I feel like I’ve been focusing all of the things that as swimmers we should not do. Fins and Pull buoys are things that take pressure off the core and put a swimmer in a bad position, but enough about that. Let’s instead talk about training aids that really do make you a better swimmer. Firstly, I’m a true believer, the better the core, the better the swimmer. It’s about positioning over time on two planes of axis, top to bottom (Head down, butt up), and side to side (rotating shoulders, core, and tight legs / feet). When this is all put together and balanced on the core a swimmer can glide through the water. The hinge point for the entire exercise is the core. These are the items that can be used that will pressure the core to get stronger. Bands, Boards, and Paddles.
First we’ll focus on the kick:
Bands: This is a simple but effective tool, and as I coach a lot of triathletes the most common solution is a blown inner tube tied tightly. Place the band around your middle thigh. This will limit your movement from side to side, compressing your hop flexion outside of your shoulder line where your quads create drag. If you’ve read my prior posts, this is one way to train through “the pretty”. You don’t want it to be so tight that you limit all movement, just tight enough that it limits side to side movement. You should still have some rise and fall in your hips, but, (butt) you should work for it (I love a good pun). This will assist you in getting a tight kick progression through your feet. Be mindful if you have a tendency to over kick (mass knee flexion), your feet will tend to fall in this format, because you need to have kick speed (consistent pressure), to remain afloat.
With the band in place attempt to swim in a straight and compact format with good shoulder rotation, rolling on the hips for your breath. If you are accustomed to balancing your stroke by side to side flexion in your legs this will feel very difficult, as it places a lot of pressure on your core, specifically your obliques. You may also feel pressure in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Banding your legs is good for both sprints, and distance work dependent on goal. Note, if you are looking to develop a bilateral breathing setup, this format can shorten the bodies learning curve by forcing the necessary muscle accommodation to become core balanced.
Boards: A brilliant training aid to bolster core and stability when used correctly. I’ve provided a drill that I can Wedge in the past. Most of the drills that I do, and recommend with a kickboard start with submerging the board. Here’s Wedge: Grab a kick board, and begin to work with it submerged in the water so that you engage your core, and raise your feet. Put the board in-between your hands vertically, like it’s obstructing you clapping your hands, squeeze the board together with your pectoral muscles. Place it out in front of you about a foot, and submerged about six inches under water (keep it in this position). Begin to kick behind the board. You’ll feel this through your pecs, shoulders, and center core. If you are used to laying on the board, this will feel very difficult.
I’ll give you a second level drill that I call One Hand Down. Take the board, submerge it with one hand. The board will be in similar position as to wedge (about a foot in front, and six inches down). Put your opposite hand on your hip, and begin kicking, you’ll feel this in your obliques, center core, and shoulders. When one hand / arm gets tired, bring the opposite hand forward, make the switch with the board still submerged, place the tired hand on your hip and continue kicking.
Ok, now for the hand / shoulder pull
Paddles: Growing muscle to strengthen your pull, in combination with turnover rate can be a substantial boost to your speed. One without the other does not equal fast, but together you can fly. Paddles are a great training aid to get there. I prefer the agility paddle by Finis because they require you to operate with a fairly clean hand entry. This paddle trains technique as well as builds strength. There is one caveat to paddles that I’m not able to stress enough; you will be more prone to injury with them if you are operating in a flawed stroke pattern. Paddles should be predominantly used in a stroke pattern driven by primary muscle groups, Delts, Pecs, and Lats. The recommended pattern is pulling under the body line without a swing in the stoke. With paddles, if you are going to swing, swing in, swinging out is the number one way to cause a shoulder injury, most commonly a rotator cuff tear.
Paddles in short assist you in creating greater pull through resistance in the water. The result of this is speed and greater pressure on your muscles leading to growth. Through a greater side to side pull under the body, they also engage the core. I recommend building them into your routine in alternating segments to create muscle confusion causing a greater reaction in the body.
Most swimmers are shoulder driven, if you can harness that, add a strong kick and hold core strength you will exceed your own expectations. Some can do this over distance, and are incredible swimmers, most can do this in short bursts and are great sprinters. Either way the core is the pivot point of a strong swim stroke.
Now that you are through the bulk of the article, you may be thinking that this was written for an advanced swim audience. In this case I would agree, however that is not what this board is about. In no way to I want to cater to the elite, there is plenty of that out there. I am finding that the material that I’m writing is becoming more specific as I’ve covered many of the broad stroke topics. If you are looking for advice on a particular subject send me and email. I could use the ideas, and I’d be happy to address anything swim related in an editorial fashion. Thank you in advance!
Happy swimming, much love, The Swim Genius.
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