Swimming Mechanics – Reteaching the Freestyle Action
Swimming is largely a technical sport, and arguably the most technical of the three that triathletes have to master. Furthermore, most issues arise when poor mechanics are already present, which means that the benefits of general fitness and training, strength work, wetsuits and swim squad will all be limited! The best results will come when reteaching the entire freestyle action, which enables proper mechanics to be taught in the correct sequence.
ETPA run an innovative stroke correction program called Swimfast which was created by Mat Tippett and continues to be developed by Mat, along with Jamie Edwards. The program breaks down the freestyle action into four fundamental components and reintroduces them in a sequence of drills. The program utilises a combination of specific swim drills, and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in order to ‘retrain’ the muscle firing patterns and different components of the nervous system.
This is the first of a series of articles that will summarise the sequence of learning which is utilised in the Swimfast Program. The first teaching point involves understanding and execution of buoyancy and streamline, as well as the ‘second pull’. Future articles will include information regarding rotation through each stroke, Catch and first pull, and recovery, as well as swim specific strength work and neuromuscular training.
The following teaching sequence and methods have shown a high success rate over 10years of teaching.
Streamline + Pull
The most important aspect of swimming is positioning in the water. You must be buoyant and streamlined. Generally speaking if your head is down, then your hips will be high and you will be ‘on top’ of the water. This is the starting point for good swimming, and is evident in all good swimmers.
Practice Exercise: Streamline
Try some 25m bouts of kicking focusing solely on your streamlined position. Use a relaxed, controlled kicking action.
Your head should be down, looking at the bottom of the pool and your arms locked above your head. Think and feel; ears to biceps. Some common triggers include; feeling your bum at the surface of the water, feeling like you are going downhill, your heels breaking the surface of the water.
Once a streamlined position has been achieved, we can start to look at working on your stroke, but note, that if you are more streamlined you will already be a better swimmer, and will already be capable of going faster!
Drill: Streamline + Pull
Start with Catch – Up. Catch up is a broken form of freestyle. Try three or four kicks and then one full stroke, three to four kicks then another full stroke with the other arm. Once you have completed four strokes, stop, rest, and evaluate your effort. Was your head down? Were your arms locked between strokes? Was your kick relaxed, and were your heels breaking the surface of the water? Note, also, that your kicking between strokes is your rest – each stroke should be the focus of forward movement.
The next progression is to add breathing into the mix – breathe every fourth stroke if you can and ALWAYS return to your streamlined position. Once you are familiar with the movement, you need to add more force to each stroke. Really engage your triceps and fully extend your arm during the second phase of the movement. Your hand should finish palm up, at your thigh. Your Tricep should be engaged – think of a Tricep push down.
Continue with this level of thinking in the form of catch up, and then in the form of normal swimming. The movement can be reinforced through some specific strength work and neuromuscular adaptation.
Strength Work: Streamline + Pull
In a gym try three sets of 10 repetitions of Tricep pushdown with your elbows close to your body, or a similar movement. Placing your hands on the pool deck whilst still in the water and then pushing down on the pool deck to extend your arms will work too.
Performance Based Visualisation Training: Streamline and Pull
1. In front of the mirror go through the motions of 10 strokes. Watch each stroke in the mirror and ensure you are finishing at full length and your triceps are engaged.
2. Complete 10 strokes in the same fashion, but with your eyes closed. Again, search for full stroke length and engage your triceps.
3. Next, when lying in bed close your eyes and visualize 10 strokes but without moving your arms. Think about what it looks like and how it feels.
1-200m warm up
4 x 25m builds to MAX/15sec rest
6 x 25m streamlined kick – head down, lock your arms, relaxed kick/15sec rest between each
4 x 25m broken catch up/15sec rest
4 x 25m full catch up breathing every 4 strokes/10sec rest
2 x 25m full catch up but really forcing the back end of the stroke/15sec rest
4 x 25m swim but concentrating on stroke length and power through the back of the stroke/10sec rest
1-200m easy swim down
Stay tuned for Part Two of the series!