Triangles Are Perfect For the Water

One of the reasons SwimBox was started was to help prevent injury from poor/improper technique. My husband, Dominic, had surgery on both of his shoulders in college due to swimming with improper technique. Because of these surgeries, he has limited range of motion and his stroke will never be the same. All of this could have been prevented by correcting his technique he was using during the catch and propulsive phase of his freestyle. So what does that mean for you, special reader you? We’re going to make sure YOU’RE swimming properly to prevent you from having this exact same surgery down the road.

Okay, Lissa, but what is this proper technique you speak so eloquently of? (stahhp it, you’re too good to me). And how can I work to achieve it? I’m so glad you asked! Today we’re going to focus on Triangle Drill and how it will help you make sure your technique is safe and correct. Excited? That’s what I thought.

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The purpose of Triangle Drill is to fine tune the movements your body is making during your catch and propulsive phase through to the finish. The most important thing to focus on during this drill is the movement of your SHOULD BLADES. Why? because in swimming your shoulder blades are an extension of your arms. They’re actually the base of your arms, and making sure they move properly during your freestyle is one of the key components to preventing injury and the inevitable surgeries that will follow.

Simply put, your want your shoulder blade to glide upwards toward your ear during your recovery, and downwards towards your back pocket (let’s pretend you’re swimming in jeans for a second) during your catch, propulsive phase, and finish. This movement of your shoulder blade prevents you from putting the force of these movements into your shoulder joint, which is when problems occur.

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SwimBox Swim Lessons Sterling SwimBox Swimming Lessons Fairfax SwimBox Arlington Swimming Lessons SwimBox

Start this drill by swimming on your stomach kicking gently, just enough to keep you at the surface. Next, bring your arms in front of your body about shoulder width apart, about 4-6 inches below the surface of the water, and slowly bring them together to form a triangle with your thumbs and pointer fingers. Take a look at the above images to see how you want to set your arms/hands up to being this section of the drill.

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SwimBox Swim Lessons Sterling SwimBox Swimming Lessons Fairfax SwimBox Arlington Swimming Lessons SwimBox

Hold this position and mentally prepare yourself to focus on your shoulder blade movement - sliding down toward your (imaginary) back pocket - through your propulsive phase and your finish. It might take you some time to make this movement happen easily, but that’s okay! These changes take time and repetition, and this drill is meant to be moved through very slowly. Take your time!

The last thing to keep in mind? During your finish, make sure your hands feather out away from your body in order to fully maintain your paddle for as long as possible. Keep in mind, your hands will be pulled into your body from the force of your rotation while swimming, so you’ll need to really focus on this movement when first implementing it.

Make sure you watch our instructional drill video to see everything in action before trying it out in the pool!

Building Strength Outside of the Water

Building strength as a swimmer is a tough one. You would think that swimming 1.5-3 hours a day, six days a week, for months on end, would help make you stronger. But no, it doesn’t. Yes, it definitely helps you build and maintain your level of endurance/aerobic capacity, but help you gain strength it does not (crossing my fingers there’s at least one Star Wars fan out there). 

So how do you go about building up your strength to benefit your swims? Dryland. Dryland, for all of you non-I’ve been swimming since I was six years old swimmers out there, is just a term that some swim coach came up with at some point in time that refers to exercises/workouts on land. Things like plyometrics, static holds, body weight exercises, and weight lifting have all been referred to as dryland by my coaches throughout the years.

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I find a good mix of pretty much any kind of those things you like will be beneficial in the pool. That being said, this year I’ve really fallen in love with using the Vasa Trainer SwimErg to help me strengthen my arms to get a more efficient and powerful propulsive phase in the water. If you don’t have a SwimErg, any rack machine with a cable pulldown at your local gym comes in at a close second. You’ll want to fix the cable pull down to be set as high up as it allows, stand below it, and practice your catch and propulsive phase. Start with 5 lbs just to get the hang of the movement, and work your way up from there. While doing this exercise it’s extremely important to make sure you’re allowing your shoulder blade to glide up and down properly to avoid injuring your shoulder joint. You want to make sure you shoulder blade is gliding upwards as you set yourself up to catch, and gliding downwards as you set your catch and pull down.

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SwimBox Swim Lessons Sterling SwimBox Arlington SwimBox Swim Lessons Fairfax Swim Coach Swimming Lessons Sterling

One way to help keep this motion from putting the power into your shoulder joint? Keep your elbow from dropping in to your side. It’s the same way I’m always nagging on you about keeping your elbow forward and up in the water to allow you to create your paddle, just a different way of thinking about it since you’re vertical for this exercise.

Keep in mind, you’re going to be moving less weight in the water because of buoyancy. This is why dryland is SO IMPORTANT to gaining strength. You can never get as strong in the the water as you can on land!

The Hip Bone's Connected to the...Arm Bone?

One of my mom’s favorite things to say about someone’s swimming has always been, “it’s so graceful and effortless.” That was her highest praise in terms of the swimming world, and still something I notice in our clients when they really start to get the connected movements of the strokes down. Seem like an odd compliment? Maybe, but what is a common misconception in swimming is that it’s made up of a ton of small pieces that aren’t really connected to each other. However, that’s just not the case. Each movement you make in the water is connected to another movement. And those movements rely on each other to be performed properly. So if one of them is done incorrectly, it negatively affects the other, causing problems with even more movements. This is why the graceful and effortless swimmers are usually the faster ones too.

Swimming is sort of like a house of cards. Except that your body is the cards and the sturdy table you’re building on just so happens to be a large body of water that has a mind of its own. Easy, right? No way could it be hard to get things right in those environments…

Unfortunately, easy is the last word I would use to describe it. Especially when it comes to writing about and describing movements in words on paper. But to keep it from getting too down in the weeds and potentially mind numbing (yes, I said it, I know this stuff can cause your eyes to glaze over as you start daydreaming about that candy bar in your desk drawer you have marked for your afternoon snack), I’m only going to touch on a couple examples.

Swimming requires a ton of sequencing of muscles firing in order for full efficiency to be achieved. It’s not as easy as saying, “keep your core engaged and you’ll be okay.” The core needs to constantly be reacting to balance changes as you move through the water.

How is that achieved? Through cross body connections.

One of the cues that our clients have been focusing on lately is that as they pull with their right arm, and their right hip is rotating up towards the surface, the LEFT obliques are activated to provide stability and balance. Thinking about this connection is next to impossible during a race, but it’s perfect to focus on when doing drill work during practices. Let’s take One-Arm Freestyle with your Inactive Arm Down as an example. This cue is perfect to be mindful of during this drill, as you’ll actually be able to focus and feel the connection I’m describing. Thinking about certain cues, like this one, during drill work helps you better mentally process the movements and feelings you’re looking for during your swims.

Another example of a cross body connection is your rotation. In swimming, the pulling arm works as an anchor point, which is why it’s SO important to set an early catch. Which is difficult! I’m still working on this to this day (maybe another 30 years of swimming and I’ll finally get the hang of it). But it’s also incredibly important to know the reasoning behind your movements.

As your anchor is set and starts to push back against the water, your opposite hips starts to rotate downward. This connection is fairly easy to find when you aren’t breathing, but during the breath it becomes a bit harder. If you can feel this connection without breathing, it helps to learn good timing of the breath. Once that connection is learned, the inhale of the breath occurs, then as the head is rotating back into the water, the anchor starts to press against the water and then your hip should rotate downward. Say that five times fast! ….No really, I’ll wait.

See what I mean about mind numbing? Hopefully I avoided that, but I know this stuff can be tough to read. I find I have to rewrite these technique based posts 3-4 times to make sure what I’m writing is actually making sense, and even still it’s hard for me to understand sometimes (just don’t tell my husband).

Skill Based In-Pool Open Water Prep Workout

I know not everyone is blessed with direct access to train in the open water, especially us over here in the DC area. Unless you spent the past 3-4 months prepping your man made backyard lake (I’m sure there’s at least one of you out there…), you’re probably going to have to do most of your open water preparation in the comfort of your local pool. But, never fear, we’ve got you covered like glaze on a donut. A sour cream cake donut to be exact, mmm. Sorry, got lost for a minute there…ahem, anyway, onto the workout.

Even though you’re not in an open water setting, there are still plenty of things you can work on to help you get ready for how you’ll be swimming the next time you have a triathlon or open water race. It’s best to practice these specific skills that you’ll most utilize when you don’t have lane lines, the bottom of the pool, walls, or the black line to help you out.

In this workout you should turn or flip at the "T," not the wall. This will not only help you prep for the lack of walls and the help they give you, but you’re going to look super cool doing it.

200 warm up - only a 200 warm up to be prepared for race day when you don't get a long warm up

4x50 - breathing to the right side (0:10 rest)

4x50 - breathing to the left side (0:10 rest)

4x50 - alligator eyes (0:10 rest)

200 - 50 sighting every 3 to 6 strokes, 100 freestyle, 50 sighting every 3 to 6 strokes- find the pattern that you like (0:20 rest)

400 - 100 sighting every 3 to 6 strokes 200 freestyle, 100 sighting every 3 to 6 strokes - don't forget to turn at the "T"! (0:20 rest)

800 -  200 sighting every 3 to 6 strokes, 400 freestyle, 200 sighting every 3 to 6 strokes (0:20 rest)

Easy 100 warm down

This simple skill based prep workout is great to help you focus on what you’ll need to be doing when you get back in the open water. If you need more practice sighting and feel comfortable breathing to both sides, feel free to switch up the 50s to the drill that needs the most focus.

Can't Breathe with Water in Your Mouth? Think Again

More often than not, one of the most commonly used reasons for why people don’t want to swim in the open water - or swim at all for that matter - is the fear of getting water splashed in your mouth and not being able to breathe. Which, when you write it down, sounds like a pretty legitimate conclusion. If water gets splashed in my mouth, there’s no way I’ll be able to breathe…right? I’m sorry to burst your bubble (HA, swimming humor, sorry, had to do it), but no, not right. Breathing with water in your mouth is shockingly easy to do physically. Mentally is another side of the coin, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Now, how am I sure you can breathe with water in your mouth? And how can you be sure I’m not over here just blowing smoke (or bubbles, if you can stand some more terrible humor)? This simple Breathing with Water in Your Mouth Trick allows you to see how your body will react to having water in your mouth and trying to breathe at the same time.

This trick is only made up of three steps and the word “simple” doesn’t really begin to cover how easy it is. Step 1: get a cup and put a small amount of water in it. Once you have your water, take a SMALL sip - DO NOT take a large gulp of water! I promise you if you take a giant gulp of water and fill your mouth completely, you will not be able to breathe very well.

Step 2: open your mouth and take a slight inhale. This is why you want to make sure you don’t take in a huge gulp of water in Step 1, as when you open your mouth to take your small inhale, you need to make sure there’s room in your mouth for the air to get in and allow you to breathe. I know you won’t have control over this at a public pool or a during a race and get a huge amount of water splashed in your mouth, but practicing this way prepares you to handle that situation if and when it occurs.

Step 3: exhale through your nose. Repeat steps 2-3 a few times and make sure to stay calm while you’re doing so. Taking small inhales and exhales allows you to keep your heartrate down and stay as calm as possible while you practice getting used to this inhibited way of breathing.

That’s it! You did it! This trick is super simple, easy, and quick, and is a great way to help you acclimate to the unexpected.