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Diagnosing Strokes

I think most of us are good at identifying minor stroke corrections needed for our athletes but are you actually finding the real problem. Before you tell your swimmers simple solutions please diagnose their issues. For example; turn your hand inward, widen your recovery, lower your head, etc. are lazy solutions and yes probably need to be addressed but the larger picture needs fixed first.

Main issues which usually affect strokes and the actual solution instead of a quick diagnosis.

A. Timing of the breath.

This affects a lot of stroke flaws and the number one issue to many stroke flaws

1. Hand/arm under the body during stroke.

2. Hand entry (catch) and finish of the stroke either the entry is too short or crossing over or not finishing in the proper spot or position.

3. Does the swimmer inhale and exhale properly during the breath?  You will really be surprised how many swimmers do this incorrectly.

B. Body Position

1. Head position verse legs, where are the 4-h’s (head, hands hips, heels)?

2. Ability of the swimmer to rotate if needed in strokes or adjust body position.

3. Ability to streamline.

C. Leg speed and proper timing of kick.

1.  How good is your swimmer at kicking sets at practice?

2.  Just telling your swimmer to kick more isn’t the solution.

D. Hand and Arm as one paddle. This must be taught at practice.

E. Momentum off the start, turn and maintaining it in the stroke.

1. The transition from underwater thru the first stroke.

2. Momentum of the kick off the wall and during the stroke.

3. Depth of break out.

4. The actual flip turn/open turn and the foot placement during.


F. The understanding of reducing drag. You must teach the swimmer to understand this and really think.

G. Proper mechanical timing.  What do you do during:

1. The catch of each stroke.

2. The finish of each stroke.

3. Timing of kick and breath, etc..

H. Telling a swimmer to kick more is crazy but teaching the swimmer how and when to kick is the proper approach to learning. Teach them how to kick during a race. For Example, 85% first 25 on the legs then sprint; or give them a set number of fly kicks off the wall to hold during a race. Of course you have trained this in practice.

I. Recovery of each stroke.

Do the swimmers know how to have active recovery during a stroke? How do you teach the recovery of the stroke?  Think about each swimmers flexibility when teaching this. You will have to engage the shoulders and core for proper recovery in all strokes. You must engage shoulder shrugs in breast and fly and arm positioning in free and back.

If you watch a swimmer and you tell them that they just need to turn their hand to catch more water you are missing the really big picture. Put some real thought into the problem and discuss the big corrections to make at practice.

All of the above mechanics are discussed in the FasterSwimming book!



Workout of the week:

Warm up:

300 mix , 4 x 50 descend and the last 50 with the heart rate above 30 beats per 10 seconds, 4 x 25 same as 50’s, 100 ez (:15 rest during set)

10 x 25  – 3/4 underwater fly kick sprint then 70% swim back to the wall and go again. The 70% swim back is the recovery.

6 x 150 kick w/fins 50 build/100 fast, :20 rest,  #1-2 back or free, 3-6 fly

1 minute rest then

2 x 50 fly sprint kick with fins (:30 rest between)

100 recovery

Use cords to add drag and fly kick off wall until you can’t mover further. Push the legs!

3 sets of 6 push off wall, 50 recovery after each set

8 x 25’s kick variable speed by kick count 5 fast kicks and 5 slow kicks, :30 rest

100 recovery minimum.

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Starts & Stops Continued


This is a continuation of the starts newsletter. We will continue to expand and detail every aspect of the start. There is a swim workout and the end of this article with outline explanations of how it was written.

Full season outlines are also in the 23 week, 14 week and Faster Swimming books.

Center of Gravity

When considering body position on the block we need to look at the athlete’s center of gravity.  We look at the center of gravity not in a side to side (lateral) aspect, but in a front to back (anterior/posterior) aspect.  The farther forward athletes are able to shift their center of gravity in relation to the point of force production (feet), the more efficient their first movement will be.  If the center of gravity is behind the point of force production athletes must first pull their body forward before pushing it forward.  If we all had hands at the ends of our legs we would be able to grab the block and pull, but our feet have a limited ability to grab the block leaving our legs useful only for a pushing motion.  This results in the beginning pull to be done entirely with the arms which have a limited ability to produce much forward motion and lead more to wasted time and inefficiency on the block. The brief amount of time that it takes to go through a start for any athlete (even those with a slow start) only increases the need to be as efficient as possible to gain an advantage.

Many athletes understand the concept of a forward center of gravity but go about it the wrong way by attempting to lean out as far as they can.  The problem with this is that their center of gravity will usually end up being farther back due to the athletes inability to maintain balance. The best way to allow for a forward center of gravity is to keep the hips high and forward while dropping the head and shoulders into a relaxed position as close to the thighs as possible.  The closer the shoulders and head are to the hips from the anterior/posterior view the farther forward the hips will be able to shift without throwing off balance and stability.

If the center of gravity is placed behind the point of force production, weight must first be shifted forward before being able to apply force in a rear direction propelling the body forward.  Most athletes and coaches have seen swimmers on the block who lean as far back as possible under the premise that they will produce a more powerful start.  When this technique is used athletes spend half of their motion using arms for their force production before their center of gravity shifts far enough forward for their legs to explode.  While it is helpful to use the arms in a limited manner to shift the center of gravity to a favorable position, the arms shouldn’t be used as a major force producing piece of the start.

With the two different styles of starts, track and two feet forward, the center of gravity in relation to the point of force production is the major difference between them.  The two feet forward start makes it far more difficult to bring the center of gravity up to the point of force production.  However, if a start is well trained and athletes are able to have enough flexibility, stability, and balance, there is much greater power potential in this type of start.  With the track start it is very easy to place the point of force production behind the center of gravity.  The rear foot is very easily placed behind the hips and allows the athlete to produce a very efficient first motion.  This efficient first motion and easy body positioning have caused this start to be used almost exclusively without any consideration being given to the start that allows for more power to be produced.  Don’t get me wrong though, changing every athlete’s start to a two feet forward style may not be appropriate as not every athlete has the flexibility, stability, and balance necessary to make this start viable.

Here is the first workout of 115+ from the 23 week workout. This is a very simple beginning into workouts that are written with complex details thru the season. Each week has an outline which you can follow and write your own workout or sets. The outline includes percentage of kicking in each workout, speed work, recovery, time allotted for starts and turns, variable speed intensities, race pace work, heart rate and test sets to help you adjust workouts for your athletes.  The last 7 weeks is the taper written in great detail to fine tune speed, build confidence, increase and maintain aerobic capacity, train energy systems for the demands of championship meets and get your athlete ready for many weeks of fast swimming. All you have to do is administer the workout!

Here is to Faster Swimming.


Day # 1

Maintain one fly kick minimum off each wall!


3 x 200 freestyle all from a start on 3:30 / 3:00 / 2:45 descending send off

Do another start into a 25 with 3/4 fl y kick underwater to the other end

Set #1

9 x 50 free kick @ 80% :05 rest between

6 x 75 25 back kick @ 80%. 50 breast drill 2 kick-1 stroke :10 rest between

( long spikes )

4 x 100 50 kick fl y/ 50 back swim 100 @ 80% effort :15 rest

200 IM kick no board variable speed by 25 @ 70%-90% effort

50 ez swim

Set # 2 – Timed turns during set

3 x 300 IM 25 kick / 50 1 arm drill swim each stroke @ 80% effort :10 rest between

50 ez

4 x 100 IM swim descend on 2:00

50 ez

12 x 25 racing kick partners free coaches send off

100 ez

Set # 3

5 x 100 freestyle

#’s 1-3 50 kick – 50 swim variable speed by 25 @ 70%-90% effort :10 rest between

1:00 rest

#’s 4-5 swim sub 1:00 – 1:05 based on ability 1:00 rest between


Total yardage = 4,525

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The Start

The forward start is one of the most ignored and misunderstood skills of swimming. Improving a start may only drop a small amount of time but this will be the difference between winning or losing and qualifying or not. A quality start allows swimmers to launch off the block sooner with greater speed, superior body position while creating momentum into the race. You can’t underestimate the psychological benefits of leading a race!

If you learn how to coach the start you are helping the turn.

Regardless of how well conditioned an athlete may be he or she must be able to translate that ability correctly. Proper body position must be achieved for each athlete by considering two dominating factors, center of gravity and point of force, as they are interdependent. Athletes need to produce forward motion as quick and powerful as possible by understanding their body position where the center of gravity will be as close to or even with the point of force production. You have to consider foot placement, hips and head positions, proper leg length for maximum force production and you have to react with the legs first not arms.

We will elaborate next week.

Weekly Workout from the 23 week program. This is the first taper workout of the 7 week program. The program is detailed as it tapers legs, works on race pace for champs, enables recovery and prepares the athlete for many weeks of fast swimming!

W E E K 1 7 of  23 ( W O R K O U T 1 OF THE 7 WEEK TAPER)

Day #81

Warm up: start into 300 choice swim VS by 150 70% – 75%

6 x 50 all no grab starts (emphasis leg reaction)

1-3 25 choice swim / 25 Tarzan heart rate above 25

4-6 25 choice swim / 25 3 up Tarzan 1 down easy repeat

25 easy

Set #1 complete this swim set twice – 1st time IM, 2nd free :15 rest

3 x 200 reverse IM order (combo fly 2 right arm, 2 left arm, 3 swim) @ 75%

2nd time thru free – incremental stroke count by 50

400 IM order (combo fly as above) VS by 50 75% – 80%

2nd time thru free – VS by 50 75% – 80% with incremental stroke count

3 x 100 IM on 1:20 1st one @ 80% with last sub +/-1:05

2nd time thru free with :15 rest, First 100- 15 fast strokes / 15 slow strokes,

Second 100- 10 fast strokes / 10 slow strokes, Third 100- 5 fast strokes / 5 slow strokes

50 easy into 2nd time

Set #2 top stroke kick set :20 rest

2 x 300 VS by 150, #1 70% – 100%, #2 100% – 70%

4 x 50 #1 5 fast kicks / 5 slow kicks, #2 10 fast kicks / 10 slow kicks,

#3 15 fast kicks / 15 slow kicks, #4 20 fast kicks / 20 slow kicks

50 easy

Set #3 top stroke swim. This set is very difficult. If a swimmer needs more rest to achieve Race Pace then change send offs accordingly. You may need to help the swimmers with their Race Pace goals and times to achieve in this set.

25 on :25 @ 100 Race Pace

75 on 1:20 @ 200 RP

50 on :45 @ 100 RP (Could be first or second 50)

100 @ 200 RP

100 easy

2nd stroke swim

50 on :50 @ 100 RP

100 on 1:50 @ 200 RP

75 on 1:30 @ 100 RP

125 @ 200 RP

100 easy

Set #4 2nd or 3rd stroke kick set

repeat set #2

Set #5 complete from blocks if time allows – top stroke swim

flyer’s do the 1st 200 freestyle, add warm downs if needed between 200’s

4 x 200 on 3:30 – 4:00 +/- based on quality and time

1st @ 400 IM RP or 500 RP

2nd @ 200 RP – 400 RP/500 RP broken @ 100 for :05 – :15 as needed

3rd and 4th @ 200 RP broken @ 75 and 150 for :05 – :15 each time

100 easy

Total yardage = 6,725

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High Elbow

There is a lot of information about teaching the high elbow in swimming and I feel there is a lot of misinformation. I ask you as coaches and seasoned swimmers to really think about the mechanics.


Most coaches just teach the high elbow in the recovery of the stroke with drills such as hand/finger drag drills or thumbs up the side. When doing so you totally eliminate the core rotation needed in freestyle and teach swimmers to swim flat. Please remember that the recovery of the stroke needs to be taught as a true recovery. If you teach proper rotation and finish of the stroke the recovery needs to be relaxed and natural. If the elbow happens to be above the hand then great but you need to focus on the core rotation and the finish of the stroke underwater.  If a swimmer stays flat and you teach the swimmer to work the recovery they will continue to engage the rear delts, rhomboid and descending traps thru-ought the swim. The swimmer must be taught that the recovery of the stroke is for true recovery of muscle groups to enhance performance.


Please remember that core rotation must be taught underwater also. You can’t teach a swimmer to have their elbows near the surface of the water while keeping the hand below unless you want them to swim flat and not engage their core.

If you add rotation to the stroke the whole arm will be used as a paddle and the elbow and hand will be deeper in the water.  You are still teaching high elbow but that really just means “above the hand”.

I encourage any conversation or comments.