Friday, April 22, 2011

Curing The Overglider

Last week on Feel For The Water we took a look at the very different arm length and stroke styles of two Elite Triathletes, Kate Bevilaqua and Guy Crawford. If you missed this post first time around, it's here. We know from all the feedback we've had that this video clip really brought home how important it is to develop a stroke style that suits you as an individual.

But what if you have already gone down the path of trying to maximise your stroke length by introducing a glide into your stroke? How do you now go about improving your swimming? We affectionately call this group of swimmers 'Overgliders' and you can read a bit more about them here. Personality wise they are an intelligent bunch and have a diligent, thoughtful approach to their swimming, they've normally read all the books on stroke technique and studied lots of clips of swimmers on YouTube.

If you're an Overglider this blog post is for you. It's a little in-depth and slightly technical but with your analytical approach to swimming we doubt you'll mind!

Overgliders

Here in Perth we are inundated with Overgliders who are all visiting us for video analysis and stroke correction to try and understand why they have hit such a distinct plateau with their swimming speed. Over the last 20 years this group of swimmers has grown larger and larger, in fact amongst competitive triathletes and swimmers it's become the largest single group with 44% of our Swim Type Guide sales going to Overgliders. Overgliders now dwarf every other group with the next largest being the Arnies at 25%, who are the swimmers who have low sinking legs and tend to fight the water.

There are a huge number of frustrated Overgliders out there and this is the reason why we devote quite a bit of time on the blog to the dangers of actively gliding in your stroke and losing touch with your stroke rhythm.

Why Gliding Is Inefficient

Overgliders tend to hit a speed plateau between 2:10 and 1:40 per 100m depending on their height and arm length. This plateau is caused by three big inefficiencies:

1) The large deadspot in your timing causes you to decelerate heavily between strokes. This accelerate-decelerate-accelerate-decelerate stroke style is very inefficient and it tends to overload the shoulder muscles. Many Overgliders say that their "stroke falls apart" after a few laps of swimming, this is actually an issue of fatigue from poor stroke efficiency rather than a coordination problem.

2) By over-gliding you harm your propulsive efficiency. The catch is the point right at the front of the stroke when you begin to get a purchase on the water and press is backwards. A good catch starts early in the stroke timing and engages gently and continuously with the water, pressing it backwards to the wall behind you. By introducing a large pause to the stroke you start your catch late and then have to hurry it to make up for lost time. A hurried catch slips through the water and so becomes inefficient.

3) Whilst trying to maximise stroke length most Overgliders drop their wrists and show the palm of their hand forwards as they over-extend. We call this 'putting on the brakes', slowing you down directly through extra drag but also dropping your elbow which severely harms your catch mechanics:


Showing your palm forward like this can easily be misinterpreted as a good catch because of the pressure on the palm of your hand as the water strikes it. Read our post explaining why this is here.

A continuous flowing catch phase without a pause is the key difference between a true Smooth's stroke such as Jono Van Hazel and an Overglider's stroke. The absence of acceleration-deceleration and superior catch mechanics and timing explains how Smooth's can be so incredibly efficient in the water. A top level Smooth like Jono swims around 1:05 per 100m at a steady pace, just as an Overglider might swim 1:50 for 100m. They're not using fitness to do this, it's just great stroke technique and efficiency. Of course when these guys do press the gas pedal and unleash their fitness they are devastatingly quick and clock sub 50 seconds for that same 100m.

A long stroke is a good thing and in a truly efficient stroke it is the result of low drag and good propulsive efficiency, not glide. We're encouraging you to remove deadspots and pauses from your stroke but this doesn't mean we're asking you to artificially rush things, quite the opposite. The freestyle stroke should be naturally rhythmical and fluid without hitches or pauses, working with the water not against it.

Jono Van Hazel mid catch. At this point in the stroke an Overglider's arm will still be extended out in front gliding.

Curing The Overglider

Obviously the goal here is to remove the over-glide or pause in your stroke. After last week's post we received many emails and comments on the blog from Overgliders asking how to go about doing this. Here's our overview:

Don't!
Don't think of this as being about reducing your stroke length, you may end up with a slightly shorter stroke but that's not the object of the exercise. In fact many Overgliders find that by improving their catch and propulsion (see below) their stroke actually lengthens despite removing the glide phase.

Don't!
Don't try and actively increase your stroke rate (stroke cadence), at least not at first. Overgliders who set about this directly find that the deadspot is so heavily imprinted in their stroke timing that it stays in place and that every other part of the stroke speeds up instead, which will prove to be extremely hard work! The goal here is to keep the stroke movements at about the same speed but remove the deadspot.

Do!
Work on your catch technique by developing a continuous flowing catching action, engaging the water and pressing it backwards with a bent elbow. A poor catch technique presses the water downwards, to the side or even forwards with a dropped wrist. This adds a delay into your stroke because water is 800 times more dense than air and changing its direction takes time. By improving your catch you start to press the water backwards, helping it on its way, this takes less time and naturally lifts your stroke rate.

A quick numerical example of this: if you improve your catch technique and remove just 0.2 second from the deadspot in your stroke this will lift your stroke rate by around five strokes per minute. A very significant improvement which you'll immediately notice in your speed and efficiency.

Shameless Plugs

Our full stroke development guide for Overgliders is here. It's just US$20 and includes Swim Smooth's process, drills, visualisations and training sessions to remove the glide from your stroke and take your swimming to the next level.

You'd also benefit greatly from our new Catch Masterclass DVD, not only does it take a detailed and insightful look at the process of improving your catch technique but it shows Jono's and two other elite swimmers' catch technique in incredible detail.

Making The Change

Stroke timing changes are perhaps the hardest thing to change in swimming as they involve coordinating multiple movements at once. If you have a heavily imprinted glide and pause in your stroke this is a habit that will take some time to break. You may find this frustrating at first but bear in mind that as an Overglider there are many good things already in place in your stroke such as good alignment in the water and good body position. Other swimmers have multiple problems holding them back, you have one big one (pause and glide) so it makes sense that it will take a little time and persistence to overcome this in your stroke.

How should your stroke style evolve? By working on your stroke flaws you will naturally gravitate towards either the classic Smooth Style or a refined Swinger Style, this is true whatever your Swim Type. Which style you evolve into depends on your individual make-up, build and personality. Both are extremely fast and efficient strokes and are used by elite swimmers and triathletes at the very highest level of competition.

One final thought which runs to the very heart of the Swim Smooth philosophy. When developing your swimming it's simply not necessary to compromise your stroke in any way. Many Overgliders have been told that by swimming with anything other than their minimum stroke count they are imprinting bad habits and losing efficiency. As we have seen above this is simply not true, by introducing an active glide you are compromising your stroke and imprinting a large deadspot into your timing. As any Overglider who's worked on this aspect of their stroke will tell you, glide can be extremely challenging to undo once imprinted. For the beginner level swimmer Overgliding is best avoided in the first place, after all prevention is better than cure.

Whatever your Swim Type, have a fantastic Easter holiday.

Swim Smooth!

5 comments:

Schobi said...

Hi,

My name is Sebastian. I am triathlete and by far the hardest part for me as been always the swim. I entered in a pool for the first time three years ago, and after that I used to train for bodybuilding so it was painful!

I was one of the overgliders funs. All my coach always told me that It was the best way to swim. I have 6:55 for the 400m wich is not good at all. I started to rise my stroke rate just a few weeks ago trying to follow your advices and the last Wednesday I made 4x750 (I am now training to run the ULTRAMAN) swimming at 6:57 each 400m!! The best thing was that I felt very comfortable, I was maybe my best swimming practice ever, so THANKS TO YOU FOR YOUR ADVICES!!

I have a lot to improve but I am happy cos I think that now I am in the right way.

Have a nice day and train safe,

Sportivement,

Sebastian

T said...

I started in a Masters program five years ago to improve my triathlon swimming and became a diligent student (lots of videos!). I also quickly became an overglider. I have the quintessential build (6'3 192 lbs). Since I started with Swim Smooth earlier this year, my efficiency and stroke mechanics have improved immensely and have become very noticeable to me and others. However, my time (approx. 1:35/100 yds)does not appear to be improving. Is there a way to engage my pecs and lats (as opposed to my shoulders?) to get more power now that I have a better stroke? This is great stuff! Thanks, Tim M.

Anonymous said...

I was an over-glider and I probably still lapse back into it from time to time. When I realised it (by reading the SwimSmooth articles), I just tried starting my next stroke a little earlier - it felt like I was starting one stroke before the last one had finished. My times dropped almost instantly. Doing sets of 100m, I was coming in on ~1:50, now I can sustain 1:40 fairly easily. It has also helped my open water swimming. Without the glide I can get a faster rhythm which gets through waves much better.

However, the glide has a valuable use for me in drills. It is instant feedback on my resistance in the water. If my streamline has deteriorated, my glide shows it badly. I usually put some lengths with long gluides in just to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Love the blog.
Cheers
Tony

Adam Young said...

Thanks for the positive feedback about this post guys.

Sebastian, keep up the good work - sounds like you're making excellent progress. Many people from bodybuilding backgrounds suffer from poor flexibility and this can hold back their swimming. If you feel that's an issue in your swimming then put a regular stretching routine into your program.

Tim, again well done on the improvements you've made there! Engaging your lats is all about stroke timing. The unco drill is great for developing this (link below) as are all the catch drills as a good catch is all about good timing. Remember that it's going to feel easier when you start to get this right, a mistake many swimmers make is that they're searching for a 'solid locked on feeling' when in fact a good catch feels light and rhythmical.

http://www.swimsmooth.com/unco-drill.html

Tony, yes that's a good point. We use drills such as kick-on-side with fins on to work on exactly that feedback on streamlining. Enjoy your swimming!

Anonymous said...

My feeling is the overglider epidemic is due to the popularity of Total Immersion. Terry Laughlin has certainly made many positive contributions to swimming but like most concepts it has been taken too far. In most of Laughlin's newer releases you see less emphasis on the glide. This indicates to me even he sees it has been overemphasized.Sites like Smooth Swim are important because the need to understand individual differences is vital. I dig their stuff because seeing Mel Benson swim like she does,almost anti-TI, shows (sorry to say it) different strokes for different folks.
But I'm not bashing Terry Laughlin. He has helped popularize front quadrant swimming more than anyone else I can think of. And that style is still the most important concept of modern swimming. But thanks to sites like Smooth Swim the fine points needed to make that style work are better discussed.I buy these vids and always look forward to the emails.Great stuff.