In this "Dance with the Water" article series, we continue discussing the idea that an athlete must listen to the signals the water gives, like a dancer following the lead of their partner.
Move to your own beat and not in rhythm with the water, and you're bound to struggle. This column will highlight the concept of pressure, and how it can make you faster overnight.
Many athletes taking on the challenge of swimming try to find a coach who can give them a certain workout, drill or interval which will make them swim like a fish. Even talented athletes often believe there has to be some of basic concept they are missing, which is holding them back from being much faster.
They are correct, there are some basic things holding them back, but coaching is only part of the equation. Athletes must take the time to learn about the water and what it is telling them.
As complex as it may seem at times, swimming fast is just a matter of displacing yourself past the most amount of water you can, and reducing drag to maximize the distance you go with the displacement. This is simple in idea, but complex in execution.
The Concept of Swimming
Thinking a coach is the biggest step in learning how to swim faster is like thinking that once you know a few dance moves you are ready for "Dancing with the Stars". Knowledge of the concepts of swimming is the first step, then transferring that knowledge to your stroke and your training is the next.
The problem with most expert swim coaches is they don't understand how to relate to a beginning swimmer. Concepts and actions which seem simple to them might as well be astrophysics to beginners. Even the wording used by many swim coaches is more complex than it needs to be.
For example, most use the term "catch" to describe how to gather water to displace in the stroke. If you're a novice swimmer, catching something which is fluid can seem rather puzzling. It's hard to conceptualize catching water. A better term is "pressure".
"Pressure" is something we can all conceptualize and sense when we are swimming. Athletes want to feel pressure in the palm of the hand, as well as on the accompanying forearm, when pulling their stroke through the water.
The Rollover Drill
With this in mind, drills that can provide the opportunity to feel pressure on the palm and forearm can lead to major breakthroughs for all levels of swimmers. One drill which offers a great learning opportunity for this is called the Rollover Drill. This drill forces athletes to find this pressure and apply it in their stroke. The drill is demonstrated in this video:
The Rollover Drill is a sequence of three strokes freestyle, rolling over to two strokes backstroke, and repeating. Because you complete three strokes of freestyle, you end up alternating the rollover on both sides, left and right.
How does this drill help with the concept of pressure and applying it in your stroke? It provides immediate feedback about the quality of pressure you have, because the hand and arm you use to anchor yourself for the rollover will determine how well you do this drill.
If the pressure on the palm and forearm is weak and not holding enough water, you will clumsily roll. If your palm and forearm have a lot of pressure, you will launch yourself forward and up on top of the water.
Still confused? Think of this like the pole vault in track and field. Your arm acts as the pole, and you must place the pole into a solid place in order to launch your body. If you place your palm/pole in a bad position, you certainly won't get the launch you want.
If you are struggling to feel the pressure when trying this drill, then you're not placing your palm/pole in the right position. Experiment with the placement until you find the sweet spot of the pressure. When you find the right spot, you will know! It will be a clear launch and vault for you!
If you find this drill makes a big difference for you, you can find this drill and others (with more videos) in my Swim Training Plans—designed to improve your swimming.
Once you have found the right amount of pressure with this drill, transfer that pressure to your regular freestyle stroke, looking for and using that pressure on the palm and forearm with every stroke you take. You will be amazed at the difference!
Jim Vance is a USAT Level 2 and Elite Coach for TrainingBible Coaching, and a professional triathlete. Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow his writings and training advice at his coaching blog, CoachVance.blogspot.com, and on Twitter at Twitter.com/jimvance.