Articles 6-9 (please scroll down for 7-9)
Article 6 - Is There a Difference in Technique from the Pool to the Ocean?
Simple answer… No
Long answer… It’s not that simple...
Swimming is essentially the same; no matter whether there’s a line on the bottom and the pool surface is completely flat, or even if you’re in the ocean on a stormy day and there’s big waves all around.
So a more pertinent question we should pose is – does YOUR technique change due to environmental conditions, and if it does, why? Further to this and more importantly, how can you eliminate this from happening at all?
Let’s explore for a moment the situation of a seasoned swimmer, ie someone who feels totally at home in any body of water. This kind of swimmer is often so relaxed and in control of their form that neither adverse weather nor a massive race start writhing with other swimmers will affect their technique. And due of this, their race times will be very similar whether in the pool or the ocean over the same distance. It all simply comes down to their technique holding true even when put under pressure from any stress condition at all.
So what about a more normal example, ie someone who can swim at least 2000m and holds an easy intensity average of 22 strokes in a 25m pool… For a swimmer at such a level, there are generally multiple considerations to take into account when understanding why performance once they are in the ocean may be badly affected compared to their pool sessions…
a) Confidence in waves - affects everything
b) Ability to lift and drop your head fluently to navigate, WITHOUT either
- pushing water down on the leading arm (wastes power), or
- stalling completely by keeping the head up for too long
c) Ability to stay straight by (a) feel and (b) sighting in the correct manner to both stay straight plus do it with the least impact on forward movement
Now as we can see from these factors above, a competent and confident swimmers can stay relaxed, maintain a straight line, and pop and drop their head up quickly whenever they need to. This enables them to both stay perfectly straight without ever having to stop or changing their efficiency no matter what the pool or ocean throws at them.
So what’s the answer?
Essentially you need to focus on these points…
1) Learn what comprises a perfect stroke then set about mastering it, all of the time, no matter where or when you train. Remember junk miles = junk results
2) Become familiar and relaxed in the ocean – this will allow you to continue to swim perfectly in any conditions without worry. You’ll know deep down you can always catch your breath whenever you need without rushing your stroke or breaking your form.
3) Practise your sighting and become a master at popping your head for a split second then dropping it before your speed starts to falter. Also learn and know what the right frequency of head lifts is for you to stay dead straight.
4) Lastly, and even though this may sound abstract, practise breathing drills that 100% eliminate all fear of not being able to breathe when in water. Almost everyone’s technique is affected somehow at subconscious level by a fear of being without air.
We hope this motivates you to start improving your form and maintaining it in the ocean.
Article 7 - The Myth of Easy Swimming
I cant remember the last time I swam a length that was truly easy, and yet I often hear of people being instructed to relax to the point where they hardly move.
So what does it really mean to swim easily correctly? Hopefully we can explain that more clearly below...
Easy swimming is simply a category of effort, one which when executed properly and also mixed in the right ratios with some hard work will create a great result, just like a recipe. But we need to know these ingredients well and how they need to be stirred together.
To create forward movement in water you need two broad concepts to merge – useful power plus a body shape that allows your body to slide effectively forwards. Too little power with a great stroke wont move you very well, just the same as a powerful stroke with a terrible shape wont be very effective either.
To blend the right amount of power and a good body position when swimming easily you need to be FIRM. Good technique demands a minimum level of intensity, and the simple description I have found that communicates this best is to be firm, not rushed.
As soon as your hand enters, your arm should start to accelerate forward through the water into what may feel as a gentle snap when your elbow locks to complete the reach. Then to glide, you should stay firm and maintain that depth of reach for a split second (even though it can appear to be much longer). You shouldn’t need to concentrate too much on what the pulling arm is doing because the shoulders linking the arms mean the back part of your pull often starts to accelerate also if you are focussing purely on the front. And most swimmers certainly find it easier to concentrate on just one part of their stroke rather than front and back together.
As you become proficient in developing this firm paused reach you should find yourself going either slightly faster &/or having your stroke counts per length drop compared to your previous easy pace. Most noticeably though, you will find that swimming easily and efficiently like this is HARDER than you expect. Ie easy swimming distance performed correctly is not easy, and yet over time it should get easier as you build a different kind of strength.
The last point to note is that in order to guarantee good technique from the start to the finish of any session, you will need to break most of your sets into short distance repetitions. Otherwise you might start with the right focus then steadily deteriorate. For example, rather than doing those straight 4000m swims we know some of you are addicted to, you’ll benefit greatly by replacing them with reps like 80x50m, R20. For once you’ll be able to hold a better form, not just for a 100m or two but for the entire session. Then once that starts to embed you’ll find amazing things start happening to both your speed and your stroke counts, but only when you only allow yourself to practise correctly, consistently over time.
Article 8 - The Myth of 3 Stroke Breathing
Every swimmer knows that bilateral breathing is a good skill to have. But is it something you should be doing 100% of the time, or is more relevant to certain situations?
Contrary to many new swimmers belief, 3 stroke breathing is NOT the norm for a competitive swimmer.
Any breathing pattern above 2 (eg 3, 4 or 5 stroke breathing) is regarded simply as a drill and not necessarily something you should be aiming to hold in all of your swimming.
Ever been told that you need to be breathing every 3 strokes? Well I’m sure most of you have at some point, but it is only relevant for a few reasons on a few occasions. Three of these are…
Slightly longer between breaths can help finding a rhythm sometimes –can be useful when practising a new skill or refining part of your stroke which needs attention.
There may be situations where you need to breathe to your side that you’re not dominant, eg to visually spot your competition halfway through a race so they don’t sneak past you.
Stress Testing your technique – try doing an 800m swim holding your normal low stroke count with a 3,5,7,2 (breathing pattern per 25m) and see what happens to your form. A good swimmer will maintain their technique even if they have to endure a headache afterwards. A poor swimmer will gradually start to rush to the air and hence their form deteriorates...
Try this validation test for yourself – search YouTube for any elite freestyle race and watch it. You’ll discover very quickly that it’s a tough ask finding any competitor doing anything other than breathing every 2 strokes. At the heart of your power system is energy and without air this will shut down pretty quickly. It’s a quick calculation that tells you there is 50% more oxygen involved with 2 stroke breathing as opposed to 3 and this is why in any race that is longer than 100m you will almost exclusively see 2 stroke breathing being employed by the best athletes (one exception is in very short sprints).
But what about when you re swimming easily, ie how about 3 stroke breathing at a lower intensity? Well even here, 2 stroke breathing will win as well. If your goal is to build an efficient stroke, then you’ll need a low enough stroke cadence that allow you to glide and that lengthens the time between each breath. Good form at an easy pace also needs a minimum amount of intensity, and that increases energy ie air consumption. Without the right amount of air for the technique you want to maintain you will most likely just become reactive and let your form deteriorate.
The central issue regarding whether or not 3 stroke breathing is right for you is skill level – when you are learning, it is more than likely that your breathing position is more of a lift than a roll. If this is happening, then by executing fewer breathing positions then the cost / benefit ratio may be worth it for you. But as your body position and skill level in the water improves there will come a time where 2 stroke breathing will become more benefifcal. As you develop into that technically adept swimmer you want to be, then taking a breath frequently but correctly will have a negligible impact on your drag profile.
So the lessons for improving your swimming are… start by dedicating yourself to perfecting a body position required to breathe easily. Then start breathing every 2 strokes more of the time. And finally use that extra air and energy to lengthen your glide by pausing with a firmer effort.
More air = more energy so if you can get it without causing drag and also hold a better form because of it, then you win.
Happy laps everyone.
Article 9 - Cramp Anyone?
It’s the bain of many a swimmer – you get halfway through a race or training session and then BAM, your calf cramps up and basically resigns you to treading water until it (hopefully) abates. But cramp can be very easily understood even if its not always as easy to deal with.
Cramp in swimming generally occurs in one of three areas… the small muscles in the toes, the arch of the foot, and/or the third and main area, the calf. It’s no coincidence that all these muscle regions activate together when you point your toes, something that you shouldn’t be doing if you want to kick correctly.
Correct kicking requires a good range of plantarflexion movement and if you have it, the water pressure should automatically bend the ankle as you kick downwards not only into a point, but even further - just like a ballerina on tip toes. This degree of ankle movement is achieved by firstly having the flexibility, then more importantly by keeping your ankles fully relaxed no matter how hard your legs are being kicked.
It should be the water pressure that bends the toes into a point and not muscular contraction. A good rule of thumb is that none of the muscles below the knee should be involved in kicking. You may discover though that with certain movements and skills you may unconsciously point your toes without realising and therefore you’ll develop a nasty dose of cramp. This is no more evident than with beginners or swimmers who are learning a movement that involve a lot of rotation. Kicking helps stabilise rotation so when it’s exaggerated then often it leads to cramp. The key is to stay relaxed and aware.
Other factors associated with cramp are balance and breathing. If you suspect that you haven’t quite mastered correct body positions or even the breathing action itself, then you are probably experiencing cramp regularly due to your reactions to this. And any fixation mentally on how you are going to gasp for air next will invariably lead to tension and cramp in the lower leg too.
There are valid situations where nutritionals or prior hard training sessions can play a part. But on the whole, the main reason why people cramp up in the swim are flexibility or pure tension related. So to continually work on your flexibility, breathing and body positions will serve the best results.
Good luck with your training and racing and we hope you can continue to motivate yourself and improve over the remaining summer months J
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