Recently, we ran through a short series of sculling drills featuring swimmer and coach Kevin Clements. These drills focused on how the hands connect with the water to move you forward.
But while the hands are important, they’re just the leading edge of your power. Real power comes when you connect the hands with the larger muscles in your arms and in your back and sides. In swimming, it’s your CORE muscles that should do most of the work, so you need to learn to engage those muscles and connect them with your hands.
Learning to make this connection is a great skill for racing. By shifting responsibility from the arms to the larger core muscles, you can maintain a powerful stroke through an entire race — rather than try to hang on until your arms get tired.
Why Do It:
This drill is a simple way to begin to feel how your lats — your Latissimus dorsi — are involved in breaststroke. The lats are a triangular, flat muscle that covers the lumbar part of your back and and extends sort of up and under the armpit. They’re involved in extension and internal rotation of the shoulder joint.
If you just sorta do this drill, you may not engage the lats enough to feel the connection. But if you press out far enough in this drill, you will begin to isolate and awaken the muscles in your sides and lower back. When you can actually FEEL the connection, you’ll understand why it’s important to engage these larger muscles when you pull. A powerful pull comes not from your arms but from your lats… from your torso.
How To Do It:
1. Try this first with paddles and pull buoy. That way you’ll have a huge connection up front to leverage on, and you won’t have to worry about keeping your hips up.
2. Think of this more as one-arm freestyle, with a helping stroke (under water), on the other side.
3. The short stroke is really the outsweep and quick insweep of breaststroke. The elbow barely drops behind the shoulder, and the hand should be right around the shoulder when it sweeps in and when it heads back out front.
4. Until you master the movement and rhythm of this drill, it may feel more like a coordination contest than a drill. The REAL key is pressing out wide enough to FEEL a stretch, or connection, in the lats. Make sure you press out wide enough at the beginning to feel that connection.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine points):
When you get good at this drill, and can feel the connection, take off the paddles and move toward a regular outsweep with the hands. Do three to four cycles with one arm, then switch to the other side for three to four cycles, then move into regular breaststroke pull, again, maintaining that connection with the lats.
Finally, move into regular breaststroke, focusing on pulling with your lats and back.
As with any drill, it’s not too hard to master the basic mechanics. But to do it really well, you’re going to have to think about it, and FEEL the muscles under your arms, and stringing across your back, engaging in the process. Remember that feeling when you swim breaststroke.