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Pool Tools – Stretch-Cord 50s

Originally published April 22, 2005

Test question #1:
Swimmers need practices that are
a) physically challenging
b) mentally challenging
c) fun
d) all of the above

Test question #2:
True or false: Swim practices can be physically challenging, mentally challenging, and fun…all at the same time?


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If you answered "D" and TRUE, you will love this drill (and, like me, you probably have a big bag of pool tools). One of my favorite pool tools is plain old surgical tubing. It can be used in MANY ways to build speed and strength, and to add variety and challenge to your regular training.

One of the ways to use surgical tubing is to swim down-and-back 50s. You anchor one end of the tube (sorta) to one end of the pool and tie the other end around your waist. You swim the first 25 AGAINST the tube, and the second 25 ASSISTED BY the tube. This demands that you keep a great handle on the water as you near the turn, and that you have near-perfect hand entry and front-end mechanics on the way back.

A couple very important safety rules when using surgical tubing:

1. Keep the cord submerged. This goes for whether it’s anchored to a lane-line bolt or to the blocks, and it’s especially true if someone is holding the end of the cord. Cords have a tendency to rot over time. When they deteriorate, they crack and then SNAP. Nobody will get hurt if the cord is under water. People can get hurt BIG TIME if a cord is above water when it snaps. Imagine the BIGGEST rubber band possible, and the damage it could do to someone’s eyes or face or other body parts if it snaps. Scary stuff.
2. Keep the cord under water.
3. Keep the cord under water.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGEOK, hopefully that’s understood, now we’ll move on.

How To Do It:
1. Decide what stroke, or strokes, you’re going to do, and design a set with a proper amount of rest. Even though you’ll be flying back, you’ll quickly learn that a set of 8 or 10 50s like this is REALLY TOUGH. An interval of 1:00 can quickly turn into a brutal 10-minute set. For younger swimmers, I like to alternate strokes, so that joints and muscles aren’t over-stressed.

2. As you get close to the other end of the pool, body position sometimes suffers. Don’t worry too much about this. This particular exercise is more about hooking in, and creating productive, propulsive action ALL the time. Any dead spots in the stroke will become very evident when using cords. You’ll start to move backwards during non-productive spots in the stroke.

3. Even though you’re hurting and fighting a cord, do FAST TURNS. With the cord wrapped, it’s going to be tough to get the legs and hips up, COOL!

4. Get up and swim! While your body wants a rest at this point, and while it’s great to feel the RUSH of the water in the push off, the greatest speed comes when the cord is stretched the most. So start swimming almost immediately after the push. While our swimmer practiced a few underwater pulls (which revealed how much resistance he created while recovering hands and legs), it’s best sometimes to skip the underwater pull on breaststroke, and just pop up and swim. Definitely for freestyle…get up, get going, and SPRINT back.

To maximize this, you can adjust the set to have the swimmer STOP at the wall at the other end… hang on…rest for 15 seconds…then REALLY SPRINT BACK! Get up and go as fast as possible.

5. If you use the cord as we did, the coach can actually get in the water and pull the cord back, helping to keep it as tight as possible for as long as possible. The goal is to maintain a high rate of speed — above race pace — for as long as possible. The goal for the swimmer is to MAINTAIN that increased speed when the cord goes slack. Maintain it all the way into the wall.

How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Timing is everything when swimming against resistance. Pay attention to the lane line next to you, to a spot on the bottom of the pool, or to something by which you can gauge your forward momentum. If you feel yourself bobbing back and forth, try to work with the timing of your stroke, so that there is always a smooth, if even slight, forward movement at ALL times.

On the way back, feel what it’s like to recover, breathe, rotate, and hook into the water at a higher rate of speed than you’ve ever achieved. You’ll realize that it’s pretty tough to get your hands back out front, and you’ve GOT to be QUICK!

The goal is to not only to get USED to this… but also to MAKE IT HAPPEN, eventually, in your real, unassisted, stroke.

Above all… KEEP THE CORD UNDER WATER!