By SwimSwam Partner Content
August 13th, 2021
Why should we treat all problems with the same solution? It’s like trying to fix a cracked floor with ducktape. Same goes for swim technique problems. For most swimmers we assume the only solution is with drills or for some people the answer is to tell them what to fix and assume they can. While drills can be a great solution they don’t mimic race pace and we all know that the habits return at full speed pace. Corrections take months in most cases, even years. But when you combine the proper equipment (i.e those that provide tactile feedback) with the correct drill… and add some patience and time, swim flaws can be corrected faster than by drills or wishful thinking alone. Here is a quick dive into some sure ways to speed up the correction process of your swim flaws.
HIGH CATCH PROBLEMS:
Having a high catch or an Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) is one of the most fundamentally crucial swim techniques required with all 4 strokes. There are three main problems that can create a deficient high catch: a) dropped Elbow (or ‘leading with the elbow’), b) straight arm (not bending the elbow at the catch engagement), and c) crossover (crossing the hand over or next to the centerline of the body). There is no one solution that can fix all of these problems equally. Each flaw must have it’s own range of corrective solutions.
Dropped Elbow Solutions:
Dropped Elbow is where the swimmer slices the arm through the water by pulling the elbow back before the forearm goes under the elbow. This is extremely common with the arm that is stroking while you are breathing (i.e the ‘opposite arm’). Lots of problems occur to counteract the breathing process such as sweeping out away from the body, or a straight arm pull. But the dropped elbow is very commonly connected to the ‘opposite arm’ from your favorite breathing side.
- Let’s start out of the water to build the muscle chain and movement of a high elbow with this unique dryland paddle and stretch cord. This paddle is designed to require you to engage from the fingertips first (like in the water), then flex the wrist, and then the elbow. Not only does it force you to pull properly but it also builds the muscles in the correct order that are needed in the water. This paddle may LOOK like other dryland paddles but it forces the engagement at the fingertips and not under the palm, so it can easily TRAIN you to stroke properly. If you have a chronic problem and this dryland tool does not fix the problem you can also add the Stroke Right attachment that will physically help lift the elbow while you are stroking.
- In the water the use of displacement paddles such as this or these which are open on the back so if you lead with your elbow, the paddles will try to move off of the hand. This feedback as you are stroking helps create the instinct of a high elbow catch without the dropped elbow. If you only have a problem with 1 of your arms ‘dropping’ you can use the UNCO drill by keeping your good arm down and only stroking with the problem arm.
- Alternatively you can isolate the pull by using Displacement paddles and a Dual Ankle Buoy to add resistance to your pull and magnify the power of a high elbow catch.
Crossover is when the arm crosses over the centerline either at the entry or under the stomach while stroking. This is a problem as this motion makes a slicing motion through the water which means you lose the hold on the water. This is often complicated for swimmers by not compensating for the body rotation and trying to lock your arm position with the shoulder. In fact the hand/arm needs to follow a straight path through the water and allow the body to rotate AWAY from that path.
- Again let’s start by tackling this problem on dryland so we can visualize the body rotation with a straight path from the hand. Use the unique fingertip paddle and stretch cord by ONEswim.com but in this case you will need to rotate the body as if you are swimming. Make sure the paddle is staying in a straight path while you rotate. This can help your body learn the process of a stable stroke path while the body rotates away from that path.
- While in the water you need a piece of equipment that moves on the hand when the arm moves laterally. A paddle with a maximum number of bottom fins like this is highly sensitive to anything other than a straight stroke path. The Glide paddle is also ‘strapless’ in a sense with a lot of texture on the surface. This allows the paddle to slide back and forth on the palm as you slice the hand into the center line or out away from the body. Combine the Glide Paddle and the Dual ankle buoy to isolate the arms while swimming freestyle with just 1 arm at a time. This allows you to fully focus on your arm strokes.
Straight Arm Solutions:
Stroking with a straight arm (no elbow bend) is deceiving for some swimmers. You engage tons of muscles but it is not efficient in moving through the water. You feel like you are exerting effort but it is inefficient compared to a high elbow catch.
- This is another great problem to start by attacking it on dryland with the ONE Fingertip paddle and stretch cord. This will force the proper high elbow and and train both the technique of a high elbow stroke but also to build the proper muscle chain involved. You can also add the Stroke Right attachment which will physically help lift the elbow while you are stroking.
- In the water the straight arm flaw is perhaps the hardest to fix due to the fact that it often feels ‘hard’ and therefore ‘correct’ to many swimmers. To fix this takes a rather extreme solution in our experience. We like to have a displacement paddle on the hand and a pressure plate on the wrist. We have used this method with many swimmers with this problem and they suddenly felt the High Elbow method for the first time. Here is a combo paddle that will provide that tactile feel and is something that every coach’s toolbox should have available.
FLUTTER KICK PROBLEMS
The biggest problem across the industry is kicking with too much knee bend. It is another example of the swimmer ‘feeling’ that they are working hard and assuming that ‘exhausting and hard work’ must be required to go fast. The fact is that running and biking both involve maximum knee bend so it is ‘logical’ for older swimmers to naturally over-bend their knees. But this also occurs with younger swimmers that start swimming on their own or in large groups that don’t start with the proper technique… and then have them swim more yards than their body is ready for in the first few months. This all locks in the habit of over-bending the knees on the kick and can take some time to resolve.
The second most common kicking problem is not flexing the ankle to straighten the foot. This is a wildly common problem for adult triathletes due to the excessive amount of running and biking and the inflexibility that builds up with age. The ankle should flex at the very bottom of the downkick transition from the downkick to the upkick. But the rest of the time the foot should be pointed straight back during the flutter kick.
We MUST train the proper muscle chain movement that starts from the glutes and not from a knee bend. Any age swimmer needs to build the muscles and the proper order of muscle engagement to minimize their knee bend. The longer a swimmer trains, the more these muscles are trained, the better these muscles will develop. But instead of wasting years for this solution, it is much better to focus on the proper technique and not allow excess knee bend to persist.
- The first solution again is on dryland. The use of straight leg dryland drills are a good start but we like to use a stretch cord assembly called the Dryland Kick Assembly to enforce a straight leg kick and ankle while building the technique and muscle chain simultaneously.
- While in the water, there is a FlexRight device which is a plastic panel that attaches behind the knees. This doesn’t prevent the knees from bending (you have to push off the walls and flip turns), but makes it difficult bend and encourages a straight leg kick technique. The FlexRight can be worn through the entire practice or during any portion of the workout on a regular basis to build the desired muscles for a great kick.
- Another in-water option is a stretch cord system that attaches to the shoulders and the opposite leg with an ankle cuff. This can elongate the kick while building the proper order of muscle chain engagement (i.e Muscle Chain).
- We like to make sure swimmers start with a 4 part broken kick. Making sure they STOP at each of the 4 positions and hold for a second before moving to the next position with their legs. This can be done on dryland, or with the hands on the water in the water. We define these 4 positions as ‘up’, ‘out’, ‘down’ and ‘around’. ‘Up’ = to bring the calves up the bum and then stop. ‘Out’ = to pivot the calves out to the side while keeping the knees mostly inward. ‘Down’ = pointing the feet toward the floor by flexing the ankles inward as far as possible. ‘Around’ = to swing the calves around in a semi-circle until the big toes touch each other. We often have a coach move the feet for the swimmers while they lay on their stomachs on a bench. With headsets
- The BR TRAIN fins are unlike anything ever designed for the breast kick. These unique fins will pivot away from the foot when the swimmer ‘down kicks’ like a flutter kick or butterfly kick with 1 or both legs. This pivoting effect will displace the water and provide a negative feedback with the improper kick motion but will catch water around the pinky toes as a positive reinforcement to the swimmer when done right. These fins are best when the swimmers are instructed to pause with the ‘up, out, down, around’ kick method. They can also kick in a vertical position while even watching the feet go through the 4 step process before trying them horizontally.
- The BR POWER fins are similar to the BR Train fins but they are connected to the feet and don’t pivot when used incorrectly. These fins are ideal for swimmers that have the basic proper movement but are simply not ‘connecting’ with their forward propulsion.
- The BR Kick Trainer uses a stretch cord that attaches to a waist belt and both ankles. This system can be used on dryland or in the water and is great to help power the breast kick muscle chain. It will help build most of the proper muscles and in the proper engagement order. However, it will not force the proper movements, particularly with the ankle. So it will help best if there is a coach to oversee (or manually manipulate) their feet while on dryland (physically) or while in the water (verbally or with a headset).
BREAST KICK PROBLEMS
With the kick making up 90% of the propulsion for the Breaststroke, no one can afford to neglect the quality of their kick technique and power. The most common problem with most swimmers that are just getting started is a ‘scissor’ kick in which 1 foot may kick somewhat correctly from the bottom of the foot, and the other kicks more like a butterfly or flutter kick (from the top of the foot). The swim industry has lost tens of thousands of swimmers because they can never get their breast kick and quickly fall behind others in their group. This problem must be addressed quickly and decisively or it will get worse and frustrate most swimmers into quitting entirely after 1 year or less.
The second and more persistent problem with breast kicks is far less obvious to resolve. In this case the kick looks correct but the swimmer just doesn’t move forward with much speed and seems to have little forward power. This is caused by multiple problems in most cases including: a) bad timing, b) not opening up and ‘setting up the proper engagement’ of the kick, c) terminating the power of the kick in an outward direct and then slicing inward (instead of sweeping inward and finishing directly behind the swimmer, and d) not fully finishing the ‘whip kick’ by keeping pressure on the bottom of the feet until the very end at the centerline.
you can talk to swimmers in the water and make corrections before they move to the next position while both hands are on the wall.
These are just a few of the swim flaws that can be addressed with tactile feedback equipment plus the proper drills. There are tons of other examples of problems that can be corrected much more quickly by combining the right equipment and drills together. For a much deeper dive into how to diagnose and correct your swim flaws, here is a free guide (Tri Technique – ONE Swim [swimmersbest.com]) that takes you through most potential problems for the freestyle. This guide will have you video yourself and then compare photos of yourself to the desired technique. The guide helps you fix the most important problems first before you move on to other problems. It is very common that 1 problem (i.e lifting your head) will cause lots of other problems. So it is important to start with the most important problems and then work your way forward after you fix your first problem.