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 it the first time you can watch it again 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 to your stroke? How do you now go about improving your swimming? We affectionately call this group of swimmers 'Overgliders', 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 elite 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 think you'll enjoy it!


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, the next biggest being the Arnies at 25% - the group of swimmers who have poor body position and 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 the extra drag but also dropping your elbow and harming the catch mechanics themselves:

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

In fact 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 he 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. 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 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. Saying that, many Overgliders find that by improving their catch and propulsion (see below) their stroke actually lengthens despite removing the glide phase.

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 but 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 the same speed but remove the deadspot.

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 you need 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 an 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 and 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 removing their dead-spot 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

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