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Nov 26, 2006

Butterfrog Extreme (The Old School Butterfly Stroke)

If you have ever wondered how you can combine butterfly and breaststroke, here is your answer :). This is an old school stroke that used to be popular a long time ago. I would not recommend anyone using this in a competition, however, it has its benefits for learning how to do a proper butterfly stroke or breaststroke kick and most of all can be a great break from the every day monotonous practice.

Butterfly (also called Dolphin) and breaststroke are so called short-axis strokes. They both work from a pivot point in the hips and create an undulating motion forward. The major distinction between the two strokes is the arm recovery. Butterfly recovers above the water as you can see from the video below and breaststroke recovers right at the surface (usually in higher speeds, breaking the surface of the water).

The true butterfly uses an undulating dolphin kick and breaststroke a whip or frog kick as shown below. Rhythm and timing are two of the most challenging aspects of short-axis strokes. A good undulating motion is critical for being efficient with these two strokes. Since these two swimming strokes are quite similar and have a lot in common, it is not as hard to combine them together, however, the result speed of the stroke is very slow, hence butterfrog should not be used in competitions.

Watch carefully how the legs complement the arms in this video.

How about trying it the opposite way? Breaststroke arms and butterfly legs. This is actually a very common breaststroke drill which teaches you a nice body undulation and let's you strengthen your arms, especially if performed with paddles.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Nov 11, 2006

Coaches like swimming toys (Swimming gear which improves technique)

Swimming is an amazing sport which has lots of benefits, however, if you have to swim twice everyday (as the top athletes do) it could get quite boring at times and you would need a lot of other distractions to keep motivated.

Apart from getting creative with your swimming workouts and introducing different drills, swimmers can use miscellaneous swimming equipment to spice up their routines and motivate themselves to better swimming performance while also improving swimming technique (I like to call them "coaching toys").

This article will give you a small sample of some of the stuff that is out there, but believe me, the possibilities are endless. Most of the swimming toys have a specific purpose and it usually is to improve your technique for a particular stroke.
Swimmer's Snorkel

Here is the list of equipment that I like to use to keep my swimmers and myself swimming with perfect technique:

- As discussed in previous posts about breathing and freestyle mistakes, the Swimmer's snorkel is a helpful, fun way to teach you the skill of the correct head position and body rotation.

This type of snorkel is nowadays a must have in the equipment repository of every swimmer.

Attach the front snorkel to your forehead, put your face in and just relax while swimming.

The front snorkel is also very good for sculling and head position exercises as you don't have to break your rhythm by lifting your head.

If you are going to buy only one piece of equipment, the front snorkel is probably the best buck for result and enjoyment.

(personal tip: I love the Finis Swimmer's Snorkel, however, beware that some swimmers will not be able to use it from the start as they do not know how to blow water out of the snorkel, so be patient and learn to relax with it. Here is an article to help you with your Swimmer's snorkel breathing technique. Also, some folks have troubles with flip turns while using the snorkel, but this is not too complicated to learn if the right streamline on the push off is present. Just wedge the top of the front snorkel into your streamlined locked arms and voila, it will not wiggle while you are streamlining away. )

Cardio Cap attachment

- To help strengthen your diaphragm below your lungs you can experiment with the Cardio cap.
This little piece of equipment goes on top of the snorkel mentioned above. It is thought to help with lung conditioning by 40%.

The Cardio Cap restricts the intake of oxygen that passes through the snorkel, thus making your diaphragm work harder and more efficient.

If you use the cap couple times per week for one set during your practice, you should feel the results in a few weeks.

(personal tip: If you already have the center mount snorkel, the Cardio cap is a good/cheap way to break out of the monotony of everyday practice and help your lungs at the same time.)

- There exists another slick attachment for the front snorkel. Meet the Dry Top device.

This futuristic looking attachment is actually a wonderful invention for many. There are swimmers who have a psychological fear of inhaling water and this fear stops them from fully enjoying the swimmer's snorkel benfits. With the Dry Top, these individuals can relax and keep their snorkel water free at all times.

(personal tip: If you already have the center mount snorkel, but you keep choking on water, the Dry top is a good/cheap way to keep your snorkel swims smooth and concentration on your technique instead of the water in your lungs.)

Hydro Hip belt
- A very good way to get you rolling during your swims is to use the Hydro Hip.You can easily combine the snorkel and this belt together.

The Hydro Hip belt has two resistant flaps on each side of your body, thus making rotating much tougher than normal.

As a result, your core body muscles are getting stronger and then when you take off the Hydro Hip belt, your body rotates with ease as there is no resistance.

(personal tip: the side fins on the Hydro Hip belt are usually not attached very well, so they tend to slide around. You will need some sort of a padding between the belt and the fin attachment to make the connection tighter).

Tech Toc belt
- Another hip rotation mechanism I will introduce is the Tech Toc belt. 

It works on the following principle. Each time you rotate your hips while swimming a little ball hidden in the top of the tech toc belt hits a side of the mechanism and generates a noise.

If the rotation is not good enough, no sound will happen, thus letting you know that you are not rotating enough.

(personal tip: This Tech Toc belt is nice to try but it is not the best, because it has a lot of drag and the ball gets sometimes stuck, so before you go all crazy buying 10 of these for your team, I'd suggest trying it before buying or try the Hydro Hip above.)

Mono Fin

A few more toys which are helpful in improving your swimming technique are below:

- We all know that swimmers love to feel the speed and the fast movement of the water across their bodies. One way to get yourself accustomed to swimming fast is to use the Mono Fin.

The monofin is usually used for underwater racing or free diving exercises, but for our purposes, it can be a great learning toy for dolphin kick underwater.

It will strengthen your abdominal area and it is fun :).

Furthermore, swimming with the mono fin will let you feel any unnecessary resistance that your body has underwater, so you can then fix it.

(personal tip: be careful though, some mono fins are quite rough on the ankles and can create nasty blisters/bruising, so make sure you know what you are buying before you pull out your wallet. Also, the edges are sometimes quite sharp, so be careful not to slice someone up with it:). If you want to try a different type of fin, why not check out the shinfin™ leg fin)

- One very old piece of equipment is the Pull buoy.

This simple pull buoy toy is inserted in between your legs and it keeps your feet from kicking and elevated so you can concentrate only on the arm movement.

However, be careful to not stop rotating your hips when you swim as this is a common mistake when swimming with a pull boy.

(personal note: this is a must for any swimmer as it helps float the legs up a little, so especially the men with bigger thighs will apperciate it. If you want to make it a bit harder, you can put a strap around your ankles to really have your feet only dragging behind you.)

There you have it. Just a small taste of what equipment is out there. If you are not sure what a particular piece of swimming equipment does, read about it before making a purchase or just simply post a comment below. There is a lot of swimming gear which is not that useful when it comes to improving your technique.

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Sep 9, 2006

Breaststroke lesson - How about them legs?

Now that you have been instructed on how to use the arms in breaststroke, we can get on with explaining the leg movements. Don't get discouraged here as it is one of the hardest parts in swimming to teach. When I was little I was always told "kick like a frog, kick like a frog". Hmm, it is really not quite so, but we can take a few pointers from the frog legs, so I guess the symbolology is ok for now. The issue with learning breaststroke leg movement is that most people start with a scissor kick which is totally wrong. So, when you try these excercises, please make sure you are not kicking toward the bottom with one leg and toward the surface with the other or worse yet to the sides. Instead of scissors, think of it more like tongs. Not crossing axis, but moving in the same horizontal axis toward each other.

First, note that when you are gliding with your legs extended, your ankles should be touching and your legs together. This is how you start and finish the leg movement.

Second, let's discuss what makes you go forward. The forward motion is caused by the inner shins of your calves and the inner ankles (when you get more advanced you can also add the bottom of your soles). So, the more water you push backwards with these parts of the leg, the more powerful breaststroke kick you will have.

Third, how to actually move your legs during the kick?

1. When your arms are coming together with your elbows and your body is starting to lift out of the water for a breath, this is the time to start moving your legs. Bend your knees and bring your heels straight back towards your butt. It is important that you don't bring your knees forward. Of course, there has to be forward motion with the knees a little, but it is very limited. This way you are not creating a resistance movement by going against the water forward if that is the way you want to go. The best way to practice this is to be on your back and when bringing your heels back to your butt, keep your knees under water.

Your knees are about a foot apart in this phase of the stroke and your feet are turned out to the sides.

2. The second phase is the kick itself. Kick outwards (better yet backwards), however, not like you are kicking just outward (is this confusing?:). You need to create sort of an outward+ inward sweep with your legs below the knee where the inward/backward kick is the movement that gives you the surge forward. Remember what pushes you forward, the inner calves and inner ankles, so those are the ones that you need to be pushing the water with (viz the picture - don't laugh, I am no artist :)). In order for the inner ankles to be effective, your feet are turned out as the red circle shows you on the video which is at the end of this post.

At the same time thrust forward with your hands and stretch your body on the surface, allowing your hips to rise to the surface.

3. To finish the kick and the final surge forward, you will use the soles of your feet. Imagine, you have fins (flippers) on and your legs are straight. The only part of your legs you can move are ankles. How do you make yourself go forward? You use your ankles to thrust your feet and the soles of your feet (fins) toward each other to create the forward motion.

Now, let's see it in practice. The best way to learn :)

The next video is an interesting example of a breaststroke kick during a breaststroke pull out. Remember that in the breaststroke pull out one is allowed to combine the breaststroke kick with a very slight (not forced) dolphin kick.

It does not look the cleanest with the upper body arching so much, but the kick is nice. Read more about the dolphin kick during breaststroke pullout.

So, now you might wonder, why the separate articles on arms and legs. Well, research suggests that legs are much more important in generating powerful breaststroke, so it is important to break those apart. However, note that in order to have an efficient, fast breaststroke, one needs to find an equilibrium and sync in the arm and leg movements. If you think you already know how to swim breaststroke, check out the top 5 common breaststroke mistakes article. So go on and try it out, first separate then together and play around with it. And remember "Breaststroking is fun" :).
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Aug 31, 2006

Breaststroke lesson - How to use your arms?

It has been another long stinch of not posting, so I will try to redeem myself. :). This post will focus on how to use your arms in breaststroke. There are also a couple of videos that will demonstrate some of the info I am about to give you. If you are more interested in how to use breaststroke legs just click the link.

Alright, let's start with a blackboard (see image with drawings). Breaststroke usually comprises of 4-5 phases, depending on how one thinks about it. One of the most important aspect of the breaststroke pull is that the arms move in one motion and there should be no pauses. The arms start slowly and speed up during the phases, similar to a motorcycle accelerating after standing on a red light. I will include the speed in kilometers next to the phases for better reference.

Phase 1: Glide (speed of arms 0 km/h)
During this part of the stroke, your body is the longest. Your head is between your arms, arms in a streamline and legs stretched with ankles touching. Your eyes are on the bottom.

Phase 2: Arm Pull (speed of arms 20 km/h)
The second figure on the above picture looks like a Y. The top two lines in the Y shape indicate arms. So, what do you do? Once your arms start coming apart from the streamline position, you have to "press your chest down" and basically spread the water in front of you. Your "palms are facing outward". Your "head is still down".

Phase 3: Elbows Together (speed of arms 50 km/h)
Then when you arms are spread apart wider than your shoulders, you need to start bending your forarms with palm starting with "your elbows locked in place" right at the surface "ahead of your shoulders". This is very important, the first part of the stroke is only in your forarms. Now, once your forarms are travelling backward, they are actually not going directly back, but moving toward your breast bone, right between your breasts. Once your fingers reach each other, "squeeze your elbows together". As you can see, in this phase, your body is the shortest with legs bent (more on this in the next post, let's only focus on arms here). One of the most important parts is to realize that "you should not pause in this phase". During the movement of your forearms from the extended Y position, your head is starting to come out of the water and your eyes are looking slightly forward. Once you squeeze your elbows your head is out of the water and looking somewhere in the distance where your eyes would meet with the surface of the water. Some swimmers like to keep their head down. I don't think that is wrong, it just depends how strong your legs are.

Let us know watch the video. There are a few flaws in the stroke, but it is good enough to give you the correct picture.

Phase 4: Arm Recovery (speed of arms 100 km/h - the arms should shoot out forward)
When your elbows are squeezed and you are taking a breath, it is time to reach with your arms forward along with the kick (more on this later). Your palms will naturally be facing upward when your elbows are squeezed, don't worry about this, you can rotate them while you are extending your arms forward. When entering water, watch for "not catching air bubbles in your palms". During the period the arms are going forward, the head is also moving toward the position in between the arms, so you can smoothly end up in the glide. "The arms and head stop their journey at the same time" and your body is in a nice gliding streamlined position now, eyes down and we go on to Phase 1 again.

As mentioned above, the arms are moving in one motion without pauses throughout the entire stroke until they are in the Gliding phase. If you are still unsure what is should look like, please watch the best breaststroker out there. Better, yet watch him break a world record in 200 meter breaststroke. I give you the world record holder and olympic champion Branden Hansen from University of Texas.

Hope you have enjoyed the journey of a breaststroke pull. Next, I will help you with the breaststroke kick - one of the toughest kicks to learn, but I have no doubt that you can do it. :) If you think you already know how to swim breaststroke, why not check out the top 5 common breaststroke mistakes post.
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Aug 10, 2006

Alexander Popov (The Ultimate Sprinting Machine)

No Comment. Just watch and learn from one of the best swimmers of all times. The Russian rocket - Alexander Popov. The ultimate sprinting machine from Russia. He used to have one of the most beautiful and most efficient strokes out there. His coach Gennadi Touretski, currently living and coaching in Switzerland is a coaching mastermind of our time and has done a tremendous job of getting Alexander Popov to be the best sprinter in the world.

Alexander is a very tall guy which makes it easy to swim (same as Michael Phelps), however, his technique is what sets him apart. Watching him swim is just such a pleasure as he seems to be in this relaxed zen state of composure.

Alexander Popov up close and personal only for you. When watching pay attention to his head position, body rotation, high elbow recovery, his high early vertical arm (catch) and just overall great freestyle swimming form.

To learn how to swim like Alexander Popov see the following posts for inspiration on techniques and drills:

- How to learn proper freestyle technique
- Body and head position in swimming
- How to move your arms during freestyle
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Jul 22, 2006

How Not To Swim Freestyle (Top 4 Freestyle Stroke Mistakes)

Ok, for a change let's check out how the freestyle stroke is NOT supposed be done. In this post, I will examine a short video where you will see a front view of a freestyle swimmer who is swimming against the current in a small swim flume (endless pool) which is then shown on the image at the end of the post.

These endless swimming pools are quite nice, especially if combined with a front snorkel depicted in the second picture. This way you could practice a perfect freestyle swimming stroke without being distracted with flip turns or breathing. However, Let's get back to our front view freestyle video analysis.

I am not sure who this person is, but I'll point out a few obvious bad mistakes he is doing, so perhaps he will appreciate this review. First, play the video all the way through and then play it again and try to figure out yourself what he is doing right and what he is doing wrong. Then click below to see the entire post to see if you correctly identified some of the most common freestyle stroke technique mistakes.

OK, here it is:

1.) Why is he looking at the camera? His eyes should be pointing toward the bottom of the pool and his neck should not have any wrinkles. Why do you need to look down? The answer is simple, to keep your feet elevated and therefore having less resistance when you swim through the water. More information can be found in the body position post.

2.) Imagine a line going through his body which would split him in two halves (right and left). Now check out his hands and where they enter into the water. The hands should never reach over to the other half (passed the axis). This causes the swimmer to snake through the water instead of going in as streamlined of a position as possible.

3.) From our view, the left hand is tilted with the palm out when it enters the water. That shouldn't really happen. He could catch a lot more water if he would point his palm more toward the bottom of the pool. Also, such a hand entry is the major cause of shoulder injuries, so be careful here.

4.) Stretch, stretch, stretch. Check out how on some of the strokes his elbow is still bend and he is already starting a movement through the water. He should reach forward as far as possible to find his catch and roll a little more to each side in order to achieve this. On the other hand, notice how he is keeping his head steady and only the sholders rotate, this is a very good indication of a correct freestyle stroke.

5.) I'd also like to point out that the hand on the left from our view, when in the water, goes too far to the left when grabbing the water. He should concentrate to go more under his body with his arms, thus putting less stress on his shoulder and being more streamlined.

I am sure you can think of a few more things that are wrong with the video. Please don't be shy to share them with me on the comments section. To get you started on your way to effortless and efficient swimming, check out the introduction to better body and head position in the water while swimming freestyle.

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Jul 6, 2006

Freestyle Slow Motion (Grant Hackett - the ultimate distance freestyle stroke)

Ok guys, I have decided to go a little more high tech on this one. What is a good swimming lesson without a proper demonstration? So, here you have it. Watch Grant Hackett do his thing. Now, while you are watching the freestyle swimming video, I'd like you to think about a few key points.

a.) Look at the head position and the breathing. Not much movement there. Head is neutral and you can barely see his goggles coming out of the water. Basically, it is almost like he is sneaking a peak in there. :)

b.) Watch how smooth and relaxed he looks. This is the key to fast and efficient swimming. Looking at the underwater video, I'd guess this is from his 1500m swim (I guess you can see that on his time :)).

c.) When underwater, check out how he is grabbing so much water with his forearms up front and then pushing it behind him. He is also stretching out of his shoulders forward and finishing his stroke all the way below his butt.

d.) There are more key points that you can get out of the video, but these are the main ones. Feel free to comment on this and give us your opinion.

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May 21, 2006

Backstroke Magic (How to properly swim backstroke?)

Most people view backstroke as one of the most beautiful strokes out there. When swam correctly, the swimmer appears as if gliding on top of the water with rotating arms in smooth motion. Let's have a look how it is done.

There are several aspects that one needs to focus on - head position, leg movement, hip rotation and arm motion. So let us dissect these one by one.

Head Position: The head could be in two different levels, depending on what distance you are swimming. I'll touch on that later. The main position of the head is similar to when sleeping on your back and resting your head on the pillow. Eyes are looking to the sky, neck is relaxed and chin is NOT on the chest. One should not be looking at the walls while swimming, only at the ceiling. If you have the correct position of the head, your hips and legs will be at the surface which will create a nice less resistant swimming glide. This technique is great for 200 backstroke, however, for sprints one should have the chin tilted a little bit forward in order for ones legs and hips to drop lower below the surface. Now you are asking, why would I want to do that? Well, if you are sprinting, you need to kick like mad and if your feet are right at the surface, you really can't do that really well, so by allowing your legs to drop down just a slight bit, you are actually creating more room for your kicking power. It turns out this kicking room compensates nicely for the inconvenience of having your hips a little lower below the surface.

Leg Movement: Well, there is a lot to say about the backstroke kick, but the basic principal applies, if you can't kick, you will probably not be any good at backstroke as backstroke is a very kick driven stroke. Don't bend your knees. Motion starts with the hip and undulates forward to your toes. Relax your ankles. Be sure to practice quite a bit of dolphin kicking on your back off the walls (best dolphin kick exercise there is).

Hip Rotation: Hips are a very important part of backstroke swimming. You should be moving your hips from side to side with each stroke. Backstroke is not swum flat. The hip should lead your arm pull. Meaning: Before you get your arm in the water above your head, your hip should already be there. In other words, hip is the first thing to rotate and the arm stroke follows.

Arm Motion: The normal rule - "thumb up" (when you arm comes out of the water at your hip) and "pinky in" (when you enter above your head back in the water) is perfect, however, the question is, "when do I rotate from thumb up to pinky in?". Well, your best bet is to try it for yourself and see the result. If you are a good observer, you notice that if you rotate your hand too early into the "pinky in" position, your triceps will tighten; hence you are using energy you could have saved. So, my recommendation is to rotate to the "pinky in" position right before your arm is about to enter the water, that way your arm is relaxed above the water almost the entire time (as it should be in all the strokes). The rest of the tips are the good ol’ – keep your elbows locked above the water, do not cross over your body axis with your arms when they enter the water. When in the water, your hand should be about 30 cm (1 foot) below to surface to achieve maximum efficiency.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comment sections, I will do my best to address them. Happy stroking :)Just a side note, all pictures are provided as a courtesy of swim.ee (great technique tip resource)
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Apr 8, 2006

Flip turn schooling - Advanced (Competitive Freestyle Flip Turn)

Here are a few special tips and tricks if you are already a flip turn professional :) and you have mastered both phase 1 and phase 2 of the flip turn school.

Let's focus on the glide into the turn first:

When you start your glide, you should be slowly submerging yourself underwater, so you do not start your flip turn with your head and back out of the water. This drill is called The Submarine. So, to practice this, swim freestyle to the wall as normal and a 1 meter or so before you are ready to flip start slowly submerging at a very wide angle, so your head and back are getting under the surface. Once you get right below the surface with your upper body, and then initiate your flip. If this drill is mastered perfectly, you will feel how your legs flip totally on their own at higher speed than normal.

Second tip would be the positioning of the feet on the wall:
Many swimmers think that they have to flip their feet as fast as possible in order for the turn to be fast. That is a big NO NO. The motion of the feet is smooth and there shall be no splash on the pool deck from your turn. So, it is very important that you keep your legs bent (not straight) and when your feet are reaching the wall, they are basically in right angle to your shins. So basically, your heels create a beautiful hole in the water for the rest of your feet to follow and no splash is created. I don't have a real practice trick for this, except maybe trying the flip on the wall, where there is a dry spot on the deck and try not to get the pool deck wet :)

Last tip would be the breakout:
When you push off the wall and are rotated back to your stomach, your streamline should be perfect as this is the time when you go the fastest in the pool. You still carry the momentum from the wall, so by minimizing drag, you will increase the distance you will travel at this pace. Important thing to remember is that if you are too deep or too shallow, you do not go the fastest as there is some turbulence from the bottom or from the top of the water. Every swimmer needs to find the best depth for their breakouts (I'd suggest starting at about 80 cm). Ok, now the trick comes into play once you start feeling yourself slowing down a little. Only thing you need to do is to add a little dolphin kick (or more) right before you surface. In reality, you should start your dolphin kick right after you push off the wall, but this is a bit tougher exercise. This will give you the final burst of energy and will make your breakout a success. The breakout itself is for another post, however, keep in mind - head is down, no breath on the first pull and no jumping out of the water - keep it right at the surface.
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Flip turn schooling - Part Deux (Freestyle Turn at the Wall)

Alright, let's bring the flip toward the wall. Now that you know how to do a flip from a glide, you can easily do a similar feat by the wall. Step back about 2-3 meters from the wall. Push off the bottom into a glide, however, this time have one arm by your side and one arm in front of you (this will simulate a freestyle stroke). Once you are close enough to the wall (this is varies on a height of the person and the ability to tuck into a ball) perform the same drill as mentioned in the previous post.

To recap this, once you are gliding with one arm up and one down, start your stroke with the arm that is above your head, when this arm is moving toward your side, tuck your chin to your chest and use your stomach muscles to smoothly roll into a ball. Once your head is nicely underwater (basically you are heads down now), start rolling your knees to your chest and finish the smooth turn. When you feel your feet hit the wall, just give it a strong push. However, don't forget about the arms.

The arm movement starts at about the time when your legs are beginning to move from straight position (at the surface) into being tucked to your chest. (The picture is a courtesy of Swim.ee where you can find many more great tips on swimming). Both of your arms should be at your side at that time, so we just need to get them into a perfect streamline. Slowly move them from your side to behind your ears and stretch. Now, when you feet hit the wall, you can push off and you will glide off the wall on your back and come up to the surface. Practice this a few times, before you move on.

The only thing left now is the twist to your front. Immediately after the push off the wall (still under water), you should start twisting on your stomach, so you come up in the same freestyle position as you started out in. To help you, you can imagine pushing off the wall in a corkscrew fashion. Use your feet to start your twist, however, don't be too eager to twist; it is a nice smooth slow motion (there is plenty of time to do it, before you surface and start swimming).

Once you have handled the wall flip, feel free to get into more exercises that will help you improve your flipturns.
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Flip turn schooling - Part 1 (How to start a freestyle flip turn)

After a longer pause, here is another tip that you might find helpful. Most beginner swimmers find it quite challenging to perform a flip turn at each side of the pool. Your troubles are over, read on and then go to the pool and practice, practice, practice (as someone wise once said: practice makes perfect and with no pain, there is no gain - this is especially true of swimming)

When you get into the water, let's try flipping without the wall first. This way you can concentrate on perfecting the flip. We will add the wall later. So, what makes a good flip?

a.) chin tucked on your chest
b.) smooth motion
c.) knees brought to your chest
d.) breath holding

To start, you can imagine doing a somersault in the water. Give it a slow push off the bottom, tuck that chin to your chest, and slowly roll forward with your knees pressed to your chest. To help you with that, you can use two kickboards. Place them next to you (one on each side), place the palms of your hands on top of them and use them as levers when you are flipping. When starting the flip you can be ducked in the water, so only your head is showing and the push of the bottom should not be too strong, as Happy Gilmore said: "Just tap it in" :). When the flip is finished, you should end up in the same position you started (standing on the bottom).

Now that you can do it with a push off the bottom, let's try it starting from a freestyle floating position. So, you are floating forward on your stomach, eyes are on the bottom, arms are in front of you. Slowly move both arms toward your hips (like you are doing butterfly) at the same time roll your chin to your chest and then start adding the knees toward the chest as well. Once you manage to smoothly flip, you will end up floating on your back, just in the opposite way from what you started :).

You probably ask yourself, what do I do with my arms? Well, this is the tricky part. Your arms help you flip over, but then we need to get them above our head again, so when you are flipping in the tightly formed ball (chin and knees on chest) and you are almost on the position on your back, you slowly unroll the ball and move your arms and feet apart into a streamlined position.

In the next lesson we will add the wall and a few tricks to make your flip an efficient work of art. Have fun.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Feb 17, 2006

Breaststroke Pullout 101 (How champions do a breaststroke pullout)

It is well know that the fastest breaststrokers have one of the longest and fastest breaststroke pullouts. Now why is that? Are they bigger, stronger or smaller and smarter? Not really, they just know when to pull and how to position their body in the water in order to decrease the amount of resistance and increase the speed, so in a sense you can say they are smarter :). With a little bit of practice, even you could be the one coming out of the water ahead of the entire competitor field.

Let's discuss what factors we have in play when swimming breaststroke. First, there is the push off the wall. This needs to be powerful and swift. When you push off, the body needs to be in a perfect streamline, squeezing your ears and head between your arms and stretching those arms out of your shoulders. Make sure to keep your feet tightly together. One other thing to keep in mind is the angle of your lower back. When we walk, we have a slight dip and curve in the lower back, however, the best streamline is when you keep this curve minimized, almost straight (this creates less water turbulance and better glide. To practice this you can just simply lay on your back on the ground with your arms by your side and then press your lower back to the ground, getting rid off the gap in between your skin and the ground. Once you master this position, slowly raise your arms into the streamlined position and keep pressing your lower back to the ground, so no gap is formed. After this positon becomes a second nature for you, your streamline will be more efficient than ever.

Second, the first very powerful yet patiently carried out breaststroke pull. Your arms are in a streamlined position in front of your head, then you need to grab the water and achieve about 90 degree angles with your fingertips pointing towards the bottom of the pool. Make sure this breaststroke pull is strong and you finish all the way at your butt by throwing your hand (as you'd throw a ball). Now, the real trick is this. Listen carefully, once your arms are at your side and you have finished the arm stroke, shrug your shoulders instantly to your ears. You are probably thinking, WTF is he talking about. Well, try it and I guarantee you, that you'll feel the surge after your pull. Your pullout is going to be at least 1 meter longer.

Thirdly, the kick is strong as well, finishing with both of the soles of your feet snapping together and keeping the feet tightly against each other. According to the new breaststroke FINA rule, you may as well perform one dolphin kick toward the end of the breaststroke kick. Here comes the other important surge in order for you to get in front of your competition.

Lastly, you just need to surface as smoothly as possible, keeping your body low out of the water and your head down and stretching forward.

Good luck in your newly refined pullout. Feel free to leave any comments if anything of this is unclear or if you are having troubles mastering this technique. I'll do my best to help.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Feb 16, 2006

Going dry for a change (Swimming related gym program)

As many of you know, dryland work is almost as important as the time spent in the water. Many coaches try to hammer thousands of miles (kilometers) during practices focusing little or not at all on strengthening the body outside the pool. Such practices lead to swimmer burnouts early in their years and many shoulder problems (even though those are mainly caused by incorrect technique).

In order to keep your swimmers or yourself fit, get them out of the water and give them what they need. It is a lot tougher to fight gravity than the density of water, therefore you can sometimes get so much more from doing the right thing on the dryland. One thing is for sure, dryland excercises help prevent swimming injuries. I have put together a few excercises that are very helpful in strengthening your core and in improving the way you feel in the water. Here you go:

1. Run, run, run (simple as that). Running is a great way to keep in shape and to improve stamina.

2. Core stability excercises including: Pillar stands, iso holds, stability ball excercises

3. Swim bench, Vasa trainer, biokinetic, stretch cordz - all these are good to get some more resistance on your swims and to improve your underwater pull without actually getting wet.

4. Shoulder stability with cords or tera bands - use these in all possible motions and directions

5. Bouncing medicine balls keep your muscles occupied and keep the boys on your team happy. Women don't seem to enjoy those that much.

6. If you need more variety try a boxing class, tae bo, kickboxing or yoga. All of these pay close attention to developing the core body which is the essence of swimming.

After doing similar exercises for a while, you will feel very tight around your waist which will cause you to become more comofortable in the water. You will finally be able to rotate your body from side to side with less effort. So, don't waist another minute and give it a shot. It works!!!
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Jan 22, 2006

Tips for beginners of all ages (kids, adults) - (Your body as a vessel)

Not Only For Beginners
Now that you have had some time to practice getting used to the water, doing bops, blowing bubbles, putting your face in the water, holding breath and relaxing, it is time we start focusing on floating. However, don't neglect the other drills if you still have some troubles. Be patient and the success will come.

Think of your body as a vessel where your core goes from the midsection of your chest to right below your hips. When floating or swimming the head should be in a neutral position. By neutral, I mean ears just below the surface of the water and your eyes are facing the bottom of the pool. The back of your head is barely dry or even slightly submerged and your suit is no more than 1.5 inches under the surface. If your head is in a negative position, your chin is tucked on your chest and all the water is flowing way over your head (NOT GOOD), just relax your neck and your head will float. If in positive position the water is hitting you on your hairline or your forehead and your legs are sinking (NOT CORRECT EITHER). Always think, eyes to the bottom of the pool, eyes to the bottom of the pool or pretend like you are watching your shadow on the pool floor below you.

streamlined body by jayhem
You can practice getting into the neutral position by performing so called dead man's float. Now, we need to realize that not everyone will float (for example: women float better than men). So if you are not the lucky floater, you will just have to compensate for your none floating in other way (more later). Let's get to the exercise:

- Take a deep breath, put your head in a negative position (chin on chest), be vertical, let your arms down toward hips - you can imagine they are in the pockets (you will have your feet dangling almost straight to the bottom

- VERY SLOWLY start raising your head into the neutral position, with the back of the head right above the surface (even right below the surface), ears under the surface and eyes facing the bottom of the pool. Allow for the hips and legs to ease themselves towards the surface. Do not have any movement in your dangling feet or legs (if done correctly, your hips/legs should rise a little)

- Now, slowly ease shoulders, arms, and hands into the streamline position (position where your arms are above your head - like you are trying to reach with both hands for an apple on a tree). Make sure you do not raise your arms out of the water though, they should rest right below the surface.

(if done correctly, your hips/legs should rise even higher to the surface - see the image below)

Some of you will find yourselves laying on the surface of the water. This is brilliant, well done. Some of you will have your feet still dangling down, however, they should be higher than they were originally. Well done as well. It is not a problem that your feet are not all the way at the surface, you will just have to kick more when swimming or bury your head deeper underwater. Don't worry though, if your feet are not right at the surface, this could be changed by practicing more and more and learning to relax more and more.

You probably ask yourselves. Wow, why is it that my feet are rising. Well, it is simple. Your body acts like a teeter-totter (seesaw) with your hips being the axis. Once you get the head in neutral position then stretch the shoulders, arms, and hands in the streamlined position right at the surface, you are adding more weight on one side of the teeter totter/seesaw, so your legs will automatically rise up. I have included a picture of teeter-totter below if you don't remember it from your younger days :).

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

Jan 6, 2006

Tips for beginners of all ages (kids, adults) - (Overcoming my fear of water)

Swimming is a sport that is not natural to everyone. Walking, running, biking, all of these are quite easy to master, however, it takes some coordination and stamina to learn how to swim and to top it all off, before we improve our swim technique, we all have a different swimming style based on our physical ability which makes it that much more challenging. The good news is that everyone can learn how to swim if given the right instructions. Here are a few novice tips that will help you conquer the world of water.

Before getting in the water, let's think about a few things. First, swimming is done in a horizontal position which is not natural for many people. Most beginner swimmers feel disoriented when laying on the water, they sometimes feel as if they will fall down or that they do not have control over their bodies. However, this feeling should be overcome as it is not the case. Try to think of it more as laying down into a nice soft bed. Second, let's stay with the bed analogy. When you lay down to sleep, your body is relaxed, all muscles are loosened up. This is very similar how you should feel when floating in the water. Believe it or not, but the more relaxed you are the easier it is to stay afloat. So listen to Frankie and RELAX. Third, do not use any floating equipment. True, it is easier to kick with a kickboard or rely on some sort of a belt around your waist, however, most folks start getting dependent on the floating equipment and then it is hard to learn to swim the right way. Fourth, BREATHE. Do not hold your breath. Every time you take a breath and put your face into the water, start slowly exhaling bubbles. This will relax you and will let you enjoy your swimming exercise that much more. If you are having trouble breathing, perhaps this drown proofing advice will help. Fifth, do not be afraid, water is your friend. Many have mastered swimming before you, so why shouldn't you :)...

Now let's get to the good stuff. You are probably asking, so what do I do in the pool? How do I start? Well, let's see:

1.) If you are afraid of the water, you should start by standing up in the shallow end of the pool holding the wall and try to squat, so you get your chin close to the water. Breath easily. Once you are comfortable, try to go deeper underwater while holding your breath. Now, don't just go up and down quickly, relax and use nice smooth motion to get up and down. If that is ok, try to stay with your head submerged for longer. If you have your goggles, open your eyes, look around you and explore the beauty of the water. Try not to wear any floating devices that would help you with floating. Learning to float on your own is the way to go, so right from the beginning, you exercise the correct muscles and body positions. If you really need to have some sense of security, you can try the SafeSwimme safety product

Blowing bubbles by Darkumber
2. Now that we have mastered this, it is time for bubbles. Squat down holding the wall, so your mouth is submerged and start blowing bubbles through your mouth. You are still nice and relaxed and going up, taking a breath, and down, blowing bubbles for a few seconds. Try to increase the time you are under the water blowing bubbles. The exhaling with bubbles helps you relax by not keeping you too uptight while holding your breath.

3. It is time you learn how to stand back up from horizontal swimming position. You are standing up, your arms are at your side, slowly lay on the water facing down while extending your arms above your head. So you end up laying on the water as a tree log stretching your arms as far forward as possible with your palms down. Hold your breath (keep your mouth shut :)) and relax. Your body should be flat, the surface of the water should be hitting you on the back of your hair on top of your head, so get that chin toward your chest. Don't be afraid to even get your head under the water a little. Whenever you are ready to stand up, slowly bring your knees to your chest while keeping your arms extended forward and head under the water. You will notice your body is changing positions from horizontal to vertical. when you butt starts to sink start slowly moving your straight arms (palms facing down) from the front above your head, down toward your hips keeping your arms straight. So, they will make nice half a circle. Then when you are vertical, your face is still in the water, just extend your legs down to the bottom of the pool and rotate your head out of the water (backwards). Voila! Now, try it with exhaling (blowing bubbles) when your head is underwater. This will help you relax more.

If you can master all the swimming skills I discussed above, you should be fairly comfortable being in the water. If not, keep practicing, until you handle 1,2,3 with ease. Good luck and remember, water is not evil. Don't think too much about it, we all have instincts to survive. :)

Update: After you have handled the above with ease, feel free to move on to the next post where I show you how to start your first motion in the H20 or just dive straight into some swim lessons posts.

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