Thursday, September 29, 2011
Stroke Symmetry is Even More Important In Open Water Swimming Than Pool Swimming
If you're a triathlete or open water swimmer then you should be seriously concerned with the symmetry of your stroke. A lack of symmetry will tend to pull you to one side or the other as you swim and so lead you to continually swim off course, which can add many minutes to your swim split. Constantly moving off course will also harm you ability to stay in a draft, another key skill to open water success.
A lack of symmetry is never a good thing but in the pool you can instantly correct your path as you have the lane markings and black line on the bottom of the pool as a reference. You might not be aware of how much you are correcting your course as this correction process is normally subconcious.
If you like to study swimming on YouTube then you've probably noticed how some elite pool swimmers such as Michael Phelps have quite lop-sided strokes, often with one arm recovering high over the water and the other swinging around the side. This lop-sidedness comes about from just breathing to one side. These swimmers are getting away with a lack of symmetry in the pool but if they made the transition to open water they would have to address this as a real priority.
You might have already guessed what comes next: The easiest way you can develop and maintain the symmetry in your stroke is by breathing bilaterally, if you do so your stroke will naturally become more symmetrical without any additional effort on your behalf. If you don't have a coach watching you constantly and providing you with feedback then bilateral breathing becomes even more essential for your swimming.
In an ideal world you would breathe bilaterally all the time but if not then treat it as a drill you practise religiously during every session. Have you struggled with bilateral breathing in the past? There's two common reason why:
- You need to develop your exhalation under the water, aiming to exhale in a nice constant stream of bubbles. Holding on to your breath builds up CO2 in your lungs and so bloodstream, making you feel desperate for oxygen. Lose the CO2 while you swim and you'll find bilateral breathing much easier.
- You're trying to swim with too low a stroke rate, i.e. the gap between strokes and so breaths is too long. This is normally a problem for Overgliders who have tried to slow things down and overly lengthen the stroke. You probably already know that the deadspots in an Overglider's technique are a major disadvantage in open water. As we see here, this inability to breathe bilaterally is another disadvantage. Developing your catch technique will elevate your stroke rate without any extra effort and make bilateral breathing much easier.