Friday, October 13, 2017

The Most Important Drill In Swimming Is...?

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If you have swum all your life, you will remember a time not so long ago when coaches regularly wrote "choice drill" during a warm-up or cool-down. Simply put: pick your favourite drill and swim it!

That might have been OK to do occasionally but the problem was that many swimmers only knew one or two drills. In fact, we'd like to wager you simply swam "Catch-Up" drill 99% of the time!

The idea of catch-up is to swim whilst deliberately delaying the stroke at the front so the recovering arm catches-up with the stationary lead arm. Watch the video here:

Supposedly the catch-up drill allows you to work on the alignment in your stroke, your breathing technique and your catch and pull. However, it has several major problems associated with it:

1) Catch-up teaches you the habit of pausing the lead arm at the front of the stroke and waiting for the recovering arm to meet it. This overly lengthens the stroke so that you decelerate in the long gap between strokes - a very inefficient way to swim.

In fact, it encourages you to become an Overglider.

2) The drill actively reduces the amount of rotation in your stroke as you never rotate onto the side of the stroking arm but finish in a position with your chest flat to the bottom:

Rotating the body to 45-60 degrees is required to activate your powerful lat and chest muscles. Swim too flat and you risk overloading the much weaker shoulder joint - possibly leading to injury.

3) With the body held so flat, as the hands meet the arms are pull inwards, angling them across the centre line:
Introduce a crossover like this to your full stroke causes you to snake down the pool and seriously damages your catch and propulsion.

For these reasons at Swim Smooth we very rarely ask a swimmer to perform catch-up drill. So what do we use instead as a basic building block of the stroke?

The answer is:

The 6-1-6 Drill

A much better option than catch-up is side-kicking with fins on. When we regularly introduce a stroke to swap sides this is known as 6-1-6:

You might have performed side kicking drills before but the focal points of the drill are absolutely key to its effectiveness. The key points are:

- Wear fins (you need to have an elite level kick to perform this drill without fins).

- Push off, rotate to 90 degrees on your side and hold the lower arm out front for 6 seconds, top arm lightly by your side.

- Look down and exhale smoothly whilst you kick along. You should feel like your nose is right by your arm-pit!

- In this position, draw your shoulder back and chest forward so the lead arm is perfectly aligned straight down the pool (not crossed over as in catch-up drill). This is great "swimming posture":

- Also position your lead arm and hand such that the elbow is slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist higher than the fingertips. The hand will be 20-40cm beneath the surface in this position, just like in your full stroke:

- Keep your hand itself held flat and with a little tone (not loose and floppy).

- After counting about 6 leg kicks, bring the top arm over so it catches up with the lead arm. When it nearly catches up (you'll still be on your side), stroke through with the lead arm and rotate fully onto the other side.

- Breathe after the stroke and then return your head to the water blowing bubbles all the time.

Need more visuals? Watch the 6-1-6 drill video in the Guru here.

The beauty of 6-1-6 is that it allows you to isolate and work on most of the key elements of the stroke - incredibly useful for those learning freestyle right through to elite swimmers ironing out minor flaws. It works on rotation, alignment, posture and how the lead hand should be positioned for a great catch and pull to follow.

For that reason it can rightfully be called The Most Important Drill In Swimming and should be a mainstay of your own regular technique work in the pool.

The Entire Swim Smooth Drill Set

You can watch, understand and apply 6-1-6 and every other Swim Smooth drill with a Standard Guru (just GB£1.99 / US$2.99 / Eur2.99 per month):

Get started here:

Swim Smooth!

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