Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Turns - "Practice" Turns

To swim your fastest, one thing you always have to keep in mind is how FAR you swim.  Swimming straight in a race means you're swimming the shortest route possible to the finish.
Why Do It:
Bad habits can form in practice without the swimmers really being at fault.  Being aware of what's happening can help you control your own destiny.
How to Do It:
 When you're swimming in a crowded lane, chances are you're biggest job on a turn is to avoid the other swimmers.
2.  Most swimmers approach the wall directly, and then, as they exit the wall, they veer out of the way of the swimmer behind them.  This builds the habit of always pushing off at an angle and can lead to circle swimming in races.
3.  If you can, when the swimmer in front of you pushes off, try to get your feet on the cross to limit the push angle.
4.  The best solution is to veer across the lane prior to your turn so that you can practice a straight push off each time.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Teach your lanemates how to approach and leave the walls with more thought.  Working as a team in developing better technique can lead to higher success rates for everyone.

Turns - Practice Pushoffs

Swim practice is always a great place to actually... practice... techniques that you'll be using in races.
Why Do It:
Typically, people miss opportunities to fine tune the small aspects of swimming just by being instinctual, and going through the motions.  Focusing on how you come off the walls when you turn, during your pushoffs, can make your turns better.
How to Do It:
 Think about how you come off the walls when you turn on all strokes.
2.  Typically, the head will be looking back at the wall, or will be tucked between the arms.
3.  On a turn, you shouldn't ever be facing forward.
4.  Have one hand on the wall, feet placed about where they would rotate to during a standard turn.
5.  When it's time to leave, release the hand holding the wall, and drop down into streamline.
6.  Push off, and rotate to your dolphin kick, or underwater breakout angle.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
When filming swimmers during practice, I notice that backstrokers typically practice the most correct technique in regard to pushoffs because they're leaving in the most accurate position.  Swimmers doing other strokes generally leave the wall flat, which you'd never do.  When you think about the other strokes, leaving the wall on your side helps you to understand how to initiate your dolphin, or how to get to flat on breaststroke.
Failure to practice this on a regular basis just means you're missing an opportunity to get a bit sharper.

Turns - How Many Dolphins?

Even though the majority of time at swim practice is spent going back and forth, it's the switching from one direction to the other that is more important than ever.
Coaches can say it until they're blue in the face:  The fastest you'll ever be going in a race is when you're leaving a wall... either starts or turns.  Since you have so much opportunity to practice turns... you should probably do it.
Why Do It:
Switching the sport of swimming from a guessing game to a habit and system will help you improve in both your knowledge and performance.  It will take time, consistent practice, and the help of your coach or another swimmer.
How to Do It:
 Set a mark on the bottom of the pool.  It doesn't have to be anything exact, but it needs to be a permanent mark so you have a standard to reach when you practice.
2.  To find out exactly how many kicks you'll need to maintain your momentum, create a progression.
3.  Start with one dolphin, which for most isn't enough, then swim to your mark.
4.  Progress this by adding one dolphin until you're either at your mark or you simply run out of momentum.
5.  We added dolphins until we got to five.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
You can practice this based just on feel, but if you want to really know what's the best for you, you'll need to add a time factor.  Have your coach or friend time you from the wall to the mark.  You'll then have to determine, over time, which solution is going to be the one that allows you to continue to swim at your pace with the most efficiency.
While you may be the fastest with four or five kicks, the day you add this to your practice, you'll quickly realize it's not easy to do.  You'll have to build this up over time, so consistency will count for a LOT.  This works for both starts and turns.

Starts - Cullen Jones Box Jumps

Want to develop a great start that gets you to the other end in about 10 seconds?  Learn to jump like Cullen Jones!
Why Do It:
How quickly you leave the blocks is part of the race.  Entering the water with power and speed is a good thing!
How to Do It:
 First, whenever doing dryland exercises, make sure you're supervised by your coach or a professional.  Safety first.
2.  There are boxes, or platforms, specifically made for this exercise.  Pick one that's easy for you to step up on.  If you can step up on it, you can step down off it.
3.  Stand in a power position, with your feet about shoulder width apart.
4.  Jump UP on to the platform, and then step back down.
5.  Repeat.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Use your arms to help gain a bit of momentum.  Try to land on the box as softly as possible.  When you've mastered the box at the current height, try a higher box... or create your own challenge.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Butterfly Drills

(1.)  BORO DIVE DRILL – The swimmers dive in, streamline, and take two full strokes with a strong kick.  They should emphasize driving the chest forward at the top of the stroke.  This drill is great for getting the body to surge and the feeling of the stroke.  

(2.)  BROKEN 100s – This drill is done as a set of 4 x 100s.  The first one is 25 right arm only and 75 full stroke.  The second 100 is 25 left arm only and 75 full stroke.  The third 100 is 75 right arm only and 25 full stroke.  And the fourth 100 is 75 left arm only and 25 full stroke.  The swimmers should concentrate on a clean entry at shoulder width, arms slightly flexed at entry, and a good underwater stretch.  

(3.)  COMBO DRILL – Have the swimmers take two left arm fly pulls, two full fly strokes, two right arm fly pulls, and two full fly strokes.  They should not breathe during the two full strokes.  This drill is good for timing and instills confidence in the swimmers in their stroke.  

(4.)  EXPLOSION SPRINT – This is a short distance sprint for beginners to learn the timing of the stroke.  They should emphasize the snap at the end of the stroke to help initiate the recovery.  Short sprints will give young swimmers success and eventually confidence to begin longer efforts.  

(5.)  4-4 DRILL – Have the swimmers do four kicks followed by four full strokes.  This drill helps teach the carryover between the kick to the full stroke.  

(6.)  FOUR STROKES DRILL – Timing tends to fall off when swimmers tire so have them take four full strokes then some type of drill for the rest of the length.  They should try to build up to 6, 8 , and 10 strokes.  This can be used for distance fly sets of 200 or 300 yards. 


Teaching and coaching a specific butterfly pull pattern has been popular for a long time, maybe for as long as the stroke has existed. Film study of the USA National Team and many of the world’s best has proven one thing though: there are different pull patterns among the best butterfliers in the world.

So what does that mean?


Like so many swimmers and coaches, I have always believed that the ideal fly pull looked like a keyhole – the hands go wide then narrow (making the shape of a circle), and then pushes straight back to finish off the keyhole shape.

Upon working at USA Swimming, I noticed there are many variations of this. Some pulls have a very distinct keyhole shape while others are more straight back. Some pulls are very wide in the beginning, while others aren’t. Some pulls are so narrow at the finish that the hands nearly touch, while others never pull underneath the body at all.

With so much exposure to the best swimmers in the world, I decided to put that theory to the test with extensive video analysis. Here is what I found:
  • The pull pattern has nothing to do with gender, strength, or sprint/distance fly.
    • I always thought that male athletes and stronger flyers would have a certain type of stroke…but nope! Believe me, I looked.
  • The pull pattern is related to how deep a swimmer presses with their chest.
    • (For more information about the chest press: www.usaswimming.org/ViewNewsArticle.aspx?TabId=2175&itemid=4263&mid=11657). 
    • If a swimmer pressed deep (with the chest and head deeper than the arms), the pull pattern was keyhole-shaped.
    • If a swimmer didn’t press deep (and pressed forward and flatter), the pull pattern was straighter (not as wide at the beginning, and not as narrow at the end).
  • No matter what the pull pattern, the palms of the hands were always facing back towards the feet.
    • Moving the hands wide or narrow still meant the palms were facing back – never facing to the outside or inside.
This is what I would generally advise swimmers and coaches to focus on:
  1. Push water towards the feet
  2. Press the body forward
  3. Get a good catch
Don’t focus on a specific pull pattern. If you do the three things above, the pull pattern you have is the best one for you.

For more tips from the National Team High Performance staff, visit the National Team High Performance Tips archive.