatable float which is attached with an adjustable belt to your waist and is carried in the current behind you. Now you might be thinking, well, that is not that revolutionary. You are right, this simply is not, however, the beauty comes in the fact that the device does not cause you to swim slower due to its resistance behind your body. When you swim, your body creates sort of a turbulent wave channel behind you with water moving in the direction of your swim. In more scientific fluid dynamics terms, this turbulent wave creates vortices which in turn produce a low pressure area behind the swimmer which causes the water to move along in the direction of the swimmer's swim. The swim safety device takes advantage of this water flow and is basically moved in the direction of the swim on top of the wave with very little resistance. It is very similar to the idea of when cyclists or swimmers are drafting behind each other in their road/open water races. The second cyclist/swimmer always works a lot less than the first who has to plow through the air/water to create the forward moving channel.

Apart from its main function as a safety device, it also has an in-build dry bag-like storage compartment. In this waterproof dry compartment you can store and take items with you for a swim that you'd normal have to leave behind in the car or on the beach. So, whether you bring with you your clothes, towel, phone, car keys, sunglasses, spare goggles, running shoes to run back to your starting place or sun protection lotion, they stay nice and dry and your mind can be focused on swimming instead of worrying whether someone is going through your stuff on the beach. If you are out for a longer swim, perhaps you might want to bring some nutrition and hydration products along, so you can replenish your energy levels and have a good workout. If you are into swim trekking or open water orienteering, perhaps a map sealed in a zip lock bag is in order, so you don't get lost.

Another great feature is the bright orange color of the Safer Swimmer buoy. Being seen in open water swimming is a must, so any boats will go around the area you swim in. Open water swimmers usually wear a colorful swim cap to accomplish being seen, however, those caps are quite small and with the head being low in the water and waves going around your body, this is not ideal. The SaferSwimmer with its 50cm long and about 20cm tall (when inflated) body makes a perfect statement in the deep blue since the orange color is hard to miss.

The Safer Swimmer does not, however, have to be used only for swimming. Since it floats in a wake your body creates behind you, it is bound to float behind your kayak or a canoe, so if you are running out of space in the boat compartments or you just don't have any or you simply want to keep your beer cool, why not take the swim safety device along, fill it with the items you need to keep dry and let it float behind your boat while you paddle to explore near by coves.

What are the specifications of the SaferSwimmer float?

The product is made out of very durable PVC material or for the roughnecks out there Nylon with TPU coating material which supposedly even withstands an adult person standing on it while inflated (I have not tried this :)). The inflation with your mouth is done via a small external tube which has a wonderful tight-seal opening which will hold air in very well. It is much better than the valveless opening like we see on most common air filled children toys. There is also a small handle on the float which can be handy when you are walking into the water or it is even more useful in the situation when you are using the float to rest during your swim. When you wrap your hands around the buoy, it could happen that you will slip if there is some slime built up on the float from the swim, however, if you grab the handle, you will get a much more firmer grip.

The Safer Swimmer buoy comes with an adjustable waist band, so one size fits all solution is present. The waist bend has two nice big buckles, so putting it on is easy even for people with bigger hands. It fits very well over your wetsuits as well. There is also a sliding clip on the belt which is attached to a short non-adjustable connector which in turn attaches the belt to the float. If you position the belt buckle to the side (instead to the front as normal), you will notice that you have a smooth path for the belt clip to move from your back to the front, so if you need to switch from freestyle to backstroke and vice versa, nothing is hindering your movement.

How to use the SaferSwimmer buoy?

To assemble and put into use the product is as simple as 1,2,3. It takes about 1 minute of your time, including filling the dry bag with your desired items. Here are the simple steps:
  1. Store all the items you'd like to keep dry in the bottom of the storage compartment
  2. Roll the top of the bag over a few times to create a water tight seal and buckle the main bag buckle. One thing to note here, make sure to start the roll of the seal towards the inflator tube, otherwise, the bag will have a bit more resistance since it won't be as smooth on the side which is in the water.
  3. Inflate the device with your mouth and twist the inflator cap to close
  4. Adjust your waist belt to snuggly fit above your hips as well as the distance you want to float to have behind you.
  5. Have an enjoyable and most importantly a safe swim

Storing the SaferSwimmer is very easy as well. If you swam in salty water, I'd suggest rinsing the float first, so you prolong the life of the material and not let the salt eat its way through it. Take your stuff out of the dry storage compartment, slowly deflate the buoy by unscrewing the inflator tube cap and when fully deflated and properly dried (ideally not on direct sunlight), fold it over a few times to get it into a manageable size. Now you have a very small, pocket size item which you can store in your car's trunk or a swim bag which is ready to be used next time you are out for a swim.

How many ways can you use the SaferSwimmer?

1) Open water swimming - if you are an avid ocean, sea, lake, pond or river swimmer, I'd strongly encourage you to check out the TPU (heavy duty) safety device as you never know what currents, cramps or other irregularities could occur in your swim. As they say, better be safe than sorry.

2) Swim lessons - if you are a novice or a beginner swimmer who is either afraid of water or not as confident, this device could be the answer to your uneasiness. Simply attach it to your waist and get into the pool to do your swim lesson exercises totally undisturbed by the floating device. When you feel scared or tired, just grab onto the buoy, roll on your back and start floating to gather composure.

3) Children safety - safety around the pool should belong to a basic education for any child during their younger years. Many swimming lesson programs do very well with teaching children about safety, however, nothing is 100%. So, if you are worried to let your kids swim on their own or if you would like to improve your child's swimming skills, the SaferSwimmer could be a good answer to this. Instead of your child using the arm floaties or a kickboard where they have a horrible positioning of their body for swimming, they could use the swim safety float and thus have a backup solution if they need to take a rest. However, note that you should never let your kids swim unsupervised if they are not good swimmers, no matter what floating devices they have on.

4) Snorkeling - now everyone can enjoy peacefully floating above the coral reef without the fear of not surviving a fatigue and drowning. Just strap the safety product around your waist and get yourself lost in the wonders of the underwater world without worrying a boat will run into you.

5) Swim trekking, island hopping, open-water orienteering - even if you are an advanced swimmer who is pushing the possibilities of the sport of swimming, taking with you the safety float is not a bad idea. Even if it is just for the sake of having some dry items with you, the safety feature could be just a plus as you never know what could happen.

6) SwimRun - the newer sport on the block is SwimRun. When you train for these races, it is important to keep hydrate and fed, so the smaller version of SaferSwimmer is a perfect solution to take with you. It can even be attached over the shoulder during your runs.

7) Group swimming - if the leader and a few other people in a group wear these buoys, it is easy for everyone else to navigate during the swim. The fastest swimmers will know where the end of the group is and the stragglers on the other hand will see how far ahead the leaders are.

8) Swimming and Triathlon events - open water swimming races have risen in popularity in recent years and with it also the danger of someone not judging their skills properly and entering a race they should not be in. The SaferSwimmer can be a good tool for the organizers to help keep a certain aspect of safety for the event as well as a nice memory product for the participants to take with them home after the race. I'd urge all event organizers to consider using these safety buoys to promote safer sport.

Summary: Pros and Cons

All and all, the SaferSwimmer buoy is a great addition to the swimming or snorkeling gear kit for anybody who wants to feel safe in the water. The float combined together with the Aquaspotter safety belt from GoatGear might just be the answers to the water safety needs of all open swimmers.

  • easy to use and assemble
  • no or very little hindrance on performance
  • waterproof dry bag feature addition
  • robust inflator air valve
  • large storage capabilities
  • the waist belt and float connector is adjustable
  • price is very reasonable $44.95 USD (if you live in Europe)
  • easily spotted colors (in addition to orange, now also in pink, yellow and green)
  • dry bag feature cannot be used on dry land with comfort as a backpack since there is no strap to be put around your shoulders
Final rating: 5/5
  • usability/effectiveness - 5/5
  • material - 5/5
  • look and feel - 5/5
  • price/value rating - 5/5

Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Mar 17, 2011

How to get the most out of your track start? (Top tips on improving your track start)

When it comes to learning your swimming start, there needs to be room for experimentation. Without trying new things, you will never improve. With that in mind, let’s examine some key aspects of the track start.

by Dust Mason
As I discussed in the grab vs. track start post before, the track start is becoming more popular than the grab start and one of the reasons could very well be, that it is a more natural and balanced position for us to use (staggered feet rather than feet together as in the grab start).

This article assumes you are already familiar with the basics of the track start and the basics of a good start and will build on top of that knowledge.

First key part of the start is the stand a swimmer (you) takes on the block. You should not feel tense and overstretched, so a bit of a flexibility plays a role here (hamstrings in particular). How far apart you put your feet is fully your preference, so play with the distance. It also depends how tall your legs are. Try to spread your feet a foot apart and then two feet and see the difference. Make sure you have a good grip on the block with both of your feet. If the blocks are slippery, feel free to wipe the block with a towel as well as the soles of your feet.

Now to the head. The head is not tucked under or watching where you go. Your head is just watching the toes of the front foot, so that is simple. Your weight is a bit of a different story. Your weight could be in many places on the block. Either on the front foot or a bit forward or in the middle, spread evenly to both feet or on the back foot (slingshot start). I suggest you try all of these scenarios and see what works for you. I personally like to be on the front of the block, leaning even a bit over the edge of the block, so on the starting gun sound I just explode forward without having to spend the time to travel the distance of the block like I would if I was in the slingshot position. That said, if you are in the slingshot position, it might take you a bit longer to get off the block, however, you will have a much more powerful dive. Another thing to note about the slingshot (lean back) dive is that you do not need to get into this position until the referee commands you to take your marks.

Finally, what you do with your arms? Hold the block as well as you can. Forget about pointing your elbows out to the sides, just grab the block hard.

Second is the actual take off from the block after the starting gun sounds. This is hard to believe for most swimmers, but your arms play a very important role in getting off the block as fast as you can. You need to pull on the block with your hands as if you’d want to rip it off the ground, this in turn will get your hips moving forward while staying nice and low. The use of your arms in this way is quite interesting and if you watch some of the top elite powerful sprinters, you can even see the block move as they do this motion.

Third would be the direction of the jump. Think of the jump as a forward horizontal motion, so all your power from your body should go into a forward motion. Since your arms are pulling on the block at the beginning they will be a bit behind you, however, you need to get them to your chest as soon as possible. The movement goes something like this. Gun sounds, you pull up on the block which causes your hips to move forward, your head is now on the way up (be careful here, don’t throw your head up too high, the goal is to stay very low), your back foot is pushing forward leaving the block. At the same time as your back foot is leaving the block, your elbows are rising to your side and are priming themselves to go into the streamlined position. Your elbows actually go up passed your body helping you lift your upper body of the block. Then as you use your front foot to finish your push off the block, your arms start moving into the streamlined position giving you more forward momentum and preparing you for the clean water entry.

Fourth and the last part is the entry. You have only a few seconds to get your body aligned in a streamline like position, so you retain as much speed that you gained while getting off the block. I already compared the water entry to a javelin getting stuck in the ground, but another analogy comes to mind. Have you ever competed in throwing rocks in the water with the least amount of splash? If so, you know that the rock has to be smooth and you have to throw it up very high, so it enters the water in a vertical position. You should focus on a similar effect during the water entry of the dive. No, I am not saying you should enter the water in a vertical position, but what I am eluding to is that you need to focus on entering as smooth as possible, so there is a very little splash. Small splash equals a perfect streamlined water entry after a dive.

Sometimes you can see swimmers bending at the hip and also bending their knees and then extending them right before they enter into the water. This is thought to create and extra push right when you enter, however, in my opinion this is bogus. Think of it this way. Your body is moving in one direction and then you take your tucked legs and shoot them in the opposite direction slicing through the air with nothing to grab on to. What you have done there is basically told the body to go back the other direction, so the force applied to your body is the other way. During this maneuver you are also most likely not going to be in a perfect streamline and if you watch these swimmers carefully, you will see two splashes. One small splash when they enter the water with their upper body and one huge splash after their legs enter the water as they didn't have enough time to put their feet upright.

Hope this helps in your path to a perfect track start. Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below. Happy diving!
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Mar 13, 2011

Which foot to put forward during a track start? (Make your track start a success)

Everyone is different, but some commonalities arise when it comes to right-handed or left-handed swimmers. Majority of us have one side of our body stronger than the other and this also shows during swimming specific movements and exercises, especially when
deciding which foot to put forward during a track start.

There is no real guide for knowing which foot to place forward during a track start. One could assume that if one is right handed (right arm dominant), the right foot should go to the back of the block as a dominant foot, however, foot dominance is sometimes something else than upper limb dominance, so it is not as clear cut as this study indicates. You could very well be right handed, but have a left foot as dominant and to top it off knowing which foot is dominant might also not indicate which foot should go back on the block. Below are a few examples on how you can determine which foot to place first on the starting block during a track start.

1) Hockey analogy - if for example you are right handed, but play hockey with your right hand on the lower part of the hockey stick (usually, right-handed people have their left hand on the lower part of the hockey stick), your left foot will more than likely go in front of the block and right foot to the back.

2) Snowboarding analogy - same goes If you snowboard and are a goofy style while being a right handed person (right foot forward). During the track start your right foot goes in the back part of the block. If you are a snowboarder with a regular stance, it could be the same, but also there is a chance it is the opposite (right foot forward and left foot back on the block).

3) High jump analogy - if you have ever high jumped, you always jump from the outside (take off) foot, so if you approach the bar from the left, you will jump from your right foot etc. Which strangely enough might not be your dominant foot. So in a track start, if you high jump from your right foot, you could try your right foot in front on the block and vice versa if you high jump from your left foot.

4) Sliding analogy - If none of the analogies work for you, why not put some slippery socks on your feet, take a short run and slide on your feet in a staggered position with one foot forward and one foot backwards (you can do this on ice in the winter as well). Then do it the other way and if one way feels more comfortable with balance than the other, place your feet in the staggered position of the LESS comfortable position. So for example, in my case if I slide, I have my right foot forward and left one back, so during the track start I’d put left foot in front and right one back on the block.

5) Push analogy - you can try the famous method where you close your eyes and have some one push you in the back and then whatever foot you put forward is the dominant foot you put in the back of the block when you practice your track start.

In reality, there is probably not one recipe that fits everyone, so if you don’t fit any of those supporting analogies above, just try it both ways and see which one feels more natural. Here is another discussion on the foot dominance topic. If you still can’t get the hang of it, perhaps it is time to try the grab start.
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Mar 7, 2011

Track start vs. Grab start explained (Should I choose the track start or grab start for my races?)

Should I do a track start or a grab start? That is a question I get asked quite a lot. My answer usually is that it really depends on many things. Such things could be:
by wcn247
your body agility, what type of event you swim, how deep you want to go on a dive and what you feel comfortable with. If you are practicing your starts, you should definitely try both variations and then come up with the best one for each event/stroke/race that you do. It is possible that you will only do a track start or only a grab start, but it is also possible that you for example will do a track start for a sprint freestyle event and a grab start for a mid-distance breaststroke event. It seriously depends on many aspects of the swimmer and his/her ability to execute the appropriate dive. So, don’t worry if you are unsure. Many swimmers still haven’t figure it out. Here is a short comparison of what I think are advantages of each.

Grab Start
The grab start is the older of the two variations of starts and has been challenged as the number one start in competitions by the track start in the last decade or so. The grab start is thought of as a bit more powerful than the track start and it should allow the swimmer to use more force applied to the block.

The grab start is done with both feet next to each other, about 1 foot apart, and your toes curled over the edge to improve your grip. Your body is bent over with your knees slightly bent to improve your spring action off the block. When you bend over to grab the block and wait for the final GO, it is very important that you put your weight in front of your toes and not on your heels, so in other words, you should lean a bit forward while supporting your weight by holding the block. Be careful though, so you don’t loose your balance and get disqualified by an early start or by falling into the water. This lean forward technique needs to be practiced as it fully depends on individual preference and hamstring flexibility. If done properly, it will allow you for a faster reaction time off the block. So after the whistle, you just shoot out forward and not rock back to your heels and then back to your toes again. Just your toes. Your fingers should be wrapped around the block on the outside of your feet and if possible grabbing the block. Your eyes are looking directly at your toes, NOT behind your or NOT forward. So when you are all ready for the starting bang, you are bent over, leaning slightly forward, your head is lowered with your eyes looking at your toes. Pretend like you are a loaded spring, just about to explode when the starting whistle sounds. Right after the start your first movement should be with your arms and fingers. It does sound weird, but you should pull up and pull slightly back on the block to prevent you from rocking back to your heels and then to your toes again. This pull up will give you the starting momentum forward which you will then complete with the push from both of your feet at the same time.

Track Start
The track start provides for a faster reaction time. I am assuming, this is the main reason why it overtook the grab start in the elite swimmer ranks. You also will have a lot stable posture on the block than during the grab start, so if you get disqualified during the grab start for early starts too often, the track start is for you. There are a couple of major variations of the track start. One is called the leanback (slingshot or rear weighted) start where you lean as far back on the block as possible and one is in a similar manner as the grab start a more of a leaning forward start where all your weight is in the front of your block. Which one of these you will choose depends fully on your preference, but it is interesting to note that the leanback start is becoming a bit more popular as you can get a bit more propulsive force off the block.

The track start is done in a similar fashion as a running track start you see in the athletics (track and field) events. Feet are staggered one in front of the block with toes curled over the edge and one in the back (some blocks have an actual extra starting block pad in the back to help with the back foot placement). One common question here is if the feet should be staggered inline or a bit apart. You will get more power if they are apart, at least ½ of a your foot, so a bit closer than the grab start. The next question would be how far behind each other they should be. This is a very good question and I tend to lean towards a bit closer together than too far apart. So, I’d recommend, no more one foot between the front and the back foot. If you spread them too far apart, you loose the force of the back foot. So, now you may be wondering, which foot do I put forward and which in the back during the track start. I’ll let you figure this out and in the next few days will post a short article with some simple exercises which will help you determine which foot to put forward when you do a track start. The head and hand position during the track start is very similar to the of grab start where eyes are watching the front foot and fingers are curled over the block (if possible). During the start whistle, your first motion is the pull up on the block with your hands as in the grab start, but on this in some later posts.

Incorrect head position on both grab and track starts
Grab start vs. Track start - Which one to choose?
As you can see there are some differences between the track start and the grab start. I don’t dare to say which one is more conventional as the grab start used to be, but not it appears that the track start is in the mainstream. And how does this translate to what I talked about at the beginning where you should choose a start based on some characteristics of your body or event you are swimming. For example, a grab start requires quite a lot of flexibility as you need to grab the block below your feet and only slightly bend your knees. If you are not that flexible you’d end up almost with a 90 degree angle in your knees and this would just put too much weight on the back of the black. So, if you are not that flexible, track start is for you. Since the grab start is a bit more powerful you can also have a more deeper entry into the water which is beneficial for longer breaststroke or butterfly events as you need to be in the right depth under water to perform the right under water kick or pull. However, since underwater dolphin kick is nowadays also heavily swam in freestyle events, one could argue that if you are strong underwater kicker, grab start might be better, but if you are not that great at underwater, the flatter track start is the one for you.

As you can see the possibilities are endless and it really just depends on your ability to execute each of the different types of the start. Bottom line, however, is that for a sprint events you’d want to opt into the more faster reaction time start as oppose to more powerful start, but again you decide by practicing and playing around with the different swimming start variations. Happy starting!

If you are new to starts in swimming, perhaps you should first visit the learn to dive section to get some tips on how to learn proper starts to spice up your swimming and then come back to this section when you are ready.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start