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Pulling Power

While the title of this article may be misleading, especially since we just got back from NCAAs, this is really about limiting pulling power.

If your main goal is SPEED, this article is for you.  When I say SPEED, I do mean SPEED!  SPEED as in the ultimate.  SPEED as in Josh Schneider of Cincinnati going 18.9 in the 50 free.   There are currently only two guys in the United States going under 19 in the 50 free.  That’s SPEED.   If you’re interested in SPEED… if each time you dive in for a 50 free you’re trying to go 18.9… then this article is for you.  If you’re an older swimmer or perhaps a triathlete, and you desire speed (no caps) and not SPEED, then you need to temper the amount of power you put into each stroke.  If you’re trying to achieve the ultimate SPEED, and trying to finish your event in around 20 seconds, then read on.  

Recently, a friend (a triathlete) was having a tough time finishing a standard set of 10 x 100s because he was trying to maintain a specific time on each one.  This is a good goal, but if you were a little too ambitious in setting your goal time, and you’re having trouble holding the goal time through the end of the set, then the first thing to adjust is the goal time.  It’s a quick fix.  Slow down the time.  But most people will get upset when they have to do this.   Hence the problem.

When was the last time you really slowed down while swimming.  I mean… REALLY slowed down.  It’s easy to do… stop watching the clock, stop worrying about the swimmers in the next lane, stop worrying about anything, and try to make it to the other end without using any effort at all.  While this may be totally foreign to many of you, great swimmers do this all the time.  Watch a great swimmer between fast swims in a sprint set.  They are basically floating… barely moving their arms over and under the surface.  They may even appear sloppy in their movements because they are so relaxed.  What’s ultimately important in this is very simple… moving forward.

This isn’t about swimming easy or swimming smooth.  It’s about NOT putting as much power into each pull as you swim.  It’s a very simple thing to change, yet for some reason many unseasoned swimmers have a tough time grasping the concept.  They are so anxious to improve, so impatient to get to the other end or to make an interval that others are doing, or to achieve a certain time standard, that every time they pull their arm back, they connect with the same amount of power that it takes to swim fast.  Fast as in 20 seconds for a 50.

This is really about overcoming your instinct as an athlete.  The athletic instinct is to seek resistance with the pulling arm, and to apply power with that same arm.  These are good instincts; however, sometimes they are counterproductive.  They are counterproductive when you’re applying too much power for the distance that you’re swimming, based on the experience or ability level you’ve reached.  Heck… even that sentence has the potential of offending those who have the type of personality that would see that sentence as some sort of insult.

If you find yourself running out of steam while swimming, it’s often more from a lack of understanding relaxation, than from a lack of understanding swimming.  I know many people who can swim a single length very well, but who have a tough time swimming two, or three, or four.  Mostly this stems from a single issue… pulling too hard on each stroke.

Start with the end in mind.  Start swimming knowing you’re going to get tired.  Start swimming knowing that the real goal is making 20 lengths (or 3), and relax from the beginning… totally relaxed.  Allow your arms to almost fall through the stroke rather than connect.  Focus your mind not on connecting but on allowing the arms to move through.  You’ll move forward, slowly perhaps, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  Make sure you’re breathing and exhaling completely between each stroke.

For those of you who have a tough time swimming as far as you’d like because you’re running out of steam, stop looking at the clock, and focus your mind on limiting the amount of power you put into each stroke.  Think in reverse.

If this approach doesn’t make sense, you’re probably past this phase, or focused on making swimmers FAST.  This isn’t for you, but somewhere in your mind, whether you’re aware of it or not, you already do this.  You pull less during warm-up and warm-down than you do during your main set.  It’s second nature.  But for newer swimmers, it needs to be learned.

Don’t forget:  Being accomplished at other sports doesn’t mean you will necessarily or automatically be accomplished at swimming.  Swimming is a different beast, and needs to be approached differently.  Focus on not pulling hard, or focus on connecting, before you focus on trying to accomplish sets with intervals, speed, and time demands.  You can build from there.