Off Season Swim Challenge
by Coach Stacee Seay
“You must UNLEARN what you have LEARNED.”
Jedi Master Yoda knows you have to sometimes forget what you know to learn something else. As creatures of habit we tend to take some “time off” from our swim training as the race season winds down. As athletes, we do love our routines and our go-to habits. However, if you accept my challenge to “shake up your process” or “unlearn” the way you have been doing things, you’ll succeed with faster swim times next season by perfecting these simple drill techniques. The challenge will allow new muscle memory to develop resulting in a more efficient swim stroke and body position. Are you in?
“Do or Do Not, there is No Try”
Challenge #1 – Strive for better Rotation in your stroke! Rotating your body 45-60 degrees allows you to engage the latissimus dorsi muscles (much larger and stronger muscle) in your pull and take the pressure off your shoulder making your pull through the water feel much easier. (also see article cause and affect swimming)
Drill: Side Kicking: Pop on some long floppy fins and push off the wall completely on your side nose pointing at the bottom of the pool and blowing out normally. Your lower arm outstretched in front of you. Fingers lower than your wrist and wrist lower than your elbow. Upper arm is by your side. Find your balance by pulling your shoulder blades back and down. When you need to breathe, quickly turn your head and point your nose to the lane line to breathe and then return your head nose pointing to the bottom of the pool. Drill on one side on the way down and on the other on the way back.
Progression: 6/1/6 Drill: Kick for six kicks on one side, then perform one stroke and rotate to the other side for six kicks. Breathe after you stroke. Drill like this on the way down the lane then swim freestyle on the way back feeling the same rotation you did during the change from one side to the other. The pull should feel much easier after the drill as you get into a good rhythm.
Challenge #2 – Bilateral Breathing: there are so many reasons to perfect your bilateral breathing for triathlon and open water swims. Bilateral breathing creates symmetry in your stroke and helps you swim straighter. It allows you to be the boss of your breath in choppy water and so much more. If you don’t breathe to both sides you do not have a choice when you need to make one during a race or when conditions force you to do either.
“Just silly, that is.”
Drills: The above side kicking drill will also help you get more comfortable with this. Keep your forehead low in the water creating a bow wave with the top of your head. Then simply turn your head to take a quick breath keeping one goggle in the water and one goggle out.
Progression: Once you are comfortable bilateral breathing focus on perfecting your pull during your breath stroke. Almost all of us have an ugly pull during our breath stroke. We over rotate or the stroking arm sweeps under the body or we push down on the water instead of pulling ourselves over the yoga ball. It is totally normal because we are focused on the breath not the stroke.
If you breathe bilaterally then 33% of your strokes are not great. If you breathe every stroke then that’s 50% of the time. Not pretty! Try to go longer without breathing and really focus on hand and head position as you rotate to take that breath. Or go through the motion of the breath stroke but don’t breathe, just feel what the stroking arm is doing. Is it what you want it to do. If you can fix that breath stroke you will have free speed throughout all your strokes. Think about it, 33-50% is easy math. Who wouldn’t want that kind of improvement in your swim times?
Challenge #3 – Head position – Most of us swim with our head in the exact same position all the time for whatever reason as we were learning to swim. Unlearn this by trying these different positions.
Drills: Look straight down and see what happens to your body position. Look as far forward as you can and see what happens to your breath, body position and stroke. Then look somewhere in between those and see what happens. Find a happy place where you can feel your body position improve. See what your hands are doing at the beginning of your catch or when they are directly under your shoulders. Are you grabbing the water the way you want to for efficiency? Have you ever looked at your arm stroke with your own eyes? (see article Seeing is Believing) Many of us do not.
I’ve analyzed hundreds of swimmers through 1-2-1 stroke correction video analysis and in about 50% of these swimmers, so much about correcting their stroke is improved by simply changing head position. Play with this and see what works best for you.
The Swim Smooth Trifecta of a well-rounded swim training routine includes Technique, (this challenge) Training or endurance work and Open Water skills training. During this season this training session can be your focus on your technique days. Now head to the pool and choose only one of these drills per session and be patient as your new stroke develops. Work on it as a warm up or cool down and then take a few minutes in the middle of your swim to revisit the drill. Drill for 25 m/y then swim for 25 m/y applying the “feel of the drill.” You’ll notice improvement very quickly.
If this works for you and you want more. I would be happy to take a look at your stroke and make additional recommendations, please contact me and we can discuss how to make it happen either in person or you can submit your video own video for individual stroke correction analysis.
May the Force (of your new powerful stroke) Be with You!
Swim Smooth Certified and BEST Master Coach