Take a lesson from the greatest flyer of all time, Michael Phelps, and breathe every stroke (except on the first stroke off the start and turn). I am amazed at how few swimmers breathe enough in fly. Why breathe? Oxygen is the most important nutrient for our body. Without it, we die in approximately seven minutes. With it (and glucose) we produce the molecule that drives all of our physical activity, ATP. ATP is the fuel for our muscles. Yes, we can still produce ATP without Oxygen, but with Oxygen we produce about 15 times more ATP than without it! Not only are we providing more fuel for our muscles when we breathe, we also avoid building up one of the byproducts of ATP production without Oxygen, Lactic Acid. Lactic Acid buildup is responsible for the big monkey climbing on our back in the last 10 meters of our race. So keep your head low above the water (or breathe to the side) but breathe, baby, breathe! Why do you think Phelps always touches out his competitors in the 100 fly? He is charging with Oxygen, while others are tightening up with Lactic Acid.
Most backstrokers try to hit a home run with each arm pull….and they tend to try to push their hands all the way to the end. As a consequence, they lose time in the most important position (what I call the power position) at the beginning of the stroke, shortly after the hand enters the water. In other words, they swim one arm pull at a time and lose the continuity and flow of the stroke. What I like to teach in backstroke is to keep the hands over the head all the time. The power one generates at the end of the pull is small compared to the beginning. So the quicker we can get our hand back into the power position the better. This also maintains our inertia. It takes a lot more energy to get going fast than it does to keep going fast (freeway swimming vs. stop and go traffic swimming). One way to accomplish this ‘swimming on the freeway’ is to do the ‘half-stroke’ backstroke. In other words, just think about taking the first half of the stroke. Ignore the second half (from your stomach to your leg). In reality, you won’t be able to do it, but you will find you get your hand back over your head much quicker. Don’t try to hit a home run with each arm pull and you will stay on the freeway, not tire as quickly and come out with a much better time!
God knows I was not a good breastroker. Fortunately, you don’t need to be good at something to be good at teaching something. So I have learned from watching some of the great Race Club breastrokers, like Darren Mew (UK) and Ricky Barbosa (Brazil). I particularly liked watching Rebecca Soni swim in Beijing. What I liked was how in front her hands are. She pulls back less than any breastroke I have seen. OK, she has great legs….but she arches her back high on the breath, lifts her shoulders and then strikes with her legs like a Cobra going for the kill. The photo below taken of Darren Mew is the most revealing and illustrative photo I have ever seen: Look at the arch in the back and look at the leg position….ready for the strike. Once you strike with the legs, drop the head lower than you think to get your bum and feet to finish on the surface.
Where do I begin? OK, let’s talk about the single most common mistake freestylers make; head position. Why do freestlyers swim with their heads up? Two reasons. First, they like to see and know where they are going. Second, I believe they think that by raising their head, they also will raise their body in the water. Wrong. Raising your head up actually makes your bum and core sink lower in the water. So you then need to pull your body through the water at an angle….not very efficient or fast. So drop your chin down (extremely) so it nearly touches your chest and notice how much more in alignment your body becomes. On the towrope my time dropped by over two seconds for 50 meters just by merely dropping my chin and head down. Wow! Same power, just less resistance. When you drop your head in freestyle you will have the sensation of swimming downhill or over the waterfall. That is what you want. Glance up only to see where the cross on the wall is and then tuck your head back down and keep it down! Leave the Tarzan swim for your competitor.
1.) Most important of all- RELAX and ENJOY. The more you relax, the more potential you have physiologically to swim fast. Learn how to do it slow- then fast.
2.) Alter your drills. Play with new ideas, whether good or bad. You won’t know what works until you try it from all angles. This can lead to coming up with completely new drills. It is not wrong if it works for you!
3.) Always think about body position first. It has a huge impact on all strokes.
4.) When doing drills always take your time, go slow, and think about how that drill relates to that particular stroke.
5.) Think outside the box (or pool). What activities out of the pool directly relate to your strokes in the pool? Work on it, perfect it, and have fun with it (i.e. boxing, spearfishing, surfing, etc).
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