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).