This week I received the best piece of news, ever, from a doctor. Mr. Blue will be able to get into the pool thanks to Gore-Tex, which has now replaced duct tape and fistgloves as my favorite fix-all tool and pool tool. Mr. Blueï¿½s fractured right hand is now cast in fiberglass, and instead of the traditional cotton underlining he has Gore-Tex. The new lining allows him to get in the pool, but it doesnï¿½t un-break his hand.
Last season Mr. Blue had a bulging disk in his back and could not train in the early season. In place of training we substituted intensive stroke-technique training. We focused on ways to recover his arms without losing balance.
This year we are in a similar situation. Mr. Blue canï¿½t train, so our only option is to experiment. This is something that I enjoy doing as a coach. When he came on deck with his new blue cast, we had no idea what he could or couldnï¿½t do. The obvious first step was to have him get in the water and start swimming. The Gore-Tex allows him to get in the water but he still has a cast on his hand that prevents the necessary range of motion. It also adds weight where you donï¿½t want it. Step #2 was to run him through the drills. This wasnï¿½t really effective because he could use only one hand. It quickly became obvious that we wouldnï¿½t be able to do any arm work. This got me thinking about what is really important in swimming any stroke. Arms are an extension of the body and, more specifically, the core. The core body is more than just a catchphrase thrown around by quasi fitness gurus. The core of the body is from the knees to the shoulders, and encompasses the abdominal, lateral, pectoral, and quad muscles to name a few.
We stripped away the arms and got down to work on how we could use strictly core motions to train Mr. Blue while he is injured. Here is what we have been doing with Mr. Blue the past week:
200 Balance Kick, your choice of position
4 Rounds of:
4 x 25 Dynamic Balance kick with your arms at your sides (nose up)
100 One Arm
4 x 25 Dynamic Balance kick with your arms at your sides (nose down)
100 One Arm
200 Balance kick
This doesnï¿½t look like much of a workout, but the options are fairly limited when all you can do is kicking. What makes it an effective practice is HOW we do it. The Balance Kick serves as a warm-up to loosen the legs. When we get into the set we experiment with different ways to kick in balance. On the 4 x 25, we start with a relaxed and rhythmic switching of his hips from side to side. The relaxed and long cadence is typically around one switch every five seconds. As he goes through the 25s his objective is to increase the rhythm of his hip turns to one every second or faster. We put all of the emphasis on turning his hips using just his abdominal muscles. Then we flip flop the long building to fast, and start with a fast cadence and lengthen it out. We end the practice the same way it starts, with a 200 Balance Kick. This time he has to focus on how he uses his body to balance.
We have been doing this for the past week with excellent results. We usually spend forty-five minutes in the water playing with core rotation and rhythm. At the end of the practices Mr. Blue has exhausted his abs, and has imprinted the idea that hip rotation is what controls the tempo of his stroke. We were joking around the other day after practice, and Mr. Blue told me he wished he could just SWIM because that would be easier and less tiring on his abs. He told me he has never felt that kind of tautness through his abs before. He said ï¿½it feels like there is an X running through my abs from the top to the bottom.ï¿½
Yesterday we started to play with the set because I donï¿½t want him to become stale. We started with the same routine then decided to throw in more short-axis concentration. We worked in some basic undulation drills to have him use his core in a different way. I have been doing this drill for years and this year I had a little more success explaining it in terms of crunches. I told him that to start the motion, he should do nothing more than hinge his body at the top of his abs and let it release all the way down through his abs. We also worked on keeping his head in a more stable position — not allowing it to travel more than an inch or two. He is working on keeping his body at the surface as much as possible while still undulating with the rest of his body. The undulation with the rest of his body is controlled solely by the contraction of his abs and back muscles. After this he asked me if I was trying to kill him. He said, ï¿½doing the dynamic switching killed my obliques and now the undulation is killing the rest of my abs.ï¿½
I was talking with my Dad (also a swim coach, but not nearly so handsome as me), who mentioned that he was having his kids swim breaststroke with a body part out of the water. His rationale was that having an appendage out of the water forced the swimmer to use his/her BODY for propulsion. Being the looting, pirate coach that I am, I stole this idea (thanks, Dad) and used it to further torture Mr. Blue. I had him swim breaststroke with his broken hand out of the water. The Breaststroke Gods have never been kind to Mr. Blue, but something remarkable happened when he tried the one-arm version. He stayed near the surface and finally GOT the core-body thing. He was using his abs and core for propulsion.
I have decided that next year I will begin the season by breaking the dominant arm of each of my swimmers. Not a bad breakï¿½just a small one so that theyï¿½ll be in a cast for about two weeks. I will have a doctor on hand to cast everyone in Gore-Tex so that they can swim the same day. Then we will work on core rotation and undulation without their arms interfering too much.