The Problem With Swimming Principles Is...

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Just a few days ago we had an email from a swimmer saying that we should be explaining the catch as anchoring the hand on the water like a kayak blade so it doesn't slip backwards. Then think about moving the body past the stationary hand.

Occasionally we do use this analogy with a swimmer but through experience we find that for most people it leads to them searching for a feeling of locking onto the water that isn't really there. This in turn can actually harm the catch as the swimmer presses forwards or down with a straight arm searching for water pressure:

It would be wonderful if we could latch onto the water perfectly and not slip backwards during the catch and pull - every swimmer on the planet would all be a lot faster and more efficient if we could. But even elite swimmers don't, in fact they slip between 50 and 100cm on every arm stroke.

This is easy to prove: take Ian Thorpe swimming at 32 strokes in a 50m pool. After a 10m push off he has 40m left to swim in 32 strokes, giving him a length per stroke of 1.25m. However, his total reach from the front to the rear of the stroke is actually around 2m. That's a lot of slip and yet it's the fastest way for him to swim.

Ian Thorpe - the essence of long and smooth

Swimming 'principles' like the arm shouldn't slip backwards can certainly have merit but far too many people come unstuck with literal application of some of these more prominent ideas.

Other famous examples being you should take as few strokes as possible, you shouldn't splash when you swim, it's only about reducing drag and you shouldn't practise struggle. More often than not following these principles through to the nth degree causes stroke flaws such as overgliding, the overglider kickstart, an overly slow stroke rate and even a fear of training itself.

When looking for improvements a mature athlete will consider all the ideas they are applying in their preparation and whether any of those things is in fact holding them back. Could it be you need to give up a principle that you hold dear to move forwards?

A System Born From Huge Experience

Right at the heart of Swim Smooth's coaching is the fact that we look at things practically and pragmatically at all times using ideas and methods that actually work.

Of course we look at the science (we are in fact sports scientists!) but we ultimately hold true to what works for swimmers in practice. We are lucky to have worked with a huge cohort of swimmers of all shapes and sizes all around the world with a vast range of aims and abilities - tens of thousands of hours in fact - far more research to call upon than any scientific study.

Our coach Morgan Williams coined the expression Coaching The Swimmer Not The Stroke - a nice way to sum it up.

Swim Smooth!

1 comment:

Jonas said...

Yes, the "anchoring" system is based in moving the body forward rather than water backwards. I have verifyed myself the similarities between kayaking and swimming (rolling the body so as to use the latissimus dorsi muscles rather than the arm muscles), but, as Swim Smooth says here, I think it's not possible to avoid completely slipping backwards. However, I recommend the "anchoring" visualisation and kayaking for those who want to swim better. Maybe the "anchoring" system is better felt when swimming backstroke.

On the other hand, I don't understand why Swim Smooth "complaints" about swimming principles because it applies swimming principles all the time, like the high elbow pull through. I don't see any problem in recommending swimming principles that work in practice for many swimmers.

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