As a coach/teacher, there are a few things that really get you excited about the work you’re doing. One really important thing for me, is when an athlete starts to make suggestions, or has new ideas. Such is the case with this drill.
We have been trying to find FUN ways to teach, and at the same time, create pain. One of the solutions has been to use a lot of toys — or pool tools. One of our favorite toys is the Back-It Ball by Tom Drum. While Tom uses it mainly for dryland training and therapeutic conditioning of the back, we’ve recently been taking it to the pool — kind of like a medicine ball for the water.
One day, we were working on underwater dolphin kick with our Zura Alpha Fins (hey, this is starting to sound like an ad!), and we had just been playing catch with the med-ball, when a swimmer came up with a cool idea. Why not TAKE the Back-It Ball, hold it out front, and kick with it under water to the other end. Why not? I’m all for trying stuff, so let’s do it!
In working with this particular swimmer, one of the main trouble spots is that his arms constantly head toward the bottom when he dolphins or swims fly. He knows this, and has been trying to keep this in mind. We decided to make that our focal point in using the ball, to try to make sure he would start to develop the habit of keeping his hands in line with (or slightly above) his shoulders, while his arms were outstretched in front. We played with this for a while, and found that it’s pretty tough, too.
Why Do It:
Heck, first of all, it’s pretty fun. But consider this a resistive exercise, which causes you to maintain the straightest line possible as you head toward the other end. By limiting the oxygen, you’ll devote some serious attention to finding the shortest path to the other end. Also, by holding the ball as high as you can, you’ll also feel the stretch through your chest and torso as you incorporate your entire body in the kicking process. The goal is to get a big, solid kick in back, while keeping the front as streamlined and tight as possible.
How To Do It:
1. Grab a Back-It Ball. It’s just heavy enough to stabilize the arms in front, but it’s not like a lead weight, which would cause you to sink like…well…a lead weight. The Back-It Ball will sink if dropped, but can still be managed in this drill. Put on some Zura Alpha Fins, cause they’re long and supple and great for this drill.
2. Start kicking underwater dolphin kick to the other end. Don’t allow the ball to drag your arms down; keep the ball aimed directly in front of you. To make it easier, make sure you keep your arms very straight. Don’t allow the elbows to bend.
3. Start slowly to get a feel for the drill. Over the course of a few 25s, start to increase the rate of your dolphin, and your speed. The ultimate goal is to get to the other end as fast as possible.
4. After you’ve got a good feeling for keeping the hands in line, and are heading in the right direction (forward!), set the ball on the side of the pool (remember…it sinks), and continue kicking through a few more 25s without the ball.
5. Gradually, move this quick, stable kick into a butterfly swimming sprint.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Make sure you’re not allowing the ball to drag you down. This is a pretty tough drill, and isn’t really meant for beginners. It’s meant to fine tune, and overload, a fairly accomplished competitive swimmer.
We like using fins because they accentuate the power of the kick, they help you make it to the other end, and they help you to transfer this feeling into some really fast butterfly.
You can experiment with a total streamline position, or you can let the hands to separate just a bit to allow for more body movement. Just try to remember: If you do move your arms a bit while holding them out front, continue to send the fingertips forward, toward the other end. Don’t spend your time making the kick SO big that you start directing the energy up and down.
Mostly, it’s just cool when our swimmers come up with fun stuff to do. When that happens, at least we know they’re interested in SOMETHING we’re doing. Plus, when it’s their idea, there’s a tendency they’re going to do a great job.