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Breaststroke Continues to Change!

I think as long as we keep thinking about the best ways to reduce drag with regards to each swimmers body type this stroke will continue to morph.  As you all know there is a lot of motion in the breaststroke that creates drag and this reduction in drag will advance your swimmers the quickest in the short term.

We also need to consider how to create and maintain momentum with the recovery of the stroke and kick. Body position is extremely important and streamlined swimming is essential to achieve as much as possible.

Here are a few comments from other coaches and athletes in the sport taken from the web to help you think about how to teach and advance this stroke.  Please feel free to comment on certain thoughts or provide new ones.

Questions and Comments from the web:

How wide should your hands go on the outsweep of the stroke? The outsweep is a function of strength and speed and a rough idea is about the same as your fly pull.

Lift propulsion is,for practical purposes,sculling. You use your hands like propellers. It’s called lift as the force is similar to what lifts an airplane wing. There is a heated debate as to which is more important in swimming. I suspect you are generating more force with your new pull than you think. Try just doing the pull and see. If you are doing the heart shaped pull remember to accelerate through the pull so that the insweep is the strongest part.

Regarding lift, Bernoulles Principle is that as a fluid flows faster it’s pressure decreases. An airplane wing is curved on top so the air has to travel further in the same time on top relative to underneath. Since it is moving faster the pressure is lower so the wing rises. Moving a hand through the water at an angle can cause the water on the back of the hand to move faster than over the palm so the hand will lift. The actual situation for a swimmer is much more complicated.

I consider the entire pulling phase of the stroke as triphasic, i.e. outsweep, insweep and recovery. I would characterize the outsweep as a setup for the more propulsive insweep phase, emphasizing a more constant velocity through the outsweep. Consider the swimmer moving through sheets of parallel planes of water: During the outsweep, the arms remain straight and confined to a plane near the surface of the water (six to 10 inches). At the widest part of the stroke (which depends on individual strength) the insweep begins to take form, characterized by increased velocity through to the recovery phase.

The insweep takes form as the inside edge of the arms (which I refer to as the blade-thumb-side) begins to take the lead. The edge extends from the fingertips to the elbow. Consider the edge to cut through the series of parallel planes with the elbows maintaining their position within the original plane. The blade therefore cuts through these planes much like a propeller, creating resistance and propulsion on the inside of the arm. Through the completion of the insweep, the swimmer finds the hands coming toward each other with the elbows trailing and ending closely together. The position of the hands at this point should be above the level of the elbows as the swimmer begins the recovery phase. Through the insweep phase the shoulders and back lift while driving forward (this is stressed so as not to create too much upward motion-thereby sacrificing forward movement). Also during this phase, the elbows remain fairly close to their original planar position.

Reduction of drag should characterize the recovery to the extent that the hands are held close together with the elbows also being close together through the forward extension. Whether or not this phase needs to occur above the surface or below the surface is not as important as emphasizing that the hands should not be lifted out of the water into the recovery phase. More important is that at the beginning of the recovery phase, the hands are at a position slightly higher than the elbows, and that recovery occurs straight forward as opposed to downward. As the arms recover, the head is maintained in a position in line with the back and settles between the arms ending the stroke cycle in a streamlined position.

Among the factors that are important to the breaststroke kick is a concentrated effort on heel speed, especially during the recovery phase. The biggest mistake breaststroke swimmers make in kicking is the manner in which they train. Very little effort is placed on the recovery phase of the kick-specifically the acceleration of the heels during recovery. The heels should be drawn up toward the hips with maximum speed and the toes are turned outward to initiate the propulsive phase. The heels should continue to be the leaders and with the heels in a position outside of the knees, propulsion begins. The heels take an elliptical path as the legs are extended-pressure maintained on the bottom of the feet. At full extension the heels come together and the completion of the kick occurs as the toes are extended to maximize the streamlined position.

In my mind, there are certain components of the stroke where timing can be evaluated and corrected. In the pull, I look to the velocity characteristics of the outsweep and insweep. I look to see that there is a relative constant velocity through the outsweep with an increase in velocity through the insweep into the recovery. During the kick and the initiation of the heel recovery, I suggest that the swimmer feel the recovery begin through the outsweep so that as the recovery phase begins, the propulsive phase of the kick occurs nearly simultaneously. In all, there should be a sense that during the propulsive phase of the arm stroke the recovery (and hence the drag phase) of the heels is occurring and vice versa.

Lastly, I look for the lift of shoulders and back to occur through the insweep phase of the stroke with the head staying in-line with the back.

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Questions re: Distance. Some Advice for Practices

I am a new subscriber and received my first set of workouts this morning. I have read through them carefully and looking forward to getting started. I love the instruction on improving the dives, streamlining with dolphin kick etc. Plus the turns practice. However, how do I compensate for the distance as it is a bit far for me. I’m only used to swimming @ 3000 to 3500m in practice.

Once you develop more strength in dryland and can handle the mechanics of swimming fly with the fly kick your goal of breaking 4 min. should be easy. Try kicking with fins when swimming fly to help with your leg strength and speed but don’t get into a habit of using fins. Work on some short fly swimming (with fly kick) without breathing while maintaining proper body position as described in Faster Swimming. Stay as streamlined as possible and take a few strokes to begin working on timing with the fly kick then slowing work in the breathing. Timing and breathing of the stroke is described for you also. Let me know how you progress.

Determine your stroke counts for training as it’ll definitely be a part of practices. In the course of a week you’ll train all strokes with a lot more kicking than you are use to. Work in the kicking as you are able and feel free to use fins for part of it until you can handle all the additional kicking. As the season progresses kicking will be a smaller part (percentage) of the workout.

You don’t have to increase your yardage drastically and whatever you don’t finish on a specific day, just continue it the next practice. Try to plan your swimming workouts as to never have three days between practices as you’ll lose the feel for the water.

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Question re: Weightlifting for High School Swimmers

I’ve had a chance to look over your ebook. I’m very impressed but have a question regarding the weightlifting section. My son is 5′ 3″ and weighs 111 pounds. He will be a 10th grader and is obviously small for his age. Should he be doing the weight lifting considering his size and his age? If so, 1-2 times a week or every other day?

The focus is definitely not on power lifting and won’t stunt his growth. I have all my freshman swimmers lifting once to twice a week for maybe 45 minutes each session. Lifting every other day is fine alternating either upper and lower body work-out by days or sets. You could lift twice a week and do dryland on the third day, then the following week switch to two dryland days and one weight lifting. Keep me updated with his progress.

My son swims the 50 free, 100 breast and is on 2 relay teams. The coach is having them lift 3 sets of 10 with moderate to heavy weights. My son says he can lift the first 2 sets without problem. When he gets to the 3rd set he has difficulty lifting rep 8, 9 & 10. Is this consistent with your coaching or is this type of lifting going to hurt him? He is a sophomore, weighs 115 and is 5’5”. From what I read in your book he should maintain his speed throughout all sets. Is this correct and does he need to lower his amount of weights per station?

Your son should be able to maintain the speed on the third set and if the last few reps are a bit challenging that is OK. He could take more rest before the last set or he could lower the weight to maintain speed. I would have swimmers do multiple rep sets once a in a while but not on a regular basis.

The workouts are written in a manner that is adaptive to any age group at any level. Some of the send-offs and some of the heart rate sets you’ll experience throughout the year can be adjusted by you as needed for your physical abilities.

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Questions from Across the Pond

This note and the following questions are received from a coach just North-west of London, England.

“I coach on a voluntary basis and have a passion to ensure I give the very best to my swimmers and ensuring that they arrive at the championships in March in the best form they can. All help and guidance is gratefully received.”

Question #1. Variable Speed swimming Distances/ Efforts- Does that mean to use all energy systems ? And would any of the sets be at or near race pace? I have perviously planned my season using Counsilman and Maglishco reference books and am therefore familiar with EN1, En2, En3 and so on.

Answer #1. Variable speed focuses on the ability to change speeds at will, to never over train either the fast twitch or slow twitch muscles. Throughout the season you will see Race Pace added into sets, especially the months during taper. Changing the effort during sets increases work load and the aerobic capacity quicker than grinding out yardage. The mechanics of strokes have changed a lot as well as training methods. This as is evident by the amount of speed at the USA High School Level. Swimming is finally following the lead by track coaches to train athletes for a specific event. Training yards or short course meters is key to training speed and puts more emphasis on starts, turns and momentum. Take what you need from Counsilman and Maglishco as they have obviously helped swimming more than I can give them credit for in this newsletter. We all learn from the past just don’t get stuck in it.

Question #2. Legs – Yardage at 50%, does that mean, if say for example I had a total distance of 3000m for the session 1500m should be legs only? Also does the phrase mix it up, shown on Monday of week 1 apply to everyday with legs at 50%?

Answer #2. Do the best you can to have 50% of kicking a day during the first part of the season. It is hard to write in and motivate the swimmers to do this but they will taper better and have more speed for all events. As you know the legs muscles are big and require more training than coaches think. I’ll take less yardage and more kicking any day. Do the best you can to be creative and do lots of variable speed to increase the aerobic gains from kicking.

Question #3. Basic Format – Alternating upper body and lower body by Set. Would that mean one set pull, one set of legs?

Answer #3. Yes, or just a swim set alternating with a kick set. Swimmers don’t kick as much as they should and will focus on upper body work during a swim set, so I use a swim set for upper body and pulling is great also. Work in what is best for the talent you are training.