Monthly Archives: May 2010

Total Immersion: Swim Breakthrough Friday!

Friday I had a breakthrough of tremendous proportions in my swimming. Since my last post, I’ve been focusing on my stroke, specifically my arm recovery, as it has been something that hasn’t felt right.
So my typical workout, once I embarked on this focus to fix the problems in my stroke, looks like:
200-300y W/U w/ drills:
200y if I get the shallow end of my pool where I can stand:
2×25 Superman glide
2×25 Alternating R/L arm skate
2×25 Alternating R/L arm underswitch skate
2×25 Underswitch swim continuous
300y if I get the deep end where I can’t stand:
100y swim easy
200y underswitch swim
4×50 Zen switch, arm submerged to elbow, continuous swim
4×50 Zen switch, arm submerged to middle forearm, continuous swim
4×50 Zen switch, arm submerged to wrist, continuous swim
4×50 Zen switch, dragging fingertips along surface
4×50 Swim w/ focus on various arm recovery drill points
The points I had focused on were:
1. Elbow led recovery, via circling the elbow, per Easy Freestyle DVD Chapter 5.
2. Elbow led recovery, by having a straight elbow path, from back to front entry, also per Easy Freestyle DVD Chapter 5. On my left, my elbow is tracing some sort of arc and ends up too close to the centerline. It even causes my body to arc sometimes. In feeling, I attempted to actually trace path that is straight, but angled towards the outside. This probably meant in actuality that my left arm was moving straight forward even though my brain thought it was going forward straight before.
The secondary points I kept a mental check on were:
1. Releasing at the end of the pull back. Tension builds on the stroke back, but then I release it all and relax for the elbow led recovery.
2. Stroking towards the outside, almost at 45 degree angle away from body as Coach Shinji puts it, although I think it just ends up being less than that. I think the important thing is to not end up alongside or close to the body.
3. Wide tracks to swim on, versus being too narrow.
4. Setting up the entry around where the opposite arm’s elbow is, and then letting gravity take the arm into the water and then spearing forward.
5. Upon entering with my left arm, keep it spearing slightly to the outside. Previously I believe I’ve been spearing my left arm too straight forward.
6. Quiet arm entry, and thus quiet swimming and as bubble-less as possible.
Other very important points that I kept an awareness of:
1. For this exercise, I chose to not stroke back strongly, but see if I could impart more forward momentum via the spearing arm rather than depending on the stroking arm back. Coach Shinji and I did some drills to illustrate how much momentum you can generate simply by spearing forward.
2. Stroking back straight and not up or down. My right arm stroking tends to make my body hop up and down slightly, indicating that my stroke back is not exactly straight back and is directing propulsive force in other directions besides fully moving my body forward.
3. At the end of spear forward, let my wrist relax and my hand just hangs down so that it is ready for the catch. This also releases tension in the arm; tension in the arm is bad.
4. Slight attention on bending at the elbow to catch at the front, but not too much at this juncture, as it requires a bit more flexibility than I have at this point.
5. Hanging the head in a relaxed manner.
6. Keeping the body straight, and also when I roll back and forth during swimming to roll on my axis and not swipe back and forth.
As one can imagine, keeping track of all this can be overwhelming; swimming is such a complex activity! Luckily, our bodies have imprinted all this such that all that text is really easy and burned into our natural movements. The problem of course is when we imprint bad habits and have to change them.
Running through my workout, I became a bit more unstable as I have been when my arm starts to get higher out of the water for each drill. But yesterday, I had about a lap of instability and then something changed. My swimming became amazingly relaxed and I was moving forward with ease, and by not stroking back strongly at all.
The sensations I felt were:
1. My head was very relaxed hanging down. But I remember feeling no water swirling at the top which meant that my head was pretty submerged, probably more than it has been.
2. My left arm entry felt really good. I just let it drop into the water and spear forward.
3. As I kept my stroking arm moving with firm but not extra force, I felt the first inklings of what anchoring in the water meant. My stroking arm became an anchor for my spearing arm to push forward against, as well as with a lot of help from my two beat kick putting some authority into my hip turning. With this action, I started to really understand what Coach Shinji meant by saying that you could really move forward fast without using a whole lot of energy.
4. My body was totally straight, and for the first time I felt that I was turning nicely on my axis and keeping like a needle through the water.
5. With all this working, I felt at ease from stroke to stroke, very relaxed, but yet I felt like I was moving smoothly and continuously through the water, with each stroke being very rhythmic and with no stops or starts.
I felt so good that I didn’t want it to end and swam another 4×50 in hopes of it burning into my nervous system just a bit more. It was a banner moment for me in my swimming and I hope to imprint this further in future sessions.

Total Immersion: Working on Arm Recovery and Stroke

In my last session with Shinji, I worked on my arm recovery. Then, a reader of my blog emailed me for some questions on arm recovery, which prompted me to post on the TI forums, and then prompted this post.
In working on my arm recovery, I have been given many visuals through verbalizations to help with the right motion by Shinji and also some from an Advanced TI Seminar by Dave Cameron. These were:
a. [Shinji] The one trapezoid/shoulder shrug to bring the arm up.
b. [Shinji] Extend the shoulder blade forward
c. [Shinji] Try to exit the hand/arm through the same hole in the water that it’s laying in, at the end of the stroke. Not only does this stop placing forces that are not helping me go forward in the water (ie. making me sink or bounce in the water), I find that dragging your hand out that way means you are naturally doing the elbow led recovery.
d. [Dave Cameron] Imagine during recovery that you are scraping your bicep across the surface of the water as you bring the arm around.
e. [Dave Cameron] Use inner rotation of the shoulder, don’t bring it up and over. The arm tends to trace a path that is more a swing around rather than straight along the path over the body. He has said that inner rotation also saves your shoulder from damage.
Great coaches have a multitude of vocabulary and can come up with many ways to help a student perform some complex action. Then, posting on the TI forums, Terry Laughlin and Dave Cameron both weighed in on these comments. Here are their posts reprinted:
Terry says:
“Dave I would probably have difficulty following those focal points. For instance, I’m not sure how to interpret the phrase “extend the shoulder blade forward.” That’s why I prefer focal points that describe a simple action or a sensation described in ‘universal’ language.
One key to a recovery in which the elbow lifts and leads the hand and forearm forward is how you exit the water. I’ve used the following images to help me with that:
1. Release, rather than push back, at the end of the stroke
2. Release away from the hip – i.e. toward the outside. (This helps combat the tendency to bring the elbow toward the spine on recovery.)
3. Circle the elbow – like the crank of a bicycle. (This helps reinforce #1.)
As for video, Lesson 5 on the Easy Free DVD is devoted to release, recovery and entry. It shows LOTS of video of the rehearsal exercises that improve your kinesthetic awareness of leading with the elbow. Also of the release, recovery and entry, including contrast of all the most common errors and how to correct them.”
Then Coach Dave Cameron posted:
“One thing that must be realized about my coaching is that I always use tricks to get what I want. I wanted it to FEEL like the elbow scraped, but it shouldn’t be as wide as that in reality. Just to get people to break their habits on that one, We started with the release, went to the shrug/shift, the swing, the slice without sacrifice, and the slip.
The recovery can have a lot of variety based on flexibility and balance.
Denser swimmers may need to be wider, especially with breathing in mind. Flexible swimmers will look like Shinji, but be cautious that there isn’t a hitch before entry when swimming (not a drill skill, as KevinM puts it) when you roll through some of the tougher parts of a higher recovery.
If you extend to lock at the end of the pull/anchor phase, it’s very difficult to fix this and have the right recovery. Make sure that when you transition from anchoring, the focus rotates to shoulder and elbow manipulation. If you try to take the hand around, it’s almost impossible to focus on it without putting tension on the marionette arm.”
Absorbing all this as text, and then putting it in my head as a visualization, and also wrapping in my live coaching sessions with Coach Shinji was quite a feat.
Looking to Terry’s comment about the Easy Freestyle DVD Chapter 5, I put that on and found some nice video to complement all the text above.
I think in the end, Terry’s drills on the DVD proved to be the easiest to work with. I went out for a few sessions now attempting to work the exercises and they seemed to work great.
I found out that my left arm was quite different than my right arm, and that it was doing a slightly different, but critically different movement. It definitely showed in how far and fast I would glide between my right and left sides.
Doing the Zen Switch by dragging my arm/forearm/wrist/fingertips through the water while swimming, I found that my strokes were better than when the arm was out of the water. For some reason, when some part of my arm/hand was moving through the water, I had some sort of anchor where I could tell where my arm/hand was and put it in the right place. The moment I lifted it out of the water, my left arm began to lose its form, whereas my right arm was OK.
Other tips that really helped:
1. As Terry mentioned in 2., and also Shinji has said to push water away from you at a 45 degree angle at the end of the pull, this sets up the arm for recovery.
2. I also was stroking not straight back which causes my body to hop up and down as evidence that I was putting force in other directions besides moving me forward. I need to stroke straight back.
3. I need to perfect the arm drop before spearing forward. I seem to have this OK on my right side where I can really feel gravity just dropping my arm into the water and then it spears forward. On my left, it feels awkward and I seem to be using my right arm pulling back as compensation for a weak spear forward. This is really bad when I take a breath and the spear forward is very weak, resulting in me almost stopping when I breathe.
Shinji has told me that the spear forward generates a lot of forward motion and he is right. We have done isolated drills where I am not stroking but merely attempting to move forward via spear alone. It’s pretty amazing how far you can go. So I do not want to lose this momentum generating motion and need to get it right on my left side.
4. Another bad habit to break: sometimes as I bring my left arm through recovery, I tend to arc my body. Very weird and need to stop this.
As always, thanks for the great advice from all my TI coaches and sources of information and lots to work on!