Hereï¿½s an exercise you can do if you enjoy people watching. Sit down on your favorite park bench, preferably in an area where lots of people walk by, and notice the variety of strides, struts, strolls, and shuffles. Everyone has to put one foot in front of the other to go forward, but no two people perform this simple task in the quite the same way.
Swimming is no different. Everyone follows the same rules for fly back, breast, and free, but we all have different-looking strokes because we all have different body types and abilities. What works for one person may not work for the next. As a coach I try to remind myself that each individual is going to swim in a way that fits him or her. Itï¿½s my job to help them find the right signature style. When you sign your name, you make sure the letters are in the right order so that it makes sense, but you have freedom to script it however you see fit.
I am trying to get my athletes to develop signature swimming strokes. There are certain fundamentals that all fast swimming possesses. One swimmer in particular is working on this now, and we will call her Ms. Grey, in keeping with the Reservoir Dogs theme. Ms. Grey is a successful club and high school swimmer with a really FAST butterfly. Her success has come largely from the fact that she is stronger than most of her competition. Ms. Greyï¿½s strength, coupled with her amazing ability to ï¿½get up and raceï¿½ gives her incredible potential. Unfortunately, when it comes to competing in the water, strength and guts can get you only so far. As the level of competition increases, so does the need to improve in ALL areas of your swimming: strength, conditioning, technique, and walls, to name just a few. I am trying to get her to realize she needs to work on the details of her swimming so that she can achieve her potential. She is strictly an ï¿½armsï¿½ butterflier; as soon as her hands enter the water she pulls them back toward her body. This would not be a problem if she were undulating her body. Part of her problem is that she has attained moderate success swimming this way for years. She is very content to keep swimming this way because it doesnï¿½t take as much effort, mentally. In order to get her out of swimming with just her hands, we have had her do all of her butterfly using a mini pull, or short-arm fly. Short arm is the same as mini pull. Itï¿½s just that Ms. Grey feels more comfortable with the short-arm terminology. In short-arm fly, the hands exit to the sides rather than at the hips. They exit with maximum acceleration, and get back into the water more quickly than if the pull were to the hips. The shorter pull allows her to time her hands to her undulation. She is now working on pressing her hands forward as they enter and then anchoring her hands to get her hips driving forward. She is looking better in the water but is still having trouble equating the adjustment with going fast. I want to make sure that she feels comfortable with what she is doing so that she will make it her own and give it her signature. If she can apply her strength and ability ï¿½to get up and raceï¿½ to what she is trying to improve, she will have a John Hancock-style signature butterfly.
Here are the sets that we did this morning to try and work on making quality adjustments while still getting in some fast swimming. I have stopped relying heavily on intervals in my group, because the intervals were becoming a crutch. Athletes would adjust how fast they swam, based on how much rest they were going to get. If a set of 100s was on the 1:15, they would hold around 1:07. Given a 1:20 interval, they would hold 1:10, and so on. Now that I have taken away the interval focus, the athletes are concentrating on what they need to do not how much rest they are going to get.
4 x 200 IM
Fly focus: Short-arm stroke; early exit
Back focus; Drive your hips
Breast focus: Hit 200 Br pace and get your hands moving forward
Free: 3-cycle burst to start each length
Swim 4 rounds of the following. In each segment, focus on BUILDING RHYTHM.
4 X 25 Drill Progression (For SA, the progression is Undulating Mini Pullï¿½Undulating Full Strokeï¿½4-Cycle Burstï¿½2-Cycle Combo.)
2 X 75 Combo 1, 2, 3
1 X 50 FAST
Rounds 1 and 3: SA
Round 2: Free
Round 4: Your Choice
The next step for Ms. Grey is to put her short-arm stroke into practical application. She has to sign her name. I see one of three outcomes coming of this revamping. First and most likely, she will end up racing exactly the way that she has always raced. If this happens, we will have to continue to develop her stroke so she has the confidence to race it. Second and less likely (but still very possible), she will try to make the corrections while swimming a race. If this is the outcome, her time will not be as fast because she is thinking about being fast rather than being fast. This would be a huge plus because it would mean she is trying to make a correction in her racing. This weekend is our first real competition of the season so we will see what happens. We have competed in our annual intersquad meet, but that doesnï¿½t have the same feel as competing against another squad. I am looking forward to this meet because I will have more race-applicable things to work on.