In this blog, I will briefly discuss the five pillars of swimming and their importance.
Swimming is hard. I get it. It requires, work, focus, patience and dedication but it also requires one to self-assess, identify with one’s weakness and fight those head on instead of being afraid of them.
So many athletes focus on their strengths 95% of the time. Why? Because failing scares us. Can I do this? You can! Turn that fear into excitement about learning something new and the chance to be better at something. So, let’s look at the pillars and hope they shed some insight on your swimming.
The Kick – To have a good kick one must work on it. If it’s a weakness don’t shy away from it, embrace it as a weakness and truly put in the time and quality work to get it done. Don’t just do endless laps of kicking drills without knowing why it is being done. Know the focus of the drill. Most triathletes employ a 2-beat kick. Timing; when the left hand enters the water and begins pulling the right leg/foot should be performing a kick. This should happen naturally with most but it is something to pay attention to as this helps balance counter rotation and driving the hips for propulsion. Also, having good flexibility in the body especially at the hips and feet is very important for a strong efficient kick. Being able to keep your feet in plantar flexion is a must to have propulsion from your kick. The other issue I see is swimmers trying to kick from the knee. This is common in those who have either been cyclists or runners their entire life and try to drive power from the knee. The leg remains straight with a soft bend in the knee. Focus on the heel of the foot breaking the surface. The kick should be vertical, not horizontal. Having an effective kick allows one to engage the core and hips as part of the full swim stroke. I won’t get into SD (Shoulder driven), HD (Hip-driven) styles of freestyle. I’ll save that for another blog.
The Arms/Hands – Propulsion, the arms and hands are a swimmers main source of propulsion, so naturally we want to take care in making sure this is efficient and effective. Hands should enter the water with fingers pointed down and relaxed. The arms and hands should also remain on the outside of the body; meaning they should not cross your centerline. What’s my centerline? Thing of an imaginary line that runs from your head to your feet through the center of your body. Anytime your hand or arm crosses this line during swimming, you are creating frontal drag, reducing angular velocity and force on the water, misalignment of the stroke and shoulder injury. The elbow should remain at or close to 90% as possible. The closer the elbow is to the surface of the water the better to an extent. This depends on one’s flexibility a great deal. Working on flexibility with yoga and functional strength can be very beneficial for a swimmer. Also, allowing one’s shoulder to drop in the water can also cause frontal drag and efficiency problems in the water.
Technique – So how do I fix all this? Ah, the 5th pillar and probably the most important. Technique! Whether you do a self-analysis or have a swim coach analyze your swim stroke, this is a perfect way to get an idea of and visually see what you are doing incorrect. Drills and technique exercises can be put in place to help all the systems align and work together as an efficient system through the water. The warmup and cooldown is a perfect way to focus on technique and drill work, and slow everything down and focus on 1 or 2 areas at a time. If you are doing drills make it a priority to know “Why am I doing this Drill?” “What is the focus of this drill?” Focus on feeling the water and how you move through it. Separate each system and pillar individually each swim session. For the warm up focus on kicking technique and drills, for the cooldown focus on breathing or hand entry.