1. Single-Arm Trailing Freestyle Drill #SwimTechTues

    July 1, 2014 by John Wood

    This is an old standby drill for freestyle that’s been done by coaches and swimmers since as long as we can remember. You may well have done this with your arm out in front – for balance. Here we do it with the still arm trailing – so you can get full rotation.

    Why Do It:

    Isolating each arm can help you discover what each arm does during the pull. This drill will also help you focus in on your balance as you rotate to either side.

    How to Do It:

    1. Start with a standard streamline pushoff (Cullen dives in, but you can use a push) and take a stroke with one arm.
    2. As that arm finishes, leave it at your side and begin a stroke with the other arm.
    3. As your begin your pull, make sure the shoulder of the opposite arm is above the water.
    4. To breathe, one option is to turn your head toward the pulling arm…
    5 …or breathe to the other side, toward the non-pulling arm.
    6. Alternate arms per length, or take a few strokes with one arm, then switch, and finish with regular freestyle.

    How to Do It Really Well 

    Play around with the drill and focus. Don’t get locked into a set pattern, and concentrate on what your pulling arm is doing. You may find that you feel more comfortable to one side than you do to the other, which is very normal. DONT NEGLECT THAT SIDE!

    One thing you will notice is that every time Cullen’s hand enters the water, his opposite shoulder and hip pop up with the rotation. The problem with doing single arm with the still arm out ahead of you is that you don’t get that rotation, that it doesn’t really suit full stroke. We want these drills to mimic what our freestyle is like, so we can really carry these focus’s across.

    Take your time with this – and any drill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

     

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  2. Feel The Water – What It Means, How To Improve #SwimTechTues

    June 24, 2014 by John Wood

    Watch the great swimmers’ hands, and you’ll see how soft they are when they swim. They’re always searching to find that constant connection with the water.

    Why Do It:

    Sculling in all directions helps you develop a better feel for the water. Strapless sculling, or using paddles that have limited connection to the hands, helps you feel the press of the scull, while still focusing on having the palms turned in the correct direction.

    How to Do It:

    1. Start with you feet behind you, on your back.
    2. Start to scull with your fingertips facing UP. If you do this right, you should move backward.
    3. Now simply turn the fingertips DOWN. If you do this right, you should move forward, toward the feet.
    4. Remember: This isn’t pulling. Don’t sweep your hands around like this swimmer is doing.
    5. Sweep back and forth with the hands while keeping the shoulders and elbows as still as possible.

    How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

    Remain completely still with everything except the lower arm. Keep the body steady, the arms, the head… remain like a rock except for the lower arms and hands. If you have to kick to keep the feet up, sometimes a pull buoy can help further isolate what you’re focusing on.

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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  3. Swimming With Kit #SwimTechTues

    June 18, 2014 by John Wood

    Tools are useful for all sorts of training, right? Well yeah, if you use them correctly. I very rarely use any toys while I’m swimming – or coaching – but here are a few bits and pieces that if used correctly, can be a really useful addition to your sessions.

    Pull Buoy

    A Triathlete’s best friend!

    Triathlete's best friend!

    Triathlete’s best friend!

    I like to make a joke about how triathletes tend to use pull buoys as a crutch, but a leg float can be a really potent tool to use. The idea with the item is that you isolate your arm muscles and DON’T KICK. It kills me when I see swimmers with a float between their legs and kicking as per usual! If using one of these there are two elements at play – firstly you don’t have to worry about your legs (or body position), so you can really work on what your arms are doing under the water; Secondly you can build in some power and resistance (because the shape of the float sticks below the body, it adds to your frontal profile – the bit that causes resistance) and so strengthen your arms. Obviously in the long run this should make you go faster – but in no way should you be swimming faster with a float than you do without it! If this is the case you really need to think about your BODY POSITION!

    One way of getting the most out of your pull buoy is to change the position that you hold it in – and even do some pull sets (i.e. arms only) without a float. This gives you the advantage of feeling your body position change in the water and having to balance yourself somewhat. Try placing the float between your knees, between your shins or even squeezing it between your feet.

     

    Hand Paddles

    Hand Paddles

    Hand Paddles

    Hand paddles are your real strengthening agent in the water. If you don’t have access – or time to go to the gym, using a pair of paddles (sparingly) can build the power in the lats and arms. They can also be used to focus on technique as well. I would always recommend to use paddles with out the wrist strap – or side straps depending on the brand of paddle – and solely use the finger straps at the top. The reason for this is simple: If you are fully secured to your paddle, then your hand can do what it likes underwater, potentially with no benefit to you, or maybe even increasing risk of injury. If, however, you were to only keep the finger straps on, you would HAVE to ensure that your paddle/hand and forearm are always engaging pressure on the water and causing the paddle to stick to your hand.

    Using paddles adds to the water and resistance you can push – so will make you go faster while you are using them. But be careful of doing too much with them, you don’t want to over stress the shoulder muscles and the tendons around the elbow.

     

    Swim Fins

    Swim Fins

    Swim Fins

    Swim fins are great for those with rigid ankles – potentially from cycling or running background – as they lengthen the foot and help to increase the range of motion within the ankle. This along with regular kick will help build up efficiency. As a competitive swimmer myself (and a strong kicker), my old coach went by the maxim that around 40% of our sessions should be kick! Now for the majority of Tri Coaching followers, that will seem like a lot, especially for triathletes who feel that they don’t kick much and want to save their legs for the bike/run. I would put it to you that you want any kicks that you do make, to be strong, efficient and propulsive, and giving a good platform for you to pull from; that doing a couple of hundred metres a session kick is really beneficial to your leg mobility and flexibility, as well as your swim power.

     

    Front Mounted Snorkel

     

    Front Mounted Snorkel

    Front Mounted Snorkel

    The last training toy is the front mounted snorkel. The reason that I picked this tool out is because it helps you as a swimmer to keep your head still. I regularly make the joke that breathing is overrated, but with regards to swimming, it really is. All the time that you keep your head down, your stroke remains the same, unchanged, constant. As soon as you turn your head to breath, that is when things start to change – and if you are swimming open water, where you are likely to go off course. By occasionally using the front mounted snorkel to keep your head still (and watch your hands come through under your body), you can ingrain some really positive strong habits.

    If you feel like this is too easy, or you want to build up your lung strength, Finis also do a cap to go on the top to restrict airflow(!).

     

    All these tools are positive additions to your sessions – potentially – if used correctly, if used sparingly. Unlike on the bike, where shiny kit can make you go faster in training and in races, swim tools will only help you in training, the benefits will only cross into races if you use them correctly.

     

    You might notice that I haven’t mentioned kick boards/floats. The only time I ever use floats are with complete learn to swim beginners, and even then I try to avoid it if possible. By using floats for doing kick, the body becomes completely out of alignment and disrupts the use of the kinetic chain, and doesn’t allow efficient, powerful or propulsive leg kick.

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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  4. #SwimTechTues – Rotating Kick, Swimming From The Hips

    June 3, 2014 by John Wood

    Following on from last weeks’ post, this drill starts looking at taking hip rotation into full stroke – and demonstrates how useful core control can be!

    www.youtube.com/pn03F7XPdTk

    Why Do It:

    By controlling movement through your core, and generating rotation/balance through your hips you free up muscle recruitment – and energy in your shoulders; This will allow you more strength and power in your arms to propel you forward. Remember everything that we do should be to make us go forward; it is actually relatively easy to be on top of the water with no effort at all.

    Also by rotating and working from the hips, you are more likely to keep the body moving as a whole, rather than in separate sections. If the body is twisting in the mid section, then you will waste energy and be more likely to snake through the water.

    How To Do It:

    1) Lie flat on the water, eyes down, core engaged.

    2) Kick steadily, long freestyle kicks – from the hips!

    3) To rotate onto your side, rotate your hips and shoulders so they are perpendicular to the water’s surface – still looking straight down.

    4) Rotate back to flat on your front – then to the opposite side. Repeat down the length.

    I tend to suggest rotating in each direction every 6 kicks to maintain a rhythm to the drill, but it’s up to you how often you want to change position.

    I also start by negating the breathing – performing the drill until needing air – so that you don’t have to move the head. The more your head moves, the more disrupted your stroke or drill will become.

    How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

    When you start to introduce breathing into the drill, remember to keep movements as smooth as possible. Maintain a good long neck (strong posture remember!) and just twist your chin toward your top shoulder. You don’t HAVE to breathe every rotation, but taking breaths regularly will minimise you having to snatch breaths and potentially lifting your head.

    While remembering that the rotation occurs from the hips, make sure that the action is a real snap – as water is very heavy and you want to drive the hips from one position to the next (horizontal – vertical and back again).

    Remember to keep the legs kicking throughout! They don’t have to kick fast at all, just long, relaxed and smooth.

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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  5. #SwimTechTues – Side Kick

    May 27, 2014 by John Wood

    We always talk about swimming on our sides, and here is a great drill to work on holding that position.

    Why Do It:

    There are four reasons why we want to get right on our sides:

    1. – Minimising frontal resistance – only half the body will be in the water.
    2. – Extra reach – depending on the amount of rotation you can gain upto a good 10inches. Not much over 25m, but over a 1500 or 3.8km swim this can make a large difference to the number of strokes you take!
    3. – By getting on our sides we can use more of our back muscles – which are bigger than our shoulder muscles and therefore drive more power and gain more speed.
    4. – Possibly most importantly, you give yourself more room to breathe into.

    How to Do It:

    1.  Push off with one hand straight out in front, just below the surface of the water, the opposite arm by your side.

    2.  The top shoulder and hip should be out of the water, you should be perpendicular to the surface.

    3.  Your ear should be on the shoulder of the arm out in front.

    4. When you need to breathe, ROTATE your chin toward your top shoulder.

    How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

    Keeping your ear to your shoulder will help hold your body line and posture that we always talk about. If your head starts to come away from your arm, your hips will start to drop and make life more difficult with more resistance. If you are really struggling to breathe on a regular basis, you can start with keeping your chin toward your top shoulder – giving you time to breathe when you want. Then you can progress to having your ear on your shoulder. As you get stronger, more confident and more comfortable with the drill you can progress to looking down at the bottom of the pool/lake to more simulate a full stroke body position.

    Clearly if you are a triathlete, doing too much kick isn’t going to seem like a priority to you, but remember that this is a case of practising the body position and making your foundations stronger; by doing a little more kick it will also become stronger, more efficient and more effective too.

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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  6. #SwimTechTues – swimming in the pipeline

    May 14, 2014 by John Wood

    Today’s video is more of an idea than a drill, something to aim for to be a better, faster, more efficient swimmer.

    If you watch closely, the swimmer’s technique doesn’t change from swimming slowly to when she sprints.

    Why Do It:
    Swimming in the pipeline means keeping your stroke underwater tight and compact, close to the body. This helps to keep control of your underwater phase, control your balance and also maintain a straight course in open water.

    How To Do It:
    Pulling together all of the key points from the last few weeks:

    1. Strong posture from a long neck and neutral spine.
    2. Set strong core, and hip driven rotation.
    3. Smooth fingertip entry.
    4. Early bend of the elbow, good connection and pressure on the water.
    5. Powerful squeeze back initiated from the hips rotating and from the lats (back muscles).

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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  7. #SwimTechTues – Body, Line and Posture. The KEY to avoiding sinking legs

    May 6, 2014 by John Wood

    So many athletes come to me complaining of how swimming is really hard work for them. A large number of triathletes complain about sinking legs – unless they are swimming in a wetsuit. The thing with triathletes is that they have a tendancy to have very dense legs, a lot of muscle from cycling and running. Muscle weighs more than water so yes it will encourage the legs lower in the water. However there is a lot you can do to prevent this from causing any issues.

    Not only will this help swimmers who feel their legs drag along the pool floor, but for a large number of swimmers will help to reduce resistance to the water – making life easier and hopefully you faster!

    Why Do It:

    Posture, line and balance are the key to swimming easier and/or faster. This involves working those core muscles that we hear so much about – and possibly do some work on!

    By doing the dead man float, and feeling the hips rise toward the surface (and possibly the legs as well, at least in part), the intention is that you will feel how you don’t have to fight the water, that you can really feel that everything you then do is propelling you forward through the water rather than keeping you afloat.

    It also shows you how head position makes a massive difference to body position!

    How To Do It:

    1. Let everything relax, with a full lung of air, float face down in the water. You’ll probably feel like a hunchback with your legs hanging down.

    2. Set your core (pull belly button up toward your spine, squeeze your glutes – imagine that you have a £50 note between your cheeks) and look toward the bottom of the pool.

    3. Slowly lift your arms up from hanging loose toward the surface of the water above your head.

    4. Kick your legs very gently until you need a breath.

    How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

    The idea is that by pulling your core in and looking down, your back will flatten out. By lifting your arms up into a streamlined position, your legs will start to rise toward the surface as well. For a large percentage of people, legs might not reach the top levels of the water, but with a little bit of kick to provide momentum everything should pop right up.

    All of this points to why we do core work and what its benefits are to you. A lot of medical professionals will tell injured athletes that they need to work on their core – but not how to then use it. A large number of coaches will say the same. Its all very well and good being able to hold a plank for 5minutes or more, but if you can’t use it to stand up straight and tall then its of no use to you. Similarly posture is key to everything you do. If your posture is poor while driving or at your work desk, you get back/neck problems. If you run with poor posture, then you’re more susceptible to back/hip/knee issues. Cycling with poor posture hurts your back, makes you less powerful. And swimming with poor posture (head/eyes up and forward, curved back) creates extra resistance for you, making life harder.

    Being able to control your core and posture will make you smoother, stronger and faster in the water. And if you are a triathlete, being stronger and more efficient in the water means more energy to bike and run better.

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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  8. #SwimTechTues – Head Up Swim Drill & Sighting

    April 29, 2014 by John Wood

    With triathlon season now coming into full swing in the UK, and the Open Water challenge swims not far off, learning to swim effectively with head up is important. As any of my swimmers will tell you, its one of the few times I will tell them to look forward; if you’ve been following my posts over the last 8 months, you will know that by looking forward you force your hips down in the water and create more resistance. i.e. you make life harder for yourself! 

    Why Do It:

    Swimming head up has several benefits:

    1. Resistance training – see the note above!
    2. Watching your entries into the water – fingertips first, minimal splash.
    3. Watch your engagement on the water – making sure your hands aren’t sliding back, that you are really getting maximum hold.
    4. Watching your hands come back close to the body without crossing your centre line – keeping you in a straight line.

    By practicing head up swimming, you can look to make your stroke as smooth and efficient as possible and an easy transition into sighting. As we all know, what we think and what we actually do with our swimming can be two completely different things. This is where video coaching comes in to show you what you are actually doing!

    How To Do It:

    1. Keep your chin on the surface, keep your eyes pointing forward, focus on the end of the lane, maybe a diving block or a sign.

    2. Slide your hands into the water in front of your eyeline and stretch forward.

    3. Engage on the water as we’ve mentioned and practised over the last few weeks – bend your elbow before squeezing back with your forearm all the way past your hips.

    How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

    Keeping your head still is key. You shouldn’t have to turn your head to the side at all to breathe, work your core and kick hard! If your head is moving 1, your shoulders (and therfore your body) will follow and 2, how will you know if you’re swimming straight in open water?!

    Aim to slide your fingertips in first, flat. There are many different debates from coaches, or what swimmers have been told, but the easiest and simplest thing to do is slide your hand into the water flat. The reasoning behind this is that if your thumb goes into the water first, its far easier to slice your hand straight down than it is to get real pressure to squeeze against. If you are more controlled, have more awareness and strength/stability in your shoulders then you can look to put a slight angle into your hand, around 30°, but this isn’t a necessity for you.

    You can change up how you use this drill. As with any drills, mixing in with full stroke is incredibly useful because you can really feel what you work on once you put everything together (hopefully!). It could be that you use a combination of 3 strokes head up, 3 strokes head down to simulate sighting. Or you could do full 25m/50m swims with your head out of the water for added resistance training, whatever works for you.

    Enjoy, see what you think, let us know your feedback!

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

     

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  9. #SwimTechTues – Double Arm Pulls or Porpoising Drill

    April 22, 2014 by John Wood

    One way of developing your swimming is to mix up your strokes. I am a big advocate of swimming backstroke and breaststroke to maximise the feel athletes have for the water and and understanding for what makes them move forwards.

    This week’s drill is primarily a butterfly drill, but don’t let that scare you! The underwater phase for butterfly is the same as for freestyle, so by working both arms at the same time we can 1) stay well balanced on the water and 2) feel for differences between each side.

     

    Why Do It:

    By starting from a fixed position with your arms out in front, it encourages you to feel what holding that pressure on the water is like, and understand that anchor point that you lever the body over. I would tend to do the drill as individual pulls for freestyle, focussing on the quality of each connection on the water, rather than trying to make a continuous stroke like the video as a butterfly drill.

    How to Do It:

    1. Lie out flat on the water – good posture, eyes down, core in, arms out in front. Light kick to keep afloat.

    2. Anchor your wrists on the water (point your fingers down), then bend your elbows and throw your hands down and away past your hips.

    3. Don’t rush to get on to the next stroke – take time to breath and slide your hands forward, aim for maximum distance per press.

    How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):

    The trick is all in making sure you can feel pressure on your hands and forearms. We can all throw our hands down and away, but if they are slicing through the water like butter, you will be wasting energy. Remember to keep the elbows high and press with your forearms as well as with your hands, under your body. Drive all the way back, from engaging on the water at the front end all the way back to the exit at the back. Don’t try to breath during the pull; all you’ll do is end up with a face full of water and feel yourself slow down rapidly!

    By working on a good, connected drive back through the water – and levering your body forward over the top – you will improve your pull no end. As a result your stroke count should reduce as you travel further for each individual pull. As always, follow up lengths of this drill with full stroke to feel the difference on the focal point of the drill.

    See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

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  10. Running Form Friday – technique tips

    April 11, 2014 by John Wood
    Olà from Alcochete in Portugal! One of the three sites for our partners at Lisbonsouth.com; we were running in the sun by the banks of the River Tejo and it’s super peaceful!As with the Swim tech Tuesday tips, I also post a running thought under the hashtag #RunningFormFriday – so here’s today’s.For today’s Run Form Friday comment I wanted to look at why we do drills and skills, why we look at technique. Over the last 8 months I’ve posted a variety of videos that I’ve felt personally might be useful to people. Some don’t see the worth in doing run drills at all. But for for us, we really find that certain elements can really help with speed, strength, efficiency and injury prevention.The two drills I wanted to pick out are high knees and heel flicks – two drills that many do but don’t understand WHY. If you don’t know why you do the drill, what’s the point, and how can you really do it correctly?!Both drills have a similar goal, but looking at the running stride in two separate sections. They are both designed to increase that elusive word – cadence (the number of steps/strides you take per minute), as well as other benefits.First up, high knees – we’ve all done this drill, at school, in warm ups, for various sports.http://youtu.be/GtbxEKJAtvs

    The idea of the drill is that you run with fast feet, you’re not aiming for distance per stride, almost the opposite. By driving you foot down under the body, you minimise the opportunity to over stride (and therefore lower the load on the legs). By getting the knees high you can also drive down with more force – perfect for going faster!

    With heel flicks, again it’s a highly common drill.

    This works on using the hamstrings to pull the heels up and through. By picking your feet up a little more you minimise the resistance and the effort required to bring your leg forward and through. Obviously that doesn’t mean you have to stride like Mo Farah sprinting the last 400 at the Olympics – but that is a main reason for a higher heel carry. Again by doing the drill quickly, with sharp snappy movements, it will help increase your overall cadence.

    Obviously there are lots of drills around, we’ve looked at a fair few in the last 8 months – but hopefully that gives you a little insight into how we work and what we try to do.

    Happy running!

     

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