Giving Paddles a New Look

Learning how to properly set your catch might be one of the smallest details with the largest impact for your freestyle. Fun fact: I didn’t learn how to properly set my catch until about 2 years ago, and I’ve been swimming for twenty-four years…yeesh, my bad. The hardest thing for me was that I didn’t even know the feeling that I was looking for during my catch, so I never knew I wasn’t making this movement correctly. To this day I still work on this 2-3 times a week with different drills to help me better understand what I need to be doing. My favorite drill right now to focus on finding the right feeling for my catch is Paddles in Hands.

Instead of using your hand paddles they way they were meant to be worn, this drill has you simply hold them in your hands while wrapping your fingers and thumbs around them to hold them in place.

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Using the paddles this way forces you to focus on creating your paddle, as well as actually feel the resistance of the water against your forearms. Because of the paddles, this drill makes you have to set your paddle with your hand AND your forearm. This can be a tricky movement to understand, but the more surface area you have pushing against the water, the more you’ll be able to propel yourself forward.

This drill is also great to help you learn to set your catch early. If you set your catch late during Paddles in Hands, you’ll definitely feel the difference. A late catch during this drill will give the feeling of pushing down in the water, which is not what we want. You want to have the feeling of pushing backwards. A downward push will not help to move you forward in the water, and will actually throw you out of streamline and off balance.

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The image above is a great shot of both a late catch and a properly timed catch. The left shows the late catch, which you can see is set when the arm is almost perpendicular to the body. When you set your catch this late, your arm drifts downward and loses all of the potential propulsion you would have if you’d set your catch when your arm is closer to parallel to your body. The right shows good timing of the catch. You can see the slight bend in the wrist, indicating the beginning of the catch before we move into the pull phase. By setting this early, when your arm is closer to the surface of the water, you’re able to push backwards against much more water than you would if you set your catch later.

It might not look like a huge difference, but having a good catch means you’re pushing back against more water. This leads to stronger pulls, fewer strokes, and an all over more efficient stroke. A late catch? That leads to having less water to push back against, more strokes, and will end up tiring you out more quickly because you’ll be stroking more and pulling less, causing you to expend more energy to move through the water more slowly.

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As I’ve said before, swimming is a sport of centimeters. So even though this drill is working to fix what looks like a very slight difference in movement, it will pay off ten-fold once you get the hang of it.

Two Disciplines, One Race

I started swimming competitively when I was 6 years old. My best friend at the time was joining the swim team at our local pool and asked if I would join with her. And since little kids are so courteous and respectful of our parents (HA) my friend asked this question in front of my mom, which, I learned later, was a great way to get your parents to say yes to things they normally would balk at. Not that my mom wouldn’t want me to swim, but this tactic came in handy pretty much any time I wanted a friend to come over and knew my mom would say no. Instead of being polite and asking my mom in private, I would beg and plead with my friend at my side, creating that oh so wonderful guilt in the bottom of her heart that would always result in an impromptu play date. But anyway, the point here. I started swimming when I was 6 and I never picked up another sport or joined another type of team from then forward. Because of this, working out was always one thing: swimming.

Fast forward to my Aquathlon training and all of the sudden the race I’m training for is made up of two things, not just the one I’m used to. Nothing crazy, considering triathlons and decathlons are made up of three-ten things, two should be a piece of cake. But training for a race with two different disciplines? That’s something I’m still getting used to.

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When I started this training it was a lot more than what I had been doing for my typical workouts. Now, believe me when I say I like to workout since I grew up with crazy amounts of physical activity being normal, but this training seemed to be taking up a lot more time than I thought it would. Talking to a bunch of our triathlete clients, they told me they tend to break up their workouts throughout the day so they’re not taking 2-3 hours at a time to get their training in. So? I started to do the same. But what I didn’t realize was that this could actually be detrimental to me come race day.

So this past Friday I switched things up. Instead of doing my planned 45 minute treadmill run and 800M on the SwimErg, I combined them. My workout consisted of:

  • 10 minutes running (at a moderate pace & with an incline)

  • 5 minutes slow and steady on the SwimErg

  • 10 minutes running

  • 5 minutes on the SwimErg

  • 10 minutes running

  • 5 minutes on the SwimErg

The planned pace on the treadmill was supposed to be around a 9-9:10/mile, but my legs were DEAD when I started, so my pace hovered between a 9:30-9:50/mile for my runs. Not what I wanted, but better than not running at all. That being said, this workout was KILLER. Combining the run with the swim without any breaks in between is something I’ve never done before. And even though I didn’t do either of them fast and furious, I kept my heart rate up for the entire 45 minute workout, the only relief being when I jumped off the treadmill and hopped onto the SwimErg.

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I’m not trying to say that breaking up your workouts throughout the day is bad, and I’m still going to do that some days of the week. But since the races I’m used to have never lasted more than two and a half minutes of all out effort, I need to get used to keeping my heart rate up, throughout multiples disciplines, for over 45 minutes. For most of our triathlon clients this is just a blink of an eye, but to me this is over twenty times my standard race length. So I need to buckle down and work on making this my new normal.

Yikes, over twenty times? Typing that out makes it even more exciting…

Drills Have a Purpose, Trust me

During my swim practices back in high school there was nothing I hated seeing on the board more than a giant set full of freestyle drills. Well, except maybe an entire workout made up of butterfly sets, those were the worst. 3000-5000 yards of 80% butterfly? No thank you. And yes, this happened, unfortunately there’s no exaggeration here. Those dreaded drill sets just bored me to tears. If you’ve never been a teenage girl doing thousands of yards of slow, monotonous, freestyle drills at 4:15am before going to school and having to actually pay attention to things (and apparently “learn”), give yourself a pat on the back, because that was the actual worst. All of those drills would never get me to my goal times and make the champs meets.

Or would they?

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One thing that has finally gotten through this thick skull of mine is that the very drills my coaches had me do over and over...and over again, had a purpose. AND that I actually needed to be paying attention whilst doing them, not just daydreaming and thinking about how excited I was for breakfast (my mom got up with me EVERY MORNING at 3:45am to make me a fried egg and cheese sandwich before practice, that woman is a saint) in order for them to have the desired impact. Huh, who knew?

All of the drills your coaches put into your practices have a point, and a purpose, and are there to help you build a proper foundation for your swimming. And that proper foundation? That’s what’s going to keep you injury free throughout the years. And the reasons you have to keep going back to them? So you can stay injury free. Swimming can be monotonous, even mind-numbingly boring at times, trust me, I’m aware (and don’t worry, I say that with love). But you have to focus on the technique of your stroke. You need to focus on the drills that help you perfect that technique. Doing so will help you be able to make improvements to your stroke faster and understand the purpose behind making the changes that lead to those improvements. And all of this will lead to a stronger, safer, and more efficient stroke.

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The next time you head to the pool and see a laundry list of freestyle drills, don’t start singing songs from your favorite Disney movie and trying to figure out the math on how many cookies you can eat after this workout. Focus on each drill, take your time, and try not to fall asleep in the water. The more you focus, the more you’ll want to practice these drills over and over. Because you know what happens when you focus? Progress.

PS the drill I’m working on in these pictures is Triangle Drill, which helps you focus on proper catch position and the movement of your shoulder blades. Check out our instructional video and try adding it to your next swim workout!

Training Through the Tears

Let’s take a minute to be extremely honest here. My training has ramped up recently, and yesterday I started crying in the middle of my swim workout. I’m exhausted, my legs seem to constantly hurt, not to mention my knees seem to be akin to that of a 90 year olds, and all I want to do is sit on my couch and eat bread. Maybe some bagels too, but mostly bread. I want to relax, stop working out so much, and lick my metaphorical wounds. So? I cried in my goggles while I was swimming. My stroke felt like garbage, my right arm seemed like it had completely forgotten what it was supposed to be doing, and the water felt like syrup against my attempts to get through it. Ugh.

But I pushed through, I stopped crying (although it went on for longer than it should have to be truthful), and I finished my workout. Not only that, but I didn’t skip my third workout of the day later that afternoon. And after that third workout? I put on my largest sweatpants, took out my contacts, and sat on my couch with a giant bowl of baked ziti and two donuts for dessert. And it was incredible. It was everything I wanted it to be.

What am I driving at here besides using my blog as a place to vent and daydream about meals past? That feeling this way, like signing up for this Aquathlon was the last thing I wish I had done, and letting myself be upset, is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s normal, and it’s part of the many ups and downs you’ll experience when training for any race or event on your calendar.

No, I don’t have tips to get through this, and I’m not going to tell you how to avoid it, because I don’t think you should. I think you should let it happen. Let yourself get upset, complain to anyone who will listen, and get your frustration, sadness, anger, whatever it is, out of your system. Feel your emotions, don’t push them down and try to ignore them, that will only make them worse and could hurt you mentally in the long run.

I’m going to keep it short and sweet. If you’re having a tough go of it with your training right now, that’s okay! Talk about your feelings, get upset for a bit, and then move on.

Why Bananas Don't Belong in the Pool

“Swimming is a sport of centimeters.” This is something my favorite swim coach likes to tell me over and over again, especially when I’m having trouble making a small adjustment to my stroke. This might seem like a depressing thing to focus on, but it’s really not. Think of the Olympics and the famous finish Michael Phelps had when he out-touched Milorad Cavic by only one one-hundredth of a second to win gold. One one-hundredth of a second. It takes ten times that long to blink to put things into perspective.

The small movements you work to correct over and over again, that sometimes make you want to pull your hair out in frustration, are the movements that will put you ahead that one one-hundredth of a second to beat out your competition. And in this case, the movement I want to talk about is keeping your ribs down and closed while you swim. What does that mean? The best way to understand it is to first think of the opposite, what you look like when you swim with your ribs open. Think of when you arch your back, and how it turns your torso into a "U" shape, or - and this one's my favorite - a banana in the water. Swimming like a banana through the water clearly would not be beneficial for your efficiency and power. This body position takes you out of streamline and, unlike a banana, causes your hips and legs to sink downward toward the bottom of the pool. Swimming with your hips and legs not at the surface of the water means you're causing unnecessary drag that you have to fight hard against to propel yourself forward through the water.

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The position you want needs to be driven from your ribs, and is, in actuality, a very small movement. When people tell you to arch your back most people create an extreme exaggeration, forming that “U” shape with their bodies. Here, you want a slight crunch inwards, driven from your ribs, which will result in a flat back. Think of it like the position you make when you exhale. When you blow your air out, your ribs go down and move inwards. Not the exact opposite of an arched back, you don’t want a hunchback either. You want to straighten our your back with this downward movement of your ribs in order to prevent swimming like a banana.

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What does this position do? It brings your hips and legs up to the surface of the water, AND helps to tilt your head into proper position at the same time. Try both of these movements standing up on land before trying them out in the pool. In the beginning, make them as exaggerated as you can. To make your banana, take in a really big breath and hold it. Now watch as your body turns into that “U” shape/banana. To feel the opposite, the position we’re looking for, exhale that really big breath and you’ll feel your body straighten back out, as well as the weight of your body falling back onto your heels. This will show you the extreme differences and help you find what we’re looking for in the water.

I know this probably sounds weird, but this minor change to your posture is one of the centimeters that’s going to help you get that much closer to your goal times. It’s going to improve your streamline, power, and efficiency by allowing you to move through the water with less effort and more smoothly than before. If you want to work on this more intensely make sure to take a look at our Foundational Breathing Method online course!