Swimming: video analysis

A key part of the training camp this weekend was swim video analysis. Despite my timed swim test performances (1500m, 4x400m, 20x100m) improving substantially of late – principally due to the squad-based fitness sessions I’ve been attending – I knew my technique was pretty raw. I took five 1-on-1 lessons with Swim for Tri in April/May: this got me breathing bilaterally and showed me basic extension and rotation drills. But – never having seen myself self on screen before – I was otherwise at a loss as to what to work on this winter.

Here’s my video.

HEAD ON: rotation is improved (Dan tells me!). But the main faults you notice are: 1/ my straight-arm action – especially on the left arm – failing to bend the elbow and point the hands down at the black line. This means I’m only using shoulder power to propel through the catch. By bending at the elbow I can a) use the entire forearm as a paddle, and b) engage the ‘lats’ (latissimus dorsi muscles of the back) to be stronger through the first catch phase. This provides a less stressful and more powerful muscle engagement. Also: 2/ the hand entry creates too many bubbles (especially left hand) thus creating drag.

What to work on: 1/ focus on correct hand/arm pathway in drills and full stroke; 2/improve ‘piercing’ hand entry.

SIDE PROFILE: where to start?! Two major problems slowing me down: 1/ my alignment is tilted down from head to feet, and feet are pointed down at the ankle (despite kick being reasonably well controlled in range). This creates drag and prevents maximum stream-lining through the water; 2/ no proper glide phase with the lead hand. I have worked on this using extension switch drills, but I slip back to ‘wind-milling’ when trying to go quicker (fine if you’re a sprinter, but inefficient for swimming 1.5 to 3.8k during a triathlon).

What to work on: 1/ strengthen leg kick through drills to properly engage glutes and lift the legs; 2/ slow the full stroke down and focus on full extension, and also use extension and catch up drills. This will also further aid rotation.

Swim for Tri can be reach for coaching, lessons and endless pool video analysis at http://www.swimfortri.com

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Catch up swim drill

Objective: to practice a long stroke and develop timing

Catch-up refers to the pause/hold during the drill, and then one arm ‘catching up’ to the other. Try three lengths of hold, or catch up:

Catch up +2 (hold for 2 seconds)

Catch up +1 (hold for one second)

Catch up 0 (touch and go)

Method: Swum like regular freestyle except that one arm is always stationary extended in front of you. You will be flat in the water when yours hands are touching at the front of your stroke.. Perform one full arm cycle with your right arm (as you pull back you can rotate up onto your side). Then perform one full arm cycle with the left arm. Repeat. Breathe every arm cycle to one side only if you find bilateral breathing a struggle to begin with due to the extra hold time. It is best to attempt to practice one length breathing to your right and then one length to your left to encourage the symmetry of your stroke.

 

Swim for Tri: Session Two

FRONT CRAWL DRILLS

After session one with Swim for Tri last week, I’d headed to Highbury pool over the weekend brimming with confidence, the desire to perfect my bilateral technique, and expecting instant improvement. But things didn’t quite go to plan: breathing to the left felt awkward again; oxygen debt was quick to occur; the comfort I’d felt towards the end of the last session had evaporated; and the bustle of the busy public pool was irritating. Okay this last problem was very lame and felt so as my infuriation subsided! What had gone wrong? What was I doing differently? What had happened to the calm, easy, smooth ’19-strokes-per-length’ technique? How could I get that back again?

Drills. In my hasty exuberance I’d forgotten what had helped me improve in the first place. So for Session Two – this time with former GB swimmer Maxine – after conducting her own analysis of my technique, drills drills and more drills were the order of the day. Using fins to keep technique tight, balanced and effective, she got me to focus on four key drills:

1/ Back Torpedo: Leg-kicking and upper body rotation drill. On your back, hands by your side and head perfectly still. Use fins and kick from the hips. Rotate the shoulders from side to side. Maximum rotation is shoulder to chin.

2/ Front Torpedo: 2-leg-kicking and upper body rotation drill. On your front with your hands by your side and head perfectly still. Use fins and kick from the hips. Rotate the shoulders from side to side (maximum rotation is shoulder to chin). Go as far as you can without breath then finish the rest of the length full stroke really focusing on upper body rotation.

3/ Basic Extension: This drill promotes good body rotation and head alignment. Body should be rotated from shoulders on side, one arm extended from shoulder, reaching in front of body. Very little space should be present between the cheek and extended arm. Straight alignment from tips of fingers to toes with the arm parallel to the surface of the water. The other arm rests against the side of your body by your leg. This shoulder should be rotated enough so that the shoulder is out of the water. Take approximately 6 kicks (breathe regularly) then turn to breath to the side. Return the head to the neutral position, looking slightly diagonally forwards with your eyes with the head still. The rotation and head movements are independent from each other.

4/ Extension Switch Drill: This drill promotes good body rotation and head alignment. Body should be rotated from shoulders on side, one arm extended from shoulder, reaching in front of body. Very little space should be present between the cheek and extended arm. Straight alignment from tips of fingers to toes with the arm parallel to the surface of the water. The other arm rests against the side of your body by your leg. This shoulder should be rotated enough so that the shoulder is out of the water. Take approximately 6 kicks (breathe regularly) then turn to breath to the side. Return the head to the neutral position, looking slightly diagonally forwards with your eyes with the head still. The rotation and head movements are independent from each other. Take 6 more kicks and keeping the head still perform one fullstroke to rotate and extend the opposite side. Repeat, kick, breathe, kick, switch. This drill can also be performed with 3 strokes between each rotation.

One-arm extension version can also be incorporated into the drill set:

 

 

To finish – removing the fins – I did several lengths using drill 4, at first just getting used to the strange feeling of an unaided leg kick, then focusing on full extension and a long stroke. The key being to spend as little time as possible in a horizontal position, thus minimising drag. I was delighted to hear Maxine tell me my stroke count on those final few lengths was now down to 17 – yes SEVENTEEN! Well chuffed, to use a phrase my childhood.

So drills, drills, drills it is then.

Click here for Session One notes.

Swim for tri

swim-for-tri-logo

On Monday I had my first swimming lesson in twenty years. My parents threw me in the deep end aged six – well, they kindly took my brother and me to the local pool every weekend! – and despite spending more time in the changing rooms than the pool in session one, I quickly grew to love swimming. I progressed through the various badges until I reached 60 lengths and periodical appearances in local galas; but, when high jump and tennis took over, I regretably stopped going to the pool. So turning up at the Market Sports health club in Shoreditch for my first lesson since 11 years old, I was actually quite nervous!

Since January I’ve been swimming once or twice a week for 30-40 mins a session, keeping my front crawl slow and easy and generally covering 1500m in 31-32 mins. I knew I’d need technique work – I liken swimming to golf, a smooth stroke being like that feeling when you nail the perfect swing – but I wanted to be competent before going to a specialist.

Swim for Tri came recommended, and my first session did not disappoint. Set up by Keeley and Dan Bullock, fully ASA/BTA qualified and specialising in award-winning triathlon-specific swim coaching, I knew I was in good hands. Their coaching philosophy hones in on reducing resistance to enhance stroke efficiency; first concentrating on basic faults then moving on to developing a smooth, efficient stroke using advanced drills.

The 40-minute 1-to-1 session involved a thorough analysis of my technique, followed by drills for rotation and bilateral breathing (like many, I find 2-stroke breathing far easier). Keeley was very engaging and focused me on getting the basics right – despite my desire to plough into the details! By the end of session one my 25m stroke count had dropped from 22 to 19 and I felt confident in taking what I’d learnt to the pool for more practise. A nice touch was the email that dropped into my inbox the following day detailing the full technique analysis. Looking forward to session two!

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Electrically charged particles keep the pool clean.

Electrically charged particles keep the pool clean.

Swim for Tri run individual and group sessions catering for novice to advanced swimmers. Coaching takes place in numerous venues in London, as well as Bath, Cardiff and Dublin, and open water training in Upminster and the Serpentine. They also boast an ‘endless pool’ at Canary Wharf, London for multi-angle video analysis, and a custom swim plan service.

www.swimfortri.com

+44 (0) 20 7001 7511