Archive for April, 2010

Kicking – It’s Really All About Balance!

It’s a major complaint: “My kick gets me nowhere”; “My legs seem to drag behind me”; “All my energy is eaten up by my useless kick”. The solution: find your balance in the water. When a swimmer’s body is balanced, the head and the feet align, making movement through the water much more like coasting easily down a hill than struggling uphill. Balance places the feet at the surface, making movement of the feet easy and productive.

Okay, so how do you achieve this nirvana called balance? Start with the head. The top of the head must be wet (i.e. in the water) and pointing directly at the wall you’re swimming toward. The eyes should be on the bottom of the pool, drawing a perpendicular line to the bottom, with the face paralleling the floor. If this is done correctly, the back of the head will have a little island in the center of it. Keep in mind that your body must be inline at all times. This means the head, spine, butt and feet are aligned, like a balanced human teeter-totter. Lean on the forehead and the sternum equally and simultaneously and your butt and feet will come up. Once your feet are up and you feel the existence of head, back and butt islands, gently flutter your feet to keep them from sinking and to give slight, effortless if slow, propulsion.

So now, about the actual technique involved in kicking: it should be effortless, originate from the hip, be done with a relatively straight leg, and have a short width between the feet with a fast fluttering tempo. Seems like a lot for something that’s supposed to be effortless. But try this: imagine yourself swimming through a cylinder. If your kick is too wide or your kick originates from the knees, your feet will hit the walls of the cylinder, making your freestyle unbalanced and not streamlined. In other words, it will be a struggle.  A too wide kick is often the result of an unbalanced body. It’s done to compensate. Deep feet require a wide kick to get the feet to break the surface. If the body is balanced, the wide kick is unnecessary and uncomfortable. Ideally, kicking should be a comfortable, natural motion that works in time with freestyle’s rolling movement. Too much kicking becomes drag instead of propulsion.

Again, find and practice your balance first, then discover how easy it is to move through the water effortlessly with a relaxed, comfortable, straight-legged flutter kick.

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April 30, 2010 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

Balancing Increases Swimming Efficiency

Simple rules of physics tell us that it is a lot easier and more efficient to swim on top of the water in a balanced, streamlined position than it is to run through it in a vertical, angled position. Just as the balance of your head and shoulders over your hips is important in running, so is balancing your head, chest and back in the water important to efficient swimming.

The most common mistake I see with non-swimmer triathletes is their head position when their face is in the water and when they rotate to breath. Your head and your feet are connected, so whether you are swimming on your front or on your back, if your head is up your feet will be down, making you drag an unbalanced, angled body through the water.  In order to get balanced you must get your head down, which will allow your feet to come up to the surface and create a more streamlined, efficient body position. One way to determine your balance in the water is to make yourself a ball and just float. Your head, neck and spine should be in line as you hold your knees to your chest and hold your breath. What will happen is your body will float to the surface and position itself in a balanced way. Essentially, the water will tell you where it wants you to be. From that position you can slowly extend your arms and legs out into a streamline position.

Another technique I borrowed from Coach Bill Boomer and use to teach balance in a front prone position is the method of putting your eyes on the bottom of the pool while blowing bubbles and pressing the center of your chest toward the bottom. This pressing technique is called pressing your buoy. It creates a stabilizing effect that allows you to move through the water more efficiently. The hard part and the key are to maintain this stable body position as you roll your body to breathe. If you allow your hip to rotate first, with the shoulder and head following it, your eyes should move from the bottom of the pool to the sky or ceiling, as the case may be. By looking at the ceiling, your head is forced to stay in the streamlined position of your balanced body because you haven’t broken your streamline by lifting your head to breath.

As difficult as this may sound, it can become fairly easy as long as you allow your hip to move first as you roll to breathe instead of lifting your head. The head and chest are the stabilizing forces in a balanced, efficient body’s movement through the water.

April 16, 2010 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

Cross Train in the Pool

If you’ve been running for a while, you know running can become an addiction. And like any addiction, too much running can be damaging. One way to vary your workouts and still get the physical and mental challenge and the cardiovascular benefits of running is to workout at least once a week in the pool.

The pool offers a variety of ways to give your joints a rest from the constant pounding that comes with the rigors of running. Swimming, aqua aerobics and aqua jogging are a few of the things you can do in the water. There are multiple ways to work the body, legs and heart within each of these sports.  As owner and founder of a swim school and as a swim coach, I get the opportunity to work with a variety of adult swimmers with different ability levels and competitive goals. Some of them swim for fitness, some swim to cross-train, some are triathletes or want to be, and some swim on the National Master’s level.

One great thing about swimming is that your upper body gets the much needed, much neglected workout it doesn’t get from running. Hand paddles and a pull buoy can be added to increase resistance and slow down the hands to focus on stroke technique. To emphasize the legs, add a pair of fins and a kickboard and use all four competitive strokes to break up the monotony and work all the hip and leg muscles in completely different way than running or cycling. The heart gets worked in much the same way it does in running. For example, if you want to increase endurance, swim long and slow, to increase aerobic threshold, do a variety of repeat distances on an interval that gives you a short amount of rest, to increase speed, do short to medium distance fast repeats with a long rest (30 to 60 seconds) in between.  Really, the possibilities and the benefits are endless when it comes to what you can do in the pool.

April 2, 2010 at 11:21 am Leave a comment


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