swim practice

Why Paddles Should Double as Hats

I know you’ve all jumped in the pool and thought to yourselves, “Gee, how can I use my training gear in a way it wasn’t made for?” And by that I mean I doubt anyone has ever had that thought, and this is the very reason why I question my husband’s sanity at times. But, since he thinks outside the pool (see what I did there? or maybe I should have said “outside the SwimBox,” take the one you like better and re-read this last sentence. Go on, I’ll wait) and plays around with these things, I now present to you my all time favorite drill. Paddlehead.

I love this drill because you DO NOT NEED a coach to practice it. Yes, you heard me correctly. The paddle gives you all the feedback you need to know if you’re doing the drill properly or not. And what does the drill work on? Head position.

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Paddlhead drill is the perfect drill to use to help you learn proper head position in freestyle. For beginners you’re going to start the drill WITHOUT taking a breath. No, I’m not asking you to hold your breath and swim until you pass out (although that might be a fun contest…). I mean when you’re first starting this drill, take 6-8 strokes - or however many strokes you can take without needing a breath - then stop when you need air. When doing this you want to focus on keeping your head in proper position. What’s that, you’re asking? With the paddle on the crown of your head, look straight down at the bottom of the pool. Make sure you’re not cheating here and pushing your neck downward while doing this drill, as that will more often than not keep the paddle from falling off, and will also take you out of proper head position.

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In the image above you can see the exact placement of the paddle that we’re looking for. The paddle should be placed right at the hairline and above the forehead. If you place the paddle directly on your forehead you’ll be able to cheat the whole drill and won’t get any feedback from the drill itself.

After you’re comfortable with your head position and can swim confidently without the paddle falling off, it’s time to add in the breath. Now, this is where things get tricky and sometimes downright discouraging. Be patient! This is the hardest part to have the paddle stay on. When you go to take your breath, focus on keeping your head low to the surface of the water and make sure your chin is pointing slightly down towards your collarbone. If you lift your head up at all, or move out of proper head position, the paddle will fall off when you go to breathe. Don’t try to do this too fast and get frustrated. I tell you this with 100% honesty, we’ve never had a client take a breath for the first time doing this drill and not have the paddle fall off (not even me). This movement takes time and patience to get right, you just have to keep at it.

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When taking your breath, try using your eyes to make the movement and have your head follow. It sounds weird, I know, but your head will follow the path that you make with your eyes without having to completely focus on solely moving your head. You want to look down in your eye sockets and try to look about 4 feet behind you. Another cue is to try to look down towards your armpit. Focus on these things when working on adding in the breath, as this is what will help you keep your head low to the water and prevent the paddle from falling off.

For detailed instructions on this drill before adding it to your next swim make sure to check out our video! You’ll be able to see how the paddle stays in place when I go to take a breath and how low you want your head to be in the water.

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!

Raise Your Hand if You've Ever heard of UpKick...

Raise Your Hand if You've Ever heard of UpKick...

Your freestyle kick is made up of two parts: your upkick, and your downkick. Both of these parts need to be focused one with the same amount of energy in order to keep your hips and legs from sinking.

California FBM Clinic Trip Recap

Who's ever flown to and from California (from the east coast) in less than 38 hours, worked the entire time you were there, and lived to tell the tale? At this day and age I'm assuming there are at least some of you answering in the positive to this question, but still, it's not a normal thing you do on a weekend. But alas, that's what Dominic and I set out to do last weekend in order to hold our first ever Foundational Breathing Method Clinic, and it was great! That is until a giant fog fell over us this past Thursday that caused me to live off of Oreos, donuts, and Papa Johns for a 13 hour period (it was great, don't act like you're not jealous) and change our bedtime to 7pm...

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We landed in CA at 9:45pm EST, which is already well past when we normally get to sleep, and headed to dinner with our hosts for the weekend. The restaurant we ate at claimed to be Cuban, and no offense to CA but it definitely wasn't. Cuban inspired is more what I would call it. If I hadn't fallen in love with all of the authentic Cuban food we had in Miami maybe I wouldn't sound like such a snob right now, but I did, so I'm going to hold my nose up a bit too high for this one.  

Dinner put us back at the house at 12:45am EST, but the clinic wasn't until 10am PST the next day, so there was plenty of sleep to be had. That being said, I've only travelled to a different time zone once, so I'm not used to my internal clock not matching up with the external clock, and I was wide awake and ready to go at 3am. Oops.

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All of my complaining about food and sleep aside, the clinic was great. We spent an hour in the classroom, two hours in the pool, and finished off with an hour of dryland. It might seem a bit weird to start off a swim clinic outside of the water, but this really allowed Dominic to teach everyone about the anatomy we'd be utilizing during FBM and how these subtle changes would improve multiple parts of their swimming. Not to mention our participants gained a greater knowledge of how it's possible to manipulate your breathing to aid in day to day aspects of life as well.

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Putting everything together in the water is where everyone really started to understand how helpful FBM is. One of my favorite parts of clinics is being there to see the moment someone learns something new. Seeing that spark of understanding in someone's eyes really is a great feeling, and having the chance to be a part of that feeling is something I'm truly grateful for. We had one participant say that she'd never been able to swim across the length of the pool without gasping for a breath before, and now she feels like she can actually swim. Hearing that made the whole trip worth it.

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After two hours in the water we headed into a ballet studio to work on some dryland moves. And if your first thought when you read the words "ballet studio" is of those rooms lined in mirrors, you'd be right. If you know me well enough you're laughing right now, because I can't walk past a mirror without looking at myself...I just can't. There's always a hair out of place or my bangs need fixing, so a room full of mirrors is my dream (and Dominic's nightmare). 

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Our dryland session was the perfect way to end the clinic. Dominic went over certain PRI moves that help you better understand the strength of your breath and explore how to better gain your FBM when you're in the water. All of the movements are body weight only and can be done in the comfort of your own home. And by that I mean in your living room, dressed in sweats, with the TV on in the background.

Even though the weekend was jam-packed and we spent two full days traveling it was well worth it. We got to meet a great new group of swimmers and triathletes and spend the day learning with them. But the real moral of the story? If you're about to spend an entire Sunday flying from California, to Denver, to DC, make sure you have plenty of snacks with you, otherwise you might find yourself buying a $15 six ounce bag of popcorn while your husband stares at you with his jaw dropped...Was the popcorn good you ask? Sigh, it was okay...just okay. Does this mean it'll be my last extremely overpriced junk-food purchase? No way.