General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Swim Myth #10....Busted Rss Feed  
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2010-06-20 7:57 PM

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Subject: Swim Myth #10....Busted
Myth #10: The Race Club is just for sprinters.

I admit that at the Olympic level, all of our success has been with sprinters. That is because our coach, Mike Bottom (currently at U of Michigan), is one of the best sprint coaches in the world and sprinters flock to him.  But we understand swimming...all swimming; sprints, middle distance, distance, open water and triathlon OW. We also understand strength training, mental training, nutrition and recovery...all part of the important formula for success.
We believe that there is not one single technique that works best for every swimmer. We also believe every swimmer needs to have more than one technique for any stroke, depending on the swimmer's strengths, the distance, the conditions, etc.
There are, however, certain fundamentals of swimming that apply to everyone and cannot be ignored. In fact, they need to be understood in order to become a fast or efficient swimmer. I have covered many of these fundamentals throughout these 10 myths that I have tried to bust. They are also covered in our recently released DVD, Fundamentals of Fast Swimming. 
Thank you for listening to me and at the very least, I hope I have gotten you to think about what you do when you swim and why you do it. And perhaps some of you are a little faster, too. If I can help any of you more, you can always find me at The Race Club in Islamorada, Florida Keys....one of the most beautiful places in the world. I hope you will visit us!

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr. 


2010-06-20 8:04 PM
in reply to: #2933091

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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
Gary, thanks for taking the time over these last few weeks to share your knowledge and passion with us here at BT.  Hopefully we'll still get some tips and pointers shared with us in the future.
2010-06-20 9:39 PM
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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
thank you thank you thank you a million times over. Reading your posts has helped me develop a better plan for fixing my technique, a more focused effort as to the order of correcting things. I've already shown improvements.
2010-06-21 10:11 AM
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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted

Gary, thank you.

It has been a privilege to read your posts about swimming.  I've definitely learned a lot. 

Best regards.

2010-06-21 3:36 PM
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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
No don't leave. What about myths 11,12, and 13?
2010-06-21 3:41 PM
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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
Gary,
thank you for all of your posts.  since reading and incorporating some of your techniques I have shaved off about 10-seconds per 100 on my swims.  By far I am not fast but it's better than I was a few months back.  And this is on swimming only 2 or 3 times per week. 

Hope you post again!


2010-06-21 6:12 PM
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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
It may take me awhile to figure out 10 more myths to bust...so here are the first ten again, in case you missed them the first time. 

Here I go again, stirring up the pot. But I love debunking some of the (unfortunately) common teaching going on in swimming...particularly when it is plain ol' wrong.

 

Myth #1 To go faster in swimming one must push out the back of the arm pull.

 

I believe this myth may have originated with an article that appeared some time in the 90's. The article showed a swimming figure mimicking Alex Popov's freestyle pull. It showed the figure with the left arm in front and the the right arm in back ready to exit the water for the recovery. A graph showed the velocity of Popov's body in the water as a function of the position of the hand. The velocity ranged from nearly 3 meters per second down to about 1.4 meters per second during a single pull cycle. The slowest speed occurred when the hand appeared to be at around the shoulder and the fastest speed occurred in the position shown in the figure. The author erroneously concluded that since the speed was so high as the right hand was about to exit, that this is where the most power must be....hence push out the back.

My study with the velocity meter doing freestyle concurs that it is these two positions that consistently show the highest and lowest velocities of the stroke cycle in freestyle (though I was seeing more like a 30 to 40% drop, not 50%). But it is not because of the power out the back that we see the speed highest in this position. It is because it is by far the position of least drag (most streamlined). The propulsive power in this position actually is derived mostly from the left arm out in front and the kick, with little or no power coming from the end of the arm pull. The propulsive power may be even greater when we see the hand at the shoulder (slowest body speed), but because the arm is jetting straight out, perpendicular to the body, the drag coefficient skyrockets and our speed drops instantly.

The harm that is done by pushing out the back is that it delays the recovery and slows the stroke rate. Most of the arm propulsive power is derived from the entry to the shoulder (called the front quadrant....about 1/2 of the total arm cycle time is spent there). So the sooner one can get the hand back to the front quadrant after leaving the shoulder, the better.

If you happened to be blessed with Mercury motors for legs, like Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe, Gary Jr, Natalie Coughlin etc, then you can afford to use a slower stroke rate...but hold in front, not in back.

For the rest of us mortals, keep your arms moving faster and in the front quadrant. Think you can't do that for 2 1/2 miles, think again. Lot's of distance swimmers use high arm stroke rates. You just have to train that way and get fit.

 

Regards,

 

Gary Sr.

 

Myth #2: Aside from shaving, wearing a cap and a high tech suit or wetsuit, the only way to reduce drag is by streamlining off the start and turns.

 

Of the 3 fundamental laws that govern swimming technique, drag, motion and inertia, drag is by far the most important. Drag is the number one enemy of the swimmer...something we learned 250 world records after changing suit fabric from lycra to polyurethane. What most swimmers fail to realize is that there are three common mistakes made by far too many swimmers that add significant drag to their swim (more than the suits reduced) and they make them through every stroke cycle...over and over again. The first is head position. Most swimmers hold their head position way too high, looking forward. I call it defensive swimming, because after running into some feet in a triathlon or getting smacked in the head by someone veering over into your side of the lane, you will start to swim like Tarzan. Problem is lifting the head causes the hips to sink and the surface (wave) drag on your head to increase. Swimming through the water like a hammock, or if you have no legs, at an angle of 5 to 10 degrees from head to toe, creates a huge increase in drag.

If you have your head in alignment with your body, you should be looking down and you haven't a clue where you are going. So don't swim for 200 strokes out in the lake or ocean without looking up (briefly) and charting your course...or you may be swimming faster, but out to sea. Second is the underwater arm position. Keep your elbows high (also called early vertical forearm) as this position of the arm as you pull through the water reduces the drag coefficient significantly over pulling with the arm deep with a dropped elbow. Holding this high elbow position, particularly during a breath or with good body rotation, is challenging and requires good extension (negative angle) of the shoulder. Finally, if you insist on kicking hard, do so with tight narrow kicks. The act of bending the knee too much to get that big forceful kick increases the drag way more than the benefit of the extra power.

 

Gary Sr.

 

Myth #3: The reason one should rotate the body along the long axis in freestyle is to reduce drag.

 

Please don't tell me this is not a myth. I hear this from beginner coaches all the way to some of America's top swimming coaches. Rotating the body is very important....so is reducing drag. I just don't think we do it for that reason. If we did, kicking on our side would be faster, whether underwater or on the surface, than kicking on our stomach...and there is not much difference in speed either way. Besides that, we really spend very little time on our sides in freestyle. Most of it is in transition from one side to the other and closer to horizontal than vertical. Finishing a freestyle race in a pool on our side is also important...because we can extend our reach further..not reduce drag.

So if body rotation is not about drag reduction, why do we do it? Two reasons. The first is to gain more power. By rotating, we put our arm into a mechanically better position of strength, engaging much bigger muscles in our back and core to help with the pulling. The second reason has to do with the counter-rotation. When we enter our right hand in the water, for example, our body is rotating to the left. At the very moment we begin our catch, the body has stopped rotating left and initiates the counter-rotation back to the right. We call this point the connection (between arm and core/hips). This counter rotation creates a stabilizing force that gives us something to pull against. Remember, it is you and the water molecules out there...no walls, starting blocks or pitching mounds to push off or pull against. So we create our own stabilizing force out of the rotational motion of our own body. The faster and longer the counter-rotational turn, the greater the stabilizing force and the better distance per stroke (dps) we can achieve. This is one advantage the hip/leg driven swimmers have over the high stroke rate swimmers...holding in front longer gives them more time to rotate/counter-rotate the hips. But before you all go rushing back to that technique, if you don't have the legs driving you, even that extra dps cannot overcome the inertia problem. You are still swimming 'stop-and-go' freestyle..not as efficient as the high stroke rate.

Most swimmers I teach swim very flat...like a surfboard that grew arms and legs. That would be ok if we had the buoyancy and drag coefficient of a surfboard, but we don't. We are bricks and to move a brick through the water, we need the added power that the body rotation gives us. BTW, this is why wetsuits enable one to get away with swimming flatter.

Can you use good body rotation with a high stroke rate? Yes...but it takes work. The body rotation doesn't just happen. You make it happen...but because there is less time, it becomes more oriented from the shoulder and less from the hip which takes longer to turn (although hip motion is still important). Thus the name shoulder-driven freestyle.

 

Gary Sr.

 

Myth #4: The reason you keep the elbows high on the underwater pull is to increase power.

 

I hear this often from both coaches and swimmers. When one looks at the underwater shots of the world's fastest swimmers, sprint or distance, one finds the recurring position of high underwater elbow, also called Early Vertical Forearm (EVF). The elbows are not just high, they are unusually high...almost in a contorted position with extreme extension (negative angle) of the shoulder joint, particularly when coupled with the body rotation in the opposite direction. it begs the question, can one really be stronger in this almost contorted position? I believe the answer is no. To test this, one can go in the gym and using the Free Motion pulleys, that many gyms now have, pull as much weight down with your arm relatively straight forward, then try it with your arm at the side, shoulder extended and elbow up. You will not be able to pull as much weight in that position. With the shoulder fully extended (negative angle), it is simply not in a good mechanical position of strength.

 

So if this weird high elbow position is not about power, what is it about? Drag. By changing the position of the arm as it moves through the pull cycle, one can reduce the drag coefficient significantly...not eliminate it. To prove this, kick with fins all out for 25 yards extending one arm above the head and the other straight down toward the bottom of the pool. You will soon learn how significant the drag of your protruding arm becomes when it is at right angles to your long axis. In fact, you will have to work to keep the arm in the position and with any speed at all, it will shake in the water like a palm tree in a hurricane in the Keys. Now try the same drill, but instead of putting your arm straight down, let it protrude straight out to the side but bend the arm 90 degrees at the elbow, as if you were swimming with a high elbow. You will feel considerably less drag in this position. Same arm...different position...a lot less drag.

Now I realize that this is not quite the same as while swimming, when only the upper part of the arm is moving forward throughout nearly the entire underwater part of the pull cycle (In order to cause frontal resistive drag, the object must be moving forward). However, the upper arm is also the largest part of the arm and changing it's orientation in the water also reduces the drag coefficient. Achieving an EVF is simply maintaining the upper arm in a position closest to the line of motion and thus creates the least frontal drag.

 

The good news is that most coaches are telling you the same thing, pull with your elbows high underwater. Now you know the real reason.

 

Gary Sr

 

Myth #5. The reason we pull freestyle underwater with a high elbow is to increase the surface area of our arm.

 

Forgive me. In case you hadn't noticed that I am preaching high elbows a lot, there is a reason. At the end of each camp at the Race Club I always end by prioritizing the 10 or so points that I make to improve speed and efficiency. The top three are 1) High elbow 2) High elbow and 3) High elbow. Dropping the elbow is like taking a drag suit into competition...only worse, because you don't feel or see what is happening to you...until your tongue is hanging out.

So when I ask campers and coaches, why the high elbow, I usually get increased power or increased surface area. I don't think either one is right.

We all know from throwing on a pair of hand paddles (which, by the way, my coach Flip Darr, reinvented in 1967...Ben Franklin was the first to use, I believe) we get a surge of power from the added surface area. So by creating EVF, do we also increase the surface area of our pulling arm?

First, the only area that matters is the part of the arm that ends up creating propulsive drag, which is the hand and forearm, so we can forget about the upper arm for this argument. Now the question is do we have more surface area of the hand/forearm in the EVF position than we do in the deep arm/elbow position?

We are really talking about the surface area projected onto a plane perpendicular to our long axis, which is the area creating the propulsive force in the backward direction. In theory, one could argue that a poor swimmer leads so much more with the elbow in the dropped position (the hand/forearm creates a forward angle at the elbow joint) that the surface area is reduced.

But with reasonable swimmers that is not what you see. From head on or from the rear, you don't see much difference in the surface area of the forearm/hand regardless of whether it is in the dropped position or the EVF position. The surface area of the arm remains the same.

Therefore, I rest my case. The reason we like the EVF position is to reduce drag....and drag remains the #1 enemy of the swimmer.

 

Gary Sr.

 

 

Myth #6: In order to reduce the air bubbles behind your hand underwater, you must enter the hand delicately.

 

Many beginner swimmers are taught to enter the hand into the water just in front of their head and slide it underwater forward as the elbow extends. Or some are told to slow the hand down before it enters the water, kind of like one of those new toilet seats with the spring shock absorber on it. The reasons, I can only assume, are to try to reduce the number of air bubbles one gets when the hand pulls through the water.

Having a lot of air bubbles behind the hand reduces the amount of propulsive drag one can generate as the hand moves backward in the propulsive phase of the pull. And, if you haven't already noticed, most of the great swimmers have little or no air and the not-so-great swimmers often have lots of air. Why?

Well, it doesn't have to do with laying the hand in slowly or sliding it out from the head forward, because none of the great swimmers do that. In fact, quite the opposite, they move the arms/hands aggressively and quickly forward through the recovery, hurrying to get them back into the water again.

So how do they manage to get rid of the air? Good question. My old coach, Doc Counsilman at Indiana U., used to evaluate swimming talent by how much air he saw on the hand underwater. Proprioception is what he thought made the difference. Great swimmers could sense where to find and hold water....that includes getting rid of the air.

Many swimmers enter with the thumb down and roll the hand (externally rotate the shoulder) to accomplish this. Others spread or move the fingers slightly. And of course the small amount of movement of the hand in the saggital plane as the hand goes through the underwater cycle also helps.

Bottom line, as much as I hate to say it, is that one is mostly born with this ability. Just don't try to get it by being delicate with your hand or slowing your stroke cycle, because that just leads to creating more problems than it helps.

Even great swimmers have some air bubbles. Just accept what you have and move on to the things you can control.

 

Gary Sr.

 

Myth #7: When it comes to getting oxygen in freestyle, breathing every cycle is as good as it gets.

 

In almost every other sport but swimming (freestyle), we get the luxury of breathing whenever we want. Typically, with maximal exertion, that means we are inhaling at a respiratory rate of between 50 and 65 times per minute. Not so in swimming.

Most swimmers breathe every cycle and to one side only (a cycle is two arm strokes, or hand entry to hand entry). Since most triathletes turn their arms over slowly (say 35 to 55 strokes per minute), that means the respiratory rate while swimming is 18 to 28; hardly what one would do voluntarily, if one had the choice. (try running or biking with that respiratory rate and see how you do!)

But you do have a choice...sort of. First, you can learn to swim with a higher stroke rate and second, you can try a different breathing pattern. Specifically, I am referring to a 2:3 pattern rather than a 1:2 pattern of breathing. What that means in the Left Stroke Breath Right (LBR), Right Stroke Breathe Left (RBL) Left Stroke no breath (L), Right Stroke no breath (R) terminology is the following:

 

LBR, RBL, L, RBL, LBR, R, LBR, RBL, L etc

 

So, as is so common in swimming, this too presents compromise. What are the pros and cons?

 

Pros: You get 27% more oxygen than if you breathe every cycle, and with oxygen you'll produce 15 times more ATP than without it, and hopefully produce less lactate. You get the associated benefit of breathing more...less fatigue. You get to see the scenery on both sides of the lake or pool.

 

Cons: Most swimmers feel awkward breathing to their weak side. The act of breathing slows the stroke rate. Breathing often results in the arm being pulled too far under the body, creating more drag. If there is a nice swell on one side, breathing to that side may lead to swallowing more water.

 

So this begs the question, if this 2:3 pattern is so good, why don't world class distance swimmers use it? Not sure. It may be that it is yet an undiscovered technique...or, more likely, in the world of superbly conditioned, oxygen deprived distance swimmers, it may be that the cons outweigh the pros. But for this almost 60 year old not so superbly conditioned swimmer, who enters an ocean swim once or twice a year, I love the 2:3 pattern. And for those triathletes who dare to try it (and it takes some getting used to), you may not jump out of the water any faster than by breathing every cycle, but, barring swallowing more water, I'll bet you will feel a lot better.

 

Gary Sr.

 

 

Myth #8: All swimming drills are good for you.

 

I am a great believer in doing drills. In fact, if most swimmers would spend a little more time doing drills and not worry so much about getting their hour or so of aerobic fitness in, they might come out ahead. The biggest problem with drills is that too often, they are being done without any real understanding of what they are supposedly teaching you. Unless you are planning to enter a drill race, there is not much point in doing a drill unless you understand what it is for. Coaches often go to great lengths to explain how to do a drill properly, but then forget to mention what the drill is for.

And sometimes the drills that are being recommended actually teach you the wrong thing. For example, if you have no kick and you are trying to get faster by learning how to increase your stroke rate, then a catch-up drill may be doing you a big disservice. Or if I ever see anyone who has been told to flick water with their hand/wrist out the back end of their stroke, I kindly ask them to hit the delete button. Or what does sliding your finger tips across the surface of the water (finger tip drill) teach you that helps you swim faster?

So all I ask is that you do drills nearly every time you jump in the water, even if for warmup. But that you understand what the drill is trying to teach you AND that the drill is designed for the technique you are trying to learn.

 

Gary

 

 

Swim Myth #9:When it comes to swimming fast, kicking is overrated.

 

Kicking is anything but overrated. As some of you learned from my earlier post, It's in his Kick.... I believe that it is the power of the kick that separates the great swimmers from the not-so-great ones, more than anything else. But here is the problem.

First, even if you are stellar on the bike and run, which, by definition means you have strong legs, that does not mean you will be a strong kicker in the water. In fact, if you are relatively new to the water, the chances of you developing a fast kick are slim and none. So what do you do?

A six beat kick can potentially serve four functions; 1)provide propulsion 2) provide lift 3) act as part of the stabilizing force for your pull and 4) sustain a more constant speed. If you can't kick fast, you aren't going to get much propulsion, but that is ok because most of it comes from the arms anyway. You can, however, even with a weaker kick, still get lift and counter-force for your arm pull...both very worthwhile. So don't give up on the kick. If you can wear a wetsuit, you don't have to worry about the lift part, but you still need the counter-force to improve your dps.

A two beat kick can still provide that counter force you need and give you some lift...and with a lot less energy expense; not a bad way to go for a triathlete.

So here is my advice to you. Work your legs in practice, because you still need to be able to kick. But don't dwell on the legs. Your precious little time to train could be better spent on some hard pull sets or working on getting your stroke rate up. Or learning to swim with high elbows and head down.

In racing, use either a two beat or a soft 6 beat kick, except for the last 100 meters of the swim. Turn the power up a notch or two on the kick for the end so that when you stand up and start running to the transition zone, your legs have some blood flowing in them and still remember how to run.

 

Gary Sr.

 

 

 

Myth #10: The Race Club is just for sprinters.

 

I admit that at the Olympic level, all of our success has been with sprinters. That is because our coach, Mike Bottom (currently at U of Michigan), is one of the best sprint coaches in the world and sprinters flock to him. But we understand swimming...all swimming; sprints, middle distance, distance, open water and triathlon OW. We also understand strength training, mental training, nutrition and recovery...all part of the important formula for success.

We believe that there is not one single technique that works best for every swimmer. We also believe every swimmer needs to have more than one technique for any stroke, depending on the swimmer's strengths, the distance, the conditions, etc.

There are, however, certain fundamentals of swimming that apply to everyone and cannot be ignored. In fact, they need to be understood in order to become a fast or efficient swimmer. I have covered many of these fundamentals throughout these 10 myths that I have tried to bust. They are also covered in our recently released DVD, Fundamentals of Fast Swimming.

Thank you for listening to me and at the very least, I hope I have gotten you to think about what you do when you swim and why you do it. And perhaps some of you are a little faster, too. If I can help any of you more, you can always find me at The Race Club in Islamorada, Florida Keys....one of the most beautiful places in the world. I hope you will visit us!

 

Yours in Swimming,

 

Gary Sr.


 
2010-06-21 6:36 PM
in reply to: #2933091

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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
Thanks for taking your time to post these! It was fun!

2010-06-21 8:35 PM
in reply to: #2933091

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Subject: RE: Swim Myth #10....Busted
Agreed, these have all been great!  My swim times have improved in the pool and I have an Olympic tri in two weeks that I am really looking forward too (super secret goal of being first out of the water for the $50 prize which I think is doable but depends on who shows up for the race).  The high elbow, high turnover discussions have made big improvements for me.
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