Swimming for Fitness
Developing Stroke Skills
Developing Stroke Skills
Good stroke mechanics are not only necessary to develop speed; injury may occur in swimmers from poor technique.
Basic stroke mechanics will prohibit you from increasing your respiratory rate (except during backstroke). Because you can't pant, you will quickly become limited by not getting enough oxygen or not getting rid of carbon dioxide before it starts building up. This is different than in running and is the reason for the universal use of interval training in swim training programs. Runners often go out for long steady runs, but a swimmer who trains this way becomes a slow and inefficient swimmer.
This section will discuss three main swimming strokes; crawl stroke , breaststroke, and sidestroke. These particular strokes are the most useful. Most swimmers use a variety of strokes in a workout to provide cross training and avoid overuse injuries. Skills must be developed over a long period of time in order for the swimmer to become proficient. A proper stroke may only be developed by getting feedback from others.
General Stroke Principles
The key to swimming fast is reducing drag as much as possible while maximizing propulsive forces.
Water causes a large amount of drag on the swimmer's body, thus streamlining becomes extremely important. The key to swimming fast is reducing drag as much as possible while maximizing propulsive forces. One specific technique includes rolling from side to side to clear high resistance parts of the swimmer's body for arm recovery. Swimming in salt water is faster than swimming in fresh water because of the increased buoyancy of the swimmer, reducing resistance.
There are many other subtle ways to reduce water drag in swimming, and learning them is one of the benefits of getting coaching from a qualified instructor or swimming coach.
For beginning freestyle swimmers, a pullbuoy will help the swimmer concentrate on proper arm stroke and additionally, help keep the hips positioned high in the water which minimizes drag. Approximately 90% of the work with the freestyle is due to the arm stroke.
The correct arm pull incorporates several elements of sculling. In overall terms, the arm of the swimmer resembles a turning propeller. The diagrams in Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2 outline the hand motion relative to the water, and present front and side views of the free-style arm stroke of Mark Spitz, as analyzed by swimming physiologist, James Counsilman.
Figure 1.1. Comparing the Free-Style Stroke to the Blades Turning on a Propeller
Figure 1.2. The Free-Style Stroke of Mark Spitz
Point of Entry
Point of Exit
As shown in Figure 1.3, you can see how the hand is used to seek out still water from below the swimmer. The swimmer initially sculls outward, then he directs his hand inward at the same time he is “catching” back upward toward his body. The freestyle stroke is then completed with an outward scull.
Several of the drills are designed to break this down for you. One arm freestyle allows you to concentrate on the arm's motion. Catchup freestyle slows everything down so that you can coordinate body roll with arm pulls. Using hand paddles will help you feel the water and the sculling sensation is also greatly accentuated.
Figure 1.3. Below the Swimmer
View of Mark Spitz’s Free-Style Stroke
Other views (Figure 1.4) show how the arms move during the freestyle stroke.
From the front, the hand roughly describes a loop. Finally, you can see again from a side view of Mark Spitz that there is an aggressive “catch” action in the arm pull as he sculls back toward his body.
Figure 1.4. Side and Front Views of Mark Spitz’s Free-Style Stroke
The key to breaststroke is the kick. Propulsion is provided by drawing the feet up towards your body in the direction of motion, and then sweeping both feet backward in a circular motion, pushing motionless water backward with the inside and bottom portions of the swimmer's feet. Coaching is essential to develop good technique as the kick is very subtle.
Pulling is done by a sweeping sculling motion. A good stroke drill to work on for a strong sculling motion is to use only your arms and not your legs, in other words, “pull breaststroke”. This drill develops a feel for the water that is needed for all three strokes.
Swimming Drills – Fin Drills
Kicking with fins is fantastic training. Be careful of using a kickboard too much while training with fins; this may cause back pain.
Fin kicking drills are essential to building leg strength, some fin kicking drills are outlined below:
Fin Sprints: Sprinting 25 meters with fi ns will allow you to feel flaws in your arm strokes. This drill will consume an extraordinary amount of oxygen and provide a good anaerobic and strength workout for your legs. It also feels great to go fast.
Fin Fartlek: Do this set without a kickboard. Kick one length with an easy fl utter kick, then flutterkick the next length on your right side with both hands out of the water - effort level high - then back to face down for a length of easy fl utter kick, then back at it over a hard length, this time on your left side, again hands out of the water. Repeat several times. This drill is particularly effective in a long pool (45m).
Fin Repeats: Do with a kickboard. Kick flutterkick hard for 50m, rest 10 seconds, repeat for 10 repetitions.
Specific Freestyle Drills
Swimmers often develop bad habits when using the freestyle stroke, use the drills listed below to improve your technique:
One Arm Freestyle: May be done with or without a pullbuoy. Emphasizes body rolling without corkscrewing. This drill will allow the swimmer to concentrate on proper pulling technique.
Catch-Up Freestyle: Hold arm out in front while pulling with the other arm. Recover the pulling arm and then touch hands out in front before initiating the pull with the other arm. This drill will help timing of pull.
Fist Freestyle: Swim with fists. This will make the swimmer concentrate on forearm sculling. Do this drill without the pullbuoy.
Finger Drag Freestyle: Recover arm with fingers skimming the water. This provides the swimmer with feedback regarding arm and hand position during arm recovery.
Swimmers often develop hypersensitivities and allergies with pool swimming. The source of the problem is the inhalation of chlorinated organic material. These hypersensitivity reactions may include lung conditions that are quite disabling. Prevention is the key. Ways to minimize your chances of such problems include:
Using a nose clip.
Avoiding any situation where you might breathe a mist or spray that is generated from pool water.
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