Over the past 6 months I’ve been swimming once a week going through various drills and workouts in order to prepare myself for future swim events at bigger competitions. We have seen an increase of swim events in various fitness competitions globally and has therefore created a new demand upon the athletes.
I must admit that I never really took my time to understand the purpose of all the different drills and in general how swimming is an important aspect of fitness.
This article is based on content that I’ve absorbed through one of “The Training Think Tanks” latest shows called “Swimming for Crossfitters”, Knowledge and programming from my coach Kyle Ruth (former swimmer) and also through a Tim Ferris interview with Terry Laughlin (founder of Total immersion swimming).
Benefits of swimming.
Swimming is yet another form of physical training that can help improve your fitness. Swimming can be used in many different ways such as:
A. Recovery Protocol. Decreased loading of the system and can therefore be a great tool to use while recovering from an injury, going through a deload phase, or as an activity on an active rest day.
B. Cardiovascular Vascular Endurance Development. “Cardiovascular fitnessis the ability of the heart, blood cells and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues and the ability of the muscles to use oxygen to produce energy for movement”
C. Local Muscle Endurance Development.
D. Change of Environment. When training and coaching all day every day inside the same 4 walls, it can be good to get out and get a bit of a mental break. Changing the environment up sometimes can be wise, simply to avoid “burn-out” or mental fatigue of being in the same surroundings.
E. Adaption to Environmental Stress. Swimming teaches your body to move through a different environment, specifically one where there is constant resistance from different ankles. For most people water immersion is a whole new world that is extremely challenging and scary.
“Swimming is very unforgiving to poor technique and poor mechanics.” – Kyle Ruth
Common mistakes and how to improve your swimming.
Just like weightlifting, swimming is an extremely unforgiving sport when it comes to mechanics. Technique is far more important than any other aspect, especially in swimming. Today 10-year-old swimmers can still out-swim some of the fittest CrossFit athletes at the CrossFit games, which highlights the fact that technique outweighs strength and engine big time.
Technical proficiency is key when moving through water resistance, and especially because the faster you move the more resistance you will be met. Typically, I linked more effort with more speed when swimming though the water, but it didn’t turn out that way. I think the norm is to think that the best way to increase speed in the water is by pulling and kicking harder.
Increasing propulsion in the water doesn’t necessarily mean: more effort = more speed.
Instead I was taught (by watching/listening/reading the links in the bottom of this article) that you need to focus on reducing the resistance. This has shown to be much more efficient way to make athletes move faster in the water.
Kyle Ruth breaks down some of his preferred exercises in the The Training Think Tank show “Swimming for Crossfitters” the following way:
1) Sculling. This drill is teaching athletes how to relax the upper body more by kicking with “softer legs”.
In order to sit higher in the water, you need people to relax their hips and to have more of their body in front of their center of buoyance which tends to be the lungs.
2) Body positional kicking drills. There is a number of different variations of this drill, but the main thing is to work on kicking mechanics and body line.
From a general standpoint CrossFit athletes have tight lower bodies, specifically quads and hipflexors which makes their hips sit in the water resulting in more resistance.
3) Breathing. When swimming it’s important that you don’t exhale fully, because your most buoyant thing is your lungs being full of oxygen. Logically will a full exhale make you sink deeper into the water.
Kyle explains that it’s about keeping that vital capacity and you therefore need to maintain a little more air in your lungs.
Timing of the breath together with the stroke is extremely important. You need to keep your arm out in front of you in order to create some buoyancy while you are inhaling.
Make sure that your head remains tucked as it rotates to get air instead of bringing the whole head out of the water (which would create a more vertical body line).
4) Pull mechanics. First and most important point is to understand that your whole arm is your paddle and not only your hand. A great drill to understand how to use the whole arm is to perform “Fist swimming” where you hold on to a tennis ball in each hand. This drill will give you a better understanding of how to grab the water using your whole arm. So instead of trying to pull harder, we should aim to anchor the arm better in the water. This arm position in the water does require some shoulder, elbow and wrist internal rotation which you might have to dedicate some mobility work to outside of the pool. People tend to drop elbows as they pull through instead of maintaining that 90 degree anchor point.
The arm swing is another key point. You want to make sure that your arm comes over the top of the water and drives into the water right in front of your head.
Kyle explains that a common mistake is that athletes are using the “swinging around” style which makes you cover more distance to get across a given distance due to the zigzag that will occur.
“Before people become immersed in a skill I don’t think they really appreciate how much technical nuance there is to get good at a skill, and a lot people now are trying to get into swim training, but they have no idea how to swim or how to train swimming, so they jump into the pool and they just swim” –Max El-Hag.
The conclusion is that if you want to get better at swimming you need to be developing the technical base that allows you to start putting in some volume of effective swimming.
By: Andre Houdet, Performance Coach